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Public market, new businesses revitalizing downtown
Downtown Port Orchard has been “revitalized” — thanks to several new businesses and the Port Orchard Public Market.
Over the past 20 months, the downtown core also added a coffee shop, a restaurant, bakery, insurance office, one-of-a-kind vintage shop, a vintage clothing store and an organic soap shop — 740 Bay — coming soon.
Things looked bleak when Morningside Bread and Pastry Co., located at 707 Bay St, closed its doors Jan. 5, 2013, after nine years of operating in downtown Port Orchard.
But since then, the downtown core has rebounded.
While work on the public market was underway, businesses owners were opening up downtown businesses. Shabulous opened up in late 2013 and Buddy’s Good Eye, 745 Bay St., opened on Nov. 8.
Gabrielle Freeland opened up Café Gabrielle in the old Morningside Bakery in February. On March 1, Coffee Oasis opened up for a second time in Port Orchard, this time at 807 Bay St.
The Port Orchard Public Market, 715 Bay St., officially opened May 24. Carter’s Chocolates and Ice Cream moved into the market in May.
Also in May, Robert Earl Lighthouse, located in the old Lighthouse restaurant at 439 Bay St., opened. But an arrest of the business owner on June 30 forced the restaurant to shutdown temporarily.
After nearly 10 months of work, Dave Tagert and Stacey Bronson opened up the Swim Deck, 639 Bay St., on June 29.
Keelee’s Kloset, a gift and clothing store for girls, opened recently at 821 Bay St.
Katie’s Bargain Bin, which was located at 810 Bay St., closed earlier this month, but another business is planning to move into the space. Shabulous, which originally opened at 818 Bay St. in 2013, moved to 585 Bethel Road in June and another business has already began moving into the empty space.
A couple of individuals have attempted to start up a business in the old barbershop at 812 Bay St.
There are three vacant first-floor properties in the 800 block of Bay Street and two in the 600 block (old Los Cabos and Shi Shi Ni) and one — the old Myhre Building — in the 700 block.
Councilman Jerry Childs said the economy continues to impact the downtown and store closings are still a problem.
“I am quite hopeful that the situation will improve soon.” Childs said. “The type of stores that fit into these older spaces impacts financial success. We have many low margin establishments that to succeed need a rising economy to really break out. In the meantime, we the public should do all we can to support and sustain the downtown until then.”
Don Ryan, president of the Port Orchard Bay Street Association (POBSA) and owner of the One-Ten Lounge, said downtown has seen “an abundance of increased foot and shopping traffic” since January 2013
“The opening of the market has improved the destination feel for our historic downtown, along with other new businesses that have opened in the past year,” said Ryan. “For sure the biggest boost for downtown has been the new Port Orchard Public Market concept and all the vendors associated with this venue.”
Ryan said he has talked to people who have “changed their daily shopping habits.”
“Almost daily I am finding new people downtown that are not from Port Orchard, but came here to see the new market,” said Ryan. “Lallie Mays — next to the market — has seen their foot traffic almost triple this past year because of the shear volume of people coming back downtown.”
Mayor Tim Matthes said he feels the change of attitude with the business and property owners also has had an impact on downtown.
“The residents of our town have started to rediscover just how much fun they can have by simply coming downtown,” he said. “Most residents I have talked to feel that they are part of the new, energized downtown and they join in activities that can make it a better place for all. The building owners, merchants and citizens working together is what is making downtown successful.”
Childs said the public market has generated a lot of excitement, but he also sees the Bay Street Pedestrian Pathway contributing to the downtown’s future.
“While only three pathway segments are finished, the waterfront trail has already generated a considerable amount of energy into downtown.” Childs said.
Local realtor Bryan Petro said there’s a combination of elements contributing to revitalizing downtown: a strong Port Orchard Bay Street Association, redevelopment of the Bay Street Pedestrian Pathway between the city and Port of Bremerton and remodeling old Slip 45 Building into the Port Orchard Public Market.
Drawbacks to downtown
Matthes said that a lot of people have told him that parking downtown is the biggest problem.
“I do not think that is true,” he said. “Parking is available if you are willing to walk 3-6 blocks to find a spot. The only event that really stretches the parking capacity once a year is The Cruz car show. But once again, it is worth the time it takes to find a spot.”
Councilman Fred Chang said people expecting “supermarket kind of parking” need to be encouraged to walk a block or two to something that’s interesting.
Petro said he feels downtown’s biggest drawback is the historical memory of city government with property owners.
“Property owners own the parking lot behind their buildings between Fredrick Street and Sidney Avenue,” noted Petro.
“The city only holds an easement across their property for parking. They need to be able to count those spots for their parking ratio for residential development of those properties, especially to achieve the zoning of residential up stairs and retail below.”
Petro added the Washington Department of Transportation doesn’t own the sidewalks on Bay Street.
“The property owners themselves filled in Bay Street 27 years before the state built a state highway,” Petro explained. “This was a huge discussion by the property owners when they built the marque in the 1970s.”
Petro said the marque at the corner of Bay Street and Sidney Avenue (the former Blanchard’s Department Store) is different that the rest of the marque.
“The reason is that property owner did not join the LID (Local Improvement District) that built the marque is because they built their own to match because they knew later down the road, government would claim the property as theirs — which now the city says is the state’s,” said Petro. “Government can’t claim property without compensation.”
Childs said downtown must deal with aging buildings, but another drawback is the buildings on the north side of Bay Street.
“They open onto and are oriented towards Bay Street instead of taking advantage of the vistas and charm afforded by the water, marina, mountains and other attributes of a waterfront community,” said Childs. “Amy’s on the Bay would be an example — facing the water and with outside seating embracing our God-given ambiance.”
He also feels there is no cohesive plan to move the city forward.
“We need to work with stakeholders including the Port of Bremerton and property owners to create a joint waterfront plan — basically a blue print for further development,” Childs said. “While we have the Downtown Overlay District legislation, a more complete guide is necessary.”
Ryan said he has a hard time providing drawbacks to downtown, but he feels “it’s hard to be everything to everyone, all the time.”
“Most consumers are so used to the big chain store experience where their money and taxes go out of state, but they like the convenience,” he said. “We just have to keep producing a better product downtown and a more proud attitude of who we are and where our money goes.
Ryan said downtown’s biggest attraction to new entrepreneurs is the fantastic growth curve downtown.
“We have numerous buildings that are under utilized with underbuilt concepts,” he said.
He said he met with 10 people in the spring who are either “looking to move here and start businesses or want to establish one here” because they see the upside growth that is happening in Port Orchard.
“This all leads to a better future in our downtown core for merchants, our city tax revenues and the community as a whole,” Ryan said. “To top it off, our tourism factor has become a destination town instead of a drive around it town. Businesses want to be in that mainstream.”
Matthes said one attraction is the community that puts “friendships before profit.”
“Our community welcomes newcomers as if they have known them all of their life, and want to be part of an exciting journey where it is not business as usual, it’s personal.” said Matthes.
Chang said a big attraction is there’s a “sense of momentum.”
“Things are happening and people are discovering some of the historic buildings downtown.” he said.
Petro said other attractions are groups such as the Chamber of Commerce, POBSA, Fathoms and Sidney Museum
“Food, festivals and fun,” he said. “That is why a pioneer business would start in Port Orchard.”
Downtown in 10 years
Childs said Port Orchard is a “diamond in the rough” waiting to break out.
“Our future is bright,” he said. “We are quite excited to see the progress on the pathway — a project that has been in the planning for over 50 years. But there is more to do.”
He said community leaders need to come together in cooperation and purpose to be successful.
“There is no reason Port Orchard has to languish while other communities thrive,” added Childs. “We need to organize, plan, and then roll up our sleeves and put in the work. “
In 10 years, Ryan said he sees Port Orchard as the “hub of the westside of Puget Sound.”
“With the continued growth that the Northwest has seen sprawling out into suburbs over the past 20 years, it has basically grown past and around Port Orchard,” Ryan said. “We’re sitting here in the middle as an unknown place or the ‘poor kids on the block’ — so to speak.”
He said the city is coming of age and with new vision from its leaders in regards to growth, height of buildings and allowing new ideas to transform the downtown.
“We could see massive growth in tourism, hotels, business moves, colleges and even possibly large companies wanting to relocate because of the community we represent and standard of living for their employees,” said Ryan. “It all starts here at the core downtown.”
Petro said he envisions the city as a regional tourist spot with lots of unique culinary cuisines and a huge live community theater.
“We are sitting on God’s greatest creation — the Puget Sound — with the Olympics for a background and lots festivals and unique shops for all to enjoy,” said Petro.
Chang said in 10 years, he sees downtown fully occupied and thriving.
“Streamlined parking for short-term visitors and more people living nearby,” Chang said. “The completion of the Bay Street Pedestrian Pathway will draw attention to downtown and the waterfront.”
Matthes said in less than two years, downtown storefronts will be filled.
“Finding a business location will be difficult,” he said. “My advice is, if you want to be part of this exciting rebirth, you had better get started now.”
He also sees downtown having something for local residents and tourists for 10 months out of the year.
“I see the market theme expanding to where the visitors from Seattle and the surrounding areas will make Port Orchard a must-see city when they visit the Pacific Northwest,” added Matthes.