Saturday, November 21, 2009

It's Your Olympia (So Go Downtown, Things'll Be Great!)

Above: Patrick Mapp thanks Tas Jones for coming into his shop, Danger Room Comics. The store is celebrating its 15 year anniversary with a party on December 4th, 7:00 - 10:00 p.m. There will be food, beverages and video games, says Mapp.

By Janine Gates

They weren't exactly singing the 1965 Petula Clark song, "Downtown," but about 25 downtown business owners did get together on Wednesday night to socialize and commiserate on how they are managing to survive economically. They also heard details about a new downtown marketing campaign, “It’s Your Olympia,” at the Parking Improvement Business Area's (PBIA) fourth year anniversary annual meeting at the Phoenix Inn.

At one table, business owners Patrick Mapp of Danger Room Comics, Daisy Anderson of Pizzazz, Sarah Swartz of Fire & Earth, Ron Vansickel of Peppers, and Nancy Caifa of Nonna Rosa Cafe and Tea Room, met each other and chatted.

“For me, it’s been slowly getting better this year. We have to be optimistic…stubbornly optimistic,” said Mapp.

“We have to be nuts,” added Anderson, who has co-owned Pizzazz on Washington Street with her daughter Theresa Anderson, for 17 years.

Above: Theresa Anderson, owner of Pizzazz. Pizzazz’ business relies largely on the making of gift baskets using a wide variety of "Made in Washington" products, but would sure appreciate more foot traffic. Pizzazz has lots of affordable stocking stuffers! Pizzazz is located across from the Washington Center for the Performing Arts at 513 Washington St.

“It was a different city 15 years ago. It's gotten more busy - there are more people downtown. It has its ups and downs," says Mapp. Mapp has been in the same location in the Oddfellows Building on the corner of Columbia and Fourth Avenue at 210 West Fourth, for 15 years. “Our landlords are awesome. They are very invested in the community.”

Asked what the secret to his success is, Mapp said, “We work in a business with low overhead but I have to be careful about what I stock, and I have to sell a lot of it by knowing the product intimately and making good recommendations. Our business plan is really simple: we find good stuff and we try to sell it,” says Mapp.

The relationship between the city, the Olympia Downtown Association and the PBIA got off to a rocky start in 2006. The PBIA is a geographic area with an advisory board elected by the businesses in that area, and the city collects from each business an assessed yearly amount between $150 - $750. The PBIA advisory board makes a recommendation to the city on how to utilize the funds. The fee is based on number of employees and what downtown "zone" their business falls within. The PBIA's goals are: a clean and safe downtown, civic beautification, marketing, holiday focus and business retention.

Katherine Mahoney, outgoing president of the PBIA organization, gave an overview of the organization, its marketing efforts and budget situation in 2009 and 2010. The PBIA proposed budget to the city is $100,000 in 2010, as opposed to $143,500 this year. The budget is typically about $125,000; the extra amount this year reflects a rollover amount from 2008.

Next year, downtown will lose city employee Peter Spotts who operates the Green Machine sweeper, which helps keep downtown clean. "Peter has been an amazing ambassador for downtown...we will see a real difference in cleanliness next year and I encourage all of you to get out and clean up the area in front of your shops," said Mahoney.

The Green Machine will be off the streets and kept in storage to await possible budget improvements in the future. A total of $10,000 is still budgeted in 2010 for the Green Machine's maintenance. The cost savings for not having Spotts and the Green Machine will be $40,000.

Other 2010 budget priorities include downtown cleanliness projects to be identified ($10,000), a steam cleaner ($2,000), flower baskets ($8,500), art bench project ($4,500), downtown marketing ($30,000), Olympia Downtown Association administrative support ($10,000), downtown cleanup ($5,000), holiday displays and support ($10,000) and probabtion crews/cleanup ($15,000).

Above: Artist bench project of the PBIA. This is one of 10 benches the PBIA spent$7,500 "beautifying" in 2009. This one is outside Last Word Books on Fourth Avenue. The PBIA has budgeted $4,500 on the bench project for 2010. The money went towards artist supplies and fees.

The marketing campaign of "It's Your Olympia," was designed by an Evergreen State College graduate, Eben Greene, who used to work at Archibald Sisters and now lives and works in Seattle. The words and logo are copyright free, which means anyone can use it. Banners with the theme are now hanging in the Olympia City Council chambers, and were hanging downtown, but were quickly damaged in last week's windstorm, so they were taken down for repair.

Lighted snowflakes, which made their debut last year, will be put up downtown next week. The city no longer lights the trees downtown for the holidays. "Finding access to power and weatherproof power boxes downtown is incredibly difficult," said Mahoney. The city will be placing more snowflakes on State Avenue this year, as well as Capitol Way. Businesses will not be hoping for a white holiday season, which ground downtown sales to a near halt before Christmas last year.

Joan Machlis, who recently lost her election campaign for Olympia city council to Jeannine Roe, attended the PBIA meeting and said to the group, "I've been very inspired by the PBIA. The city is cutting every discretionary program - programs that this community loves. This program assesses yourselves and you control the programs...this is only the beginning...."

Machlis also said that the former Department of Transportation lot on State Avenue will be striped and available for free parking for the holiday season. Machlis, who is now working for the Hands On Children's Museum on grantwriting and their capital financing campaign said, "I'm impressed and hopeful that the PBIA can build on their work. I intend to stay involved...I know the thrills and struggles of entreprenership."

The "P" is for Parking

“I was initially opposed to the PBIA when it was first pitched - it was different than what it’s been kind of bumpy,” says Patrick Mapp of Danger Room Comics. Many downtown business owners would call Mapp’s description an understatement. Parking, the "P" in the Parking Business Improvement Area organization, is a major sore spot for many downtown business owners.

Many businesses refused to pay the assessed fee and late notices were sent to an out-of-town collection agency. Now, the PBIA's collection agency, Grimm Collections, is locally owned, and provides an option of paying in installments or by credit card. Some still don’t want to pay it.

Daniel Furrer, former president of the Olympia Downtown Association and manager of Archibald Sisters, is adament that the PBIA's assessed fee is a cost of having a business downtown, and says, "This is a constantly evolving process. If businesses have suggestions on what the fee is going towards, come get involved with the PBIA and help determine priorities. It's a volunteer board of 13 - 15 people...come talk to us and get involved."

Ron Vansickel, owner of Peppers, at 114 Cherry Street, was one of those businesses that did not pay the PBIA fee. Vansickel says, “I’m dismayed in general by the city council. Parking is a problem - and my business was headed to the Westside because of the perception of downtown being unsafe. On Friday, for example, there were zero nearby parking places available. We’re wedged between the port construction on State Avenue, and the building of the new city hall on Fourth. To add insult to injury, parking enforcement doesn’t give us a break. I feel like the enforcement is just a revenue stream for the city….it’s bizarre that we can have a downtown without parking.”

Vansickel, who first opened Pizza Time downtown 20 years ago, says parking was rarely a problem before. “I’ve heard that we’ve lost a total of 52 parking spots with the loss of Safeway, and parking on State and Fourth due to the construction….I can't believe we don't have a parking garage.”

Above: The new Olympia City Hall under construction, November 20, 2009. No doubt, Peppers (Mexican restaurant) will enjoy great foot traffic business once the new city hall is scheduled to open January 31, 2011, if they can hang in there until then.

An estimated one third of downtown's 337 free parking spots are used by owners and employees. Theresa Anderson of Pizzazz says she and her mom have witnessed for years the activities of one man who works at the Office of Superintendent for Public Instruction (OSPI) in the old Capitol Building on Washington Street: he comes out every one and a half hours to move his car to a new free location. Anderson described the man and his car. "He must have a timer on his computer because he comes out like clockwork. Think of the amount of company time he wastes to move his car every 90 minutes!" Free parking is scheduled to end in March with the installation of new meters.

Theresa Anderson said that 200 residents live in the Washington block of downtown Olympia. The old Hotel Olympian above Pizzazz has 50 apartments, and about 20 of those residents have cars. About ten of those residents are disabled so their cars are allowed to stay parked in one spot for several days in front of her store. Daisy Anderson added, "If the new city council doesn't see eye to eye on downtown issues, nothing will change."

Above: Signmaker Ira Coyne uses his talent on Saturday night to help Quality Burrito look spiffy.

Above: The PBIA and the Olympia Downtown Association is sponsoring a wide variety of activities downtown throughout the holiday season, November 29 - December 19. Come on down! Click to image to enlarge.

For more information on the Olympia Downtown Association and the PBIA, go to

For bus schedules, contact Intercity Transit at or 786-1881.

For more information on City of Olympia parking, go to

For a schedule of downtown activities, go to the Olympia Downtown Association at

Janine Gates often walks downtown. Feeling uncharacteristically lazy, Janine drove downtown on what turned out to be a busy late afternoon on Saturday. She circled around and around for a free parking spot because she did not want to pay money to park at a Diamond parking lot, although there were many, many, many spots available. In fact, Janine has never in her 26 years in Olympia paid money to a Diamond parking lot. Parking is free downtown on Saturdays and Sundays and weekday evenings. Finally, she found a spot right in front of Old School Pizza and, being able-bodied, walked around for a couple hours to do some of these interviews. Afterwards, she got two great slices of pizza from Old School and headed home to write this article.