Wednesday, February 15, 2006
Recently, the building at 121 E. Jewett Blvd., which is where The Creamery restaurant/cafe is located, was purchased. The new owner, who lives in Portland, also owns the empty lot where the Wallace Theater (125 E. Jewett) used to be years ago.
The buyer's tentative plans are to combine the two parcels and construct a two-story building with mixed use retail shops/condominiums. The businesses would be on the ground level, with dwelling spaces above. The plan is generally an attractive one, although there is one key problem: a local business, The Creamery, could be lost in the process.
To be sure, getting rid of that ugly gap in our downtown business district where the theater used to be would give a big boost to the appearance of our city, and there are other benefits the building would bring. But in the process, we cannot allow our unique small businesses -- which have helped shape the character of our town and employ local workers -- to be pushed out.
In an interview last summer, the owner of The Creamery, Katina Putnam, described The Creamery as a dream of hers. Since she cannot afford to move, we may lose a vibrant, popular business. That would be a shame, especially in a city that has had too many empty storefronts over the years.
The building's new owner has graciously offered to put The Creamery at the top of his list for the retail spaces that will be created in the new building. But will Putnam be able to survive the wait, the moving costs, and the likely increase in lease payments?
The Creamery is located in a historic building that is part of the fabric of the downtown area. It's a "neighborhood" gathering place, and offers a progressive and attractive atmosphere. We need to nurture our locally-owned businesses -- The Creamery, Collage of the Gorge, the Elkhorn, Miller's Sports, Trellis, Don Beto's, Inn of the White Salmon, and many others. The variety of offerings in the downtown area add to the quilt that makes downtown White Salmon the wonderful place that it is.
Change is inevitable, and new buildings may eventually replace the "old town" look of the business district. Indeed, some of the old buildings are becoming structurally unsound. But the transition needs to be managed fairly, so business owners who have invested here are not sacrificed.
The White Salmon Planning Commission has tentatively set the date of March 22 to hold the first public hearing on the building proposal.
The White Salmon Planning Commission and/or members of the City Council may be asked to grant a variance that would allow the new building to be above the maximum height currently allowed. If this is the case, the city should consider attaching a condition to any variance: either have the developer help pay to relocate The Creamery; or promise to feature the restaurant as one of the retail businesses in the new building -- with some compensation for the months The Creamery will be out of business during construction.
If we lose The Creamery now, which downtown business might be the next to go?