Olympia’s New Caldonia Building: Collaboration Leads To Success In Repurposed Landmark

olympia downtown shopping


By Natasha Ashenhurst

Edward Jones Block AdWalk through the shopping districts in fabulous cities like Paris, Rome or even Carmel, California, and you’ll probably experience something like this: A beautiful courtyard or alley way filled with café tables — the smell of mouth-watering food — surrounded by small shops with enticing displays in the window. Owners know many of their customers by name, and they all work together to bring a common vision to fruition, a vision which is more than sales, but a way of living that is satisfying for both the shop owners and the shoppers.

Stop by the New Caldonia building downtown on Fifth and you’ll discover an Olympia treasure with that same feeling, only rather than a courtyard, visitors walk into a beautiful atrium with a glass ceiling that gives shoppers the impression of an open air and light-filled courtyard, yet they are protected on a rainy Pacific Northwest winter (or summer) day.

olympia downtown shopping“That was the vision behind the New Caldonia building,” said Jeanne Carras, owner of Bonaventure, and one of the tenants at New Caldonia.  “The architect, Wade Stein, who designed the building, studied in Italy and was inspired by the cities. Each space has a different front to make it look like it is outside.”

The Caldonia building has had quite a history. The original structure dates back to the 1870s. Steve Cooper, who owns the building and oversaw the renovation, had the original timber examined, and they discovered tree rings that date the timber’s germination prior to Columbus. The building was  originally a hotel, then it was purchased by the Proffit family and was a women’s department store, and finally a series of nightclubs. The last nightclub to occupy the space was Thekla, before it was moved to another downtown location.

Those were dark days for the building, literally. The entrance from Fifth was bricked over and the only way in was through the alley. In 1999 Cooper began the renovation, slowly transforming the space into what it is today. “It was a labor of love and spoke to our commitment to Olympia. We repurposed door pulls from my elementary school in Boston Harbor, and we restored the original timber. In fact, we restored and repurposed any portion of the building that was salvageable. Our first tenant, Jeanne Carras, is a dear friend.  She deserves a lot of credit for the success of the building because her enthusiasm is contagious,” he said.

Collaboration Contributes to Small Business Success

“When I first opened Bonaventure it was at a different location on Capitol. I wanted to create partnerships with other business owners, but I found it hard to find other owners who were interested. When Steve renovated this building he asked me to be an anchor tenant. I agreed, and from the beginning all the shop owners started collaborating to bring customers into the building. We started doing our ladies shopping night together. We do a lot of cross promotion.”

olympia downtown shoppingJennifer Miller, owner of The Blend Café, agrees, “This building chose me. I was here having wine at Marchetti Wines and learned that the space in the Atrium was available for lease. I wasn’t looking, I wasn’t planning, but here I am.”

The Blend Café is the newest tenant in the building, taking over Nona Rose’s Tea Room when the owner retired in February. She continues, “Not having a storefront could be seen as detrimental, but I get traffic from other businesses in the building. We do a lot of events together. If Bonaventure is having a sale, I provide treats. If someone has a private event we’ll all plan to stay open later. It is a symbiotic relationship.”

They have a calendar in a common space which they use to plan events and space use.

“We play off each other’s strengths. Everyone is working together to be successful for everyone else. There is a lot of Girl Power here and a lot of trust. We are interested in the bottom line, but we also trust our instincts and do what feels right,” said Miller.

Marchetti Wines has been in the building for three years, but only full-time since December. “Our tasting room was built in an Italian style, so the European feel of New Caldonia was a perfect fit. We all try to do events together, promote each other’s businesses and help each other out,” said Cheri Cassedy of Marchetti Wines.

Many people discover the building through events like Girl’s Night Out and Arts Walk. “We love the synergy of community events. That is what is so cool — the open attitude that everyone has here. When I do my trunk shows twice a year I let everyone in the building know. We all cross market. No matter what happens we get that we are a team. The stronger my business is, the stronger the team. What got me through the downturn in the economy was this team. The team does change over the years, but the synergy is still here,” said Carras.

Finally, I had the chance to chat with Connie Lorenz, executive director of the Olympia Downtown Association, which is located at the end of the building. She said, “I am thrilled to be here. We were in the building next door, but our board wanted a ground floor presence. This was a wonderful move for us. We get a lot of traffic because of Bonaventure, VUE, The Blend Café, Marchetti Wines and Bamboo and You. We love all of the activity. We like to have people to talk to and collaborate with. Vibrant downtowns are made of eclectic businesses that are mushed together to make a fun marketplace.”

Steve Cooper’s New Caldonia building not only brings businesses together and folks downtown, but it is also bringing further investment downtown. “Our hope is that investors can come downtown and create quality buildings, which leads to quality income, which will justify their investment. We hope this leads to other people feeling good about downtown,” he summarizes.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email