By Jennifer Crain
I often walk past the Cloverfields farmhouse, the historical anchor of the Carlyon-North neighborhood in southeast Olympia. The house, which presided over a model dairy farm in the early twentieth century, has a bucolic look, with a gambrel roof and painted wooden siding. I never would have guessed that the Wildwood Building, located just a few blocks away, is its sibling.
Both were designed, a couple of decades apart, by Joseph Wohleb, the renowned Olympia architect known for designing the Lord Mansion (now the State Capital Museum) and many other prominent Olympia buildings. The Wildwood Building, notes the Olympia Historical Society, was designed during Wohleb’s transition “from his signature Mission style into Art Moderne, which echoed the sleek streamlining of the automobile industry.”
It is, indeed, charming, with an asymmetrical shape and a rotunda-like space surrounded by display windows on the north end of the building. Though for many years the building housed some beloved local businesses, neighborhood shoppers didn’t tend to gravitate there on a daily basis. That has changed. Two years ago this month, Dave and Karissa Jekel opened Spud’s Produce Market and three others soon followed: Olympia Coffee Roasting Company, Vic’s Pizzeria, and The Lucky Lunchbox. Now it’s a biking and walking destination for four surrounding neighborhoods and a destination for people from all over the city. At peak hours, it can be difficult to find a parking space.
Good design never goes out of style so perhaps it was only a matter of time. The 1938 shopping center was the first strip mall built in Olympia and was conceived as an integral part of the new the Wildwood Park subdivision, with the forward-thinking notion that residents of the then-suburban area would want to shop nearby, rather than traveling downtown.
The G. C. Valley Shopping Center, as it was named, housed a grocery store, a pharmacy, and a flower shop. Even though it went through a less vibrant period in the recent past, the integrity of the structure and its seamless place in a residential area primed it for the rise of the buy-local movement.
Both Oliver Stormshak of Olympia Coffee Roasting Company and Rachel Lee of Vic’s Pizzeria say they’ve had an eye on the shopping center as a possible location for a long time.
“For years, we’ve seen it as having the potential to be a vibrant, pedestrian-oriented destination,” Stormshak says, adding that they’ve been “determined to grow the business with neighborhoods in mind. These ideas came together when Olympia Coffee was ready to expand and space in the Wildwood Building became available.”
Dave Jekel is excited that the building and its businesses are so popular.
“A great old building has been transformed back into being relevant again. It’s had life breathed back into it. It’s exciting.”
He notes that his customers seem to be energized by the idea of making a smaller footprint when they shop and dine out, rather than shopping at big box stores.
“I think people are hungry for that up here: more of a walk-to greengrocer (where you can) get what you need or grab lunch or dinner. They consider it their own little spot. The neighborhood has taken ownership and has pride in this,” explains Jekel.
The owners of all the Wildwood businesses are proud to be part of the transformation. Each has a story about how their business unfolded. Dave Jekel made a U-turn when he saw a for-rent sign in the building. Both Olympia Coffee Roasting Company and Vic’s Pizzeria had already built a fan base in Olympia and were ripe for new locations. The staff at Swing Wine Bar had just started contemplating a sandwich shop following an after-hours sandwich-making blitz.
They all say there’s a positive synergy between the businesses. Jekel says each one of them is careful not to have any layover in product and they patronize one another’s businesses, each making sure the location has something for everybody.
“We’re not trying to do everything. We’re trying to do one thing really well,” he says. “That way, you can build more of a relationship. It’s more of a community. We all feel like neighbors.”
Rachel Lee sums it up for all the Wildwood business owners, “We are very happy to be a part of the coolest strip mall in Olympia!”
The Wildwood Building is located on Capitol Boulevard SE between Eskridge Way and O’Farrell Avenue in Olympia.