Businesses thrive in downtown Olympia

Local business in downtown Olympia is fluctuating as normal, while some businesses continue to brave the current recession, others have closed. Two local businesses, The Mod Fix, as well as the Jewish deli Kitzel’s, both closed in March.

Although, according to the Executive Director of the Olympia Downtown Association (ODA) Connie Lorenz, more businesses have opened in the last year than closed. In the second quarter of 2012, from April to June, 19 new businesses opened in downtown Olympia, and only eight closed.

The ODA works to keep downtown Olympia one of Washington’s 13 nationally recognized Main Street programs. The Main Street Approach combines design, organization, promotion, and economic development; the ODA has added safety to their approach as a fifth committee, according to the ODA website. Lorenz said that the ODA works as a center for information in downtown Olympia.

According to Lorenz, the ODA keeps track of all businesses that open and close in the downtown area and any renovations made. It organizes events such as Girls Night Out and uses social media to inform people of downtown activities. Lorenz said downtown Olympia is an incubator for businesses as they move to bigger locations and expand. She said different kinds of businesses in downtown Olympia will have different peaks and valleys depending on what they offer. Lorenz said that retail does well during the holiday shopping months and at Arts Walk.

Lorenz said 2012 was not a great year for business in downtown Olympia, but the businesses held on. She said business owners may downsize employees or inventory at times in order to remain open and that cutting back is often necessary for businesses to survive. Lorenz said Kitzels became a victim of their initial success, and once the business leveled off, it closed.

One business that has been incubating for seven years this May is Paprika Catering and Paprika Cafe. The cafe portion of Paprika opened in downtown Olympia in July 2012 said owner Kristi Dohring. Previous to the opening of the cafe portion, Paprika was an off-site caterer that did not have a walk-in location, said Dohring.

The cafe offers food, a buffet brunch on Sundays and a venue for small parties such as graduation parties or wedding receptions. Dohring said she looked for a long time to find a cafe location and plans on utilizing the location to her advantage due to the high visibility of the restaurant. She said offering sweet and savory crepes which are not available in the South Sound area helps to draw customers from other locations such as Tacoma.

According to Dohring, she began her business through the local farmer’s market, community events, and Arts Walk, building up her catering service and eventually the cafe. Dohring said customers from years past still return to Paprika. She said she started her business during the recession, and she feels that surviving it will prove she will be successful afterwards as well.

The Painted Plate, a local business that allows customers to paint their own pottery, has been open in downtown Olympia since 1996. Manager Annette Santomassimo said she feels downtown Olympia business has been affected not only by the current economic downturn, but also by the change in the downtown atmosphere. She said customers will comment on how downtown has felt less safe in recent years. She said the Downtown Ambassador program is working well to help improve this issue, and that more programs like it are needed. Dohring said the Downtown Ambassador program has been helpful in her business as well.

The Downtown Ambassador program is run by Capital Recovery Center located in downtown Olympia. The Downtown Ambassadors help those in downtown Olympia by mediating disputes between people, helping the homeless connect with resources, trash cleanup, giving directions, as well as other services.

Despite the changes in downtown Olympia and the economy, The Painted Plate is still running strong. Santomassimo said people will come to downtown Olympia specifically for The Painted Plate, and she believes this is because The Painted Plate is unique by offering the experience of creating art.

Santomassimo said the owner of The Painted Plate, Georgia Larocque, works hard to keep the store fresh and is a very savvy business woman. According to Santomassimo, The Painted Plate has adapted in order to continue adding to the experience they offer by adding ice cream, wine, and food to the menu, which has helped draw more people into the store.

Santomassimo said she feels there is a snowball effect on downtown businesses; as more businesses close, less people will come to downtown Olympia, causing more businesses to close. She said the first few years of a business are hard, and that, according to Larocque, it took a few years for The Painted Plate to start making money. Santomassimo said newer businesses may not make it if they are not prepared for the harsh years in the start.

SPSCC Student Gunnar Novlan said he will sometimes shop locally, primarily at bookstores, such as Orca Books in downtown Olympia. Novlan said the local economy downtown is not in great shape. Businesses that do not advertise well may close, since the community may not be aware of what the store offers, said Novlan. Novlan said bookstores downtown seem to do well, especially due to their exchange policies.

SPSCC Student Aaron Schubert said he rarely shops at the retail stores in downtown Olympia, although he does go out to eat at downtown Olympia restaurants. Schubert said that the economy in downtown Olympia seems to be going downhill.

Olympia’s primary labor force industry is government jobs, making up 34.3 percent of nonfarm wage and salary employment in Olympia as of August 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) website.

Trade, transportation and utilities make up 17.4 percent of Olympia’s nonfarm wage and salary employment as of August 2012, the second highest after government jobs, according to the BLS website. Trade, transportation and utilities is the sector that retail business falls into. According to the BLS website, Olympia’s unemployment rate was 8 percent as of August 2012.