Waples Mercantile Building: the heart of downtown Lynden beats again

Some call it the heart of Lynden. With an injection of several well-established businesses, the old Lynden Department Store is beating life into downtown Lynden once again.

Developers are almost done with a $6 million remodel of the historic building at 444 Front St., which partially burned in 2008 and has sat vacant since. The building’s developers renamed it the Waples Mercantile Building in honor of H.W. “Billy” Waples, who opened a general store in 1897 that became the Lynden Department Store.

Two well established Whatcom County businesses opened in the building’s 9,500-square-foot first floor retail space in late 2015 and three more will open their doors in early 2016.

So far, the building is reminiscent of Fairhaven. Village Books and Paper Dreams opened a second location in the Waples Building in November, and its Fairhaven neighbor, Drizzle Olive Oil and Vinegar, opened next door in December. Avenue Bread, another business with a Fairhaven location, is aiming to open a restaurant in the building early next year.

Overflow Taps and the Bellingham Baby Company also plan to open Waples locations in early 2016.

$6 million renovation

ForeFront Ventures, the group that owns the building, formed in 2013 when Teri and Matt Treat bought ownership shares of the property, joining Jeff and Debra McClure.

Teri Treat said the McClures approached her and her husband with ideas for the renovation.

“We love the building. It’s got great bones. It’s got so many things going for it,” she said. “The more we looked at the building and the more we talked to the McClure’s and fleshed it out, it was something we really wanted to do.”

Treat estimated that the project’s total cost will be more than $6 million. The developers aimed for historical accuracy throughout the project and worked with a historic preservation project manager.

“There were some challenges,” Treat said. “Preserving some of the timbers was more costly than we expected.”

Though the 2008 fire nearly destroyed the building, its structure survived, Treat said. And it’s a structure that would be hard to replicate. Sturdy, 12×12-inch old-growth timbers and bare brick walls are visible throughout the interior. The floor beneath the tall shelves at Village Books is made from vertically stacked 2×6-inch lumber from a time when the boards actually measured 2 inches by 6 inches. The concrete floor beneath the stainless steel tanks of olive oil at Drizzle is scarred from a century of use.

The National Register of Historic Places added the Waples Mercantile Building to its listing in 2011.

On the two-story building’s top floor, the developers are running The Inn at Lynden, a 35-room hotel, which opened on Dec. 28. The hotel is well-suited to serving tourists who come to see Lynden’s historic downtown, Treat said.

Andy Nguyen, executive chef at Drizzle Olive Oil and Vinegar’s new Lynden location, making a meat and cheese board. [OLIVER LAZENBY PHOTO | THE BBJ]
Andy Nguyen, executive chef at Drizzle Olive Oil and Vinegar’s new Lynden location, making a meat and cheese board. [Oliver Lazenby photo | The BBJ]

A perfect fit

ForeFront Ventures had little trouble attracting businesses to the building, Treat said.

Village Books and Paper Dreams, a Fairhaven book and gift store that opened its original location in 1980, had been looking for a space for a second location for several years, said Paul Hanson, general manager.

“When we heard about this and heard the history of the building and RMC’s reputation, it hit every point that we were looking for,” he said.

RMC Architects did design work for the building and Dawson Construction was the project’s general contractor.

A cascade effect led to Village Books and Paper Dreams, Drizzle, and Avenue Bread all signing leases in the building, Hanson said; The businesses heard about the opportunity from each other and were excited by each other’s interest.

Drizzle owners Ross and Dana Driscoll were also looking for a second location when they heard about the renovation, Dana Driscoll said.

“We’ve been looking for the perfect fit and this seemed like the perfect fit,” Dana Driscoll said. “We’ve been so welcomed here.”

Like its Fairhaven store, Drizzle’s Lynden location sells mostly olive oil. But unlike the original store, it has a variety of food. Executive chef Andy Nguyen serves meat and cheese boards, homemade pickles and other charcuterie.

In December, the owners of Fairhaven specialty cheese shop Perfectly Paired were also working toward opening a storefront in Lynden, down the street from the Waples Mercantile Building at 655 Front St.

“One reason that all these businesses are liking it up here is that downtown Lynden, like Fairhaven, is a great historic district,” Hanson said.

Bellingham Baby Company plans to open its Waples store in January, according to its website. The business, which sells clothes, toys and books for babies and toddlers, opened its Bellingham store in 2008 at 2925 Newmarket St., in Barkley Village.

Overflow Taps is the only business coming to the building that is not already established elsewhere. Overflow will have 13 taps with cider and beer, and will serve snacks and allow deliveries from nearby restaurants, CEO Jesse Nelson said. The business will donate 25 cents from every pint it sells to charities that help bring clean drinking water to developing countries, Nelson said.

Nelson and his partners, Josh Libolt and Adam Stacey, were interested in the building because of its other tenants, and for the building’s historical appeal. All three are Lynden residents, and both of Nelson’s wife’s parents worked in the Lynden Department Store, he said.

They’re aiming to open the tap house in late January, Nelson said.

Avenue Bread also plans to open its Waples location soon, according to its website.

Village Books and Drizzle have both been busy since opening, Hanson and Driscoll said. Hanson said local customers share memories of roaming the building’s department stores as children, or of their parents or grandparents working in the building.

“They’re either in tears or on the verge of tears,” he said.

Fairhaven connection

Downtown Lynden, with its compact core and small businesses, is a similar retail environment to Fairhaven, said Gary Vis, executive director of the Lynden Chamber of Commerce.

“We have strong independent businesses that have gone on for generations,” He said.

To Lynden, the building reopening is “a really big deal,” Vis said, especially because so many of the businesses moving in have been successful elsewhere. And they don’t create much overlap or competition with other Lynden businesses, he said.

“I haven’t talked to anyone yet who is not thrilled,” Vis said. “We know ultimately what’s good for one is good for all.”

Oliver Lazenby, associate editor of The Bellingham Business Journal, can be reached at 360-647-8805, Ext. 5052, or olazenby@bbjtoday.com

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