Historically, a compass rose beautifully blended navigation and art, wind with water. Sailors, mapmakers, and explorers turned this simple directional symbol into an embellished cartography gem. The first compass rose is more than 700 years old, but on Friday, October 5, Olympia’s Compass Rose gift shop celebrates 20 years as a popular downtown landmark.

Compass Rose anniversary-ready for arts walk
Downtown Olympia’s Compass Rose is celebrating their 20th anniversary during Fall Arts Walk on October 5. Photo courtesy: Compass Rose

The festivities run from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. and coincide with Fall Arts Walk, just like their grand opening in 1998. Founder Paul Shepherd explains that they almost didn’t make it. “I started with a temporary store in the Capital Mall selling imports from South America,” he recalls. “Then in 1998, with more enthusiasm and anticipation than actual business smarts, I opened our flagship store on Capitol Way in downtown Olympia, just in time for the Fall Arts Walk.”

But the opening was hindered by fire regulations that required them to move and then replace all merchandise in the 24 hours before Arts Walk. “I’m glad I don’t have any photos of that day, because I would cringe, and I think our present staff and professional merchandiser would fall over laughing at the sight,” laughs Shepherd. “Anyway, that’s what I remember. Being extremely hurried to open for Arts Walk evening, and extremely nervous that nobody would notice we had opened!”

Looking over their gorgeous, often northwest-inspired inventory, you’d never know it all began in a flurry of activity. “Our success comes from harnessing the energy, inspiration, and style of the young Compass Rose staff,” admits Shepherd.

Compass Rose anniversary-pacific northwest items
With shops in Olympia and Tacoma, many items are Pacific Northwest themed and sourced from across the region. Photo courtesy: Compass Rose

This includes dedicated manager Kae Stair, Shepherd’s business partner Alana Carr, merchandiser Lesley Noble, and long-time staffer Chrissy Bunnell. Team member Liz Howe agrees. “Compass Rose has a fantastic work family and amazing customers! I love working here,” she says.

But more than just a gift shop, Shepherd kept a focus on the community. “Another thing I am very proud of, and something most people don’t think about when shopping, is our behind the scenes focus on charitable giving,” he says. “We have quietly made cash donations totaling $100,000 in the last four years alone to charitable organizations (locally including GRuB, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, SafePlace, and Interfaith Works). It gives shopping local a whole new meaning, right?”

The magical combination of quality, caring, and community has really put Compass Rose on the map. “And it just shows some of the magic of having an incredibly talented staff and so many great customers,” says Shepherd. “Twenty years ago I worried that nobody would find us and come in. Now we are well known throughout the state and busy beyond my wildest expectations. We like our roots, we like being imbedded in our Olympia (and Tacoma) community. Instead of investing in more stores, we want to invest in our staff and our local community.”

Compass Rose anniversary-dedicated staff
Come visit during Arts Walk for birthday cake, drinks, treats, giveaways, prizes, and a photo contest. Photo courtesy: Compass Rose

During the anniversary celebration, drop in for birthday cake, drinks, treats, giveaways, prizes, and a photo contest. Can’t make it during Arts Walk? Don’t worry, there are plenty of other unique opportunities to explore. Find Trunk Shows, sidewalk sales, meet-and-greets, and more on their comprehensive Events Calendar.

Arts Walk is the perfect opportunity to visit vibrant downtown Olympia. With more than 300 participating artists and activities and 10,000 expected attendees, it’s two days of music, food, art, and fellowship with family, friends, and neighbors.

While the internet makes our shopping options endless, gems like Compass Rose remind us why bricks-and-mortar is the way to go. “We know Amazon.com is out there, we realize that shopping downtown can be an inconvenience for our customers at times, and we know that loyalty is earned, not granted,” says Shepherd. “But we are driven to be the best, not just bigger, just like dozens of other worthy, hardworking downtown businesses. Twenty years on, twenty years strong, Compass Rose surges on. Come celebrate with us!”

Compass Rose anniversary-olympia storefront
The store opened on Arts Walk weekend in 1998 and has flourished thanks to talented staff and stunning merchandise. Photo courtesy: Compass Rose

Haven’t visited Compass Rose yet? Find a list of product lines or do some online jewelry shopping via their website. For gorgeous photos of their current inventory, stunning displays, and goofball staff, visit them on Facebook or Instagram.

Compass Rose
416 Capitol Way South
Monday – Saturday: 10:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Sunday: 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.


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