Building purchases, new businesses bring change to downtown

Two downtown Vashon buildings changed hands earlier this year when islander Michael McConnell bought them, bringing the number of commercial buildings he owns in or near town to four. Additionally, some new businesses are underway, all making for change in the downtown island core.

King County records show that on Jan. 30, McConnell Real Estate purchased the building that holds the Glass Bottle Creamery, Island Paper Chase and VALISE for $618,000. One week later, on Feb. 6, the company purchased the former home of Saucy Sisters for $560,000. He did not return an email inquiry regarding his plans, so his plans for the buildings are not yet publicly known.

McConnell also owns the Old Fuller Store at Center, which he purchased in 2015, and the building, which is currently under construction, between Sporty’s and The Hardware Store Restaurant.

In addition to his properties on Vashon, McConnell owns a chain of Caffe Vita coffee shops and Via Tribunali pizza restaurants in Seattle and New York City.

As word traveled about his recent island purchases, there were mixed reactions to the news, with some people raising concerns about the number of buildings he now owns, while others advocated for islanders to have a collective open mind.

At the Vashon-Maury Island Chamber of Commerce, Executive Director Jim Marsh fell into the latter category, indicating one person owning several buildings in town was not unusual for the island.

“In Vashon’s history, I don’t think that one person owning that much real estate is new,” he said. “I don’t think it’s inherently a problem.”

Lifelong islander Brian Brenno, who is currently the president of the Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Association, confirmed Marsh’s nod to history in an email and via a long Facebook post. He indicated that from nearly 100 years ago to the present, a small number of people have often owned buildings that housed multiple businesses. In the 1920s, Gus Bacchus owned from what is now Vashon Island Baking Company up to Subway, using a portion for his lumber business and leasing out other areas. At another time, he said, Garner Kimmel owned from the north wall of May Kitchen + Bar to Bank Road, operating his store there and leasing other storefronts to businesses. More recently, the Kimmel family owned and developed the complex where Granny’s Attic and Island Market are, he noted, and J.D. Properties owns the entire Thriftway complex.

While McConnell has not publicly shared plans for his latest purchases, county records provide some information about his intents for the buildings he bought earlier. For the Old Fuller Store, the King County Landmarks Commission approved the addition of a commercial kitchen there last summer for a cafe; for a time it seemed as though construction was underway, but now Department of Permitting and Review records show a building permit is on hold, pending further information from him. Closer to the heart of town, county records show a permit for a two-story remodel for a pizza place and an upstairs office next to The Hardware Store Restaurant.

The owners of Saucy Sisters closed the business, but some of the tenants of the other recently purchased building have indicated they hope to stay on.

Samantha Weigand of the creamery said that in early February, she and the other tenants, Alice Larson of Island Paper Chase and JiJi Saunders of VALISE, received an email from Bob Hawkins, who had owned the building with Chuck Robinson. That email notified them of the sale, she said, but it was not a large surprise as the tenants knew a sale was possible.

Weigand has rented her roughly 250-square foot space since the summer of 2015, offering handmade ice cream, local dairy products and eggs. She said a small space is essential for this aspect of her business — she also owns Vashon Island Baking Company — because she is only busy part of the year, but wants to maintain a presence in the off-season.

“I like that we all know each other,” she said about doing business on Vashon. “I look forward to extending that relationship to Mr. McConnell.”

Saunders did not respond by press time about this transition, but Larson, who moved out of McConnell’s building up the street last fall, said she, too, hopes to remain, noting that she is looking forward to talking with him.

Meanwhile, change is underway at several other places downtown. Hardware Store Restaurant owner Melinda Powers is expanding into the space that held the President of Me and then, temporarily, instruments for Vashon Events’ Instrument Library.

On Monday, she said the new space will be called Relish and serve as a gathering place to learn something new: cooking, bartending, flower arranging and more. The space will also be able to be used for private dining and special events and will have meal kits to go with organic fresh ingredients and recipes that people can pick up and take home. It is expected to open in the end of April.

Already open between Subway and James Hair Design is Studio Lux, owned by Hannah Kogan and Levin Pugsley. Kogan teaches Pilates, she said, and practices Ortho-bionomy, a gentle form of manual therapy. Levin does massage. Kogan said they would like to add African dance to the schedule as well as Kung fu in the upcoming months.

“We hope others will rent our space for other dance classes/exercise/meditation/workshops/etc. so that lots of creative work can happen in this space,” she said in a recent email.

Finally, in The Landing Building, there have been delays with creating the bar, butcher shop and kitchen space to be called The Ruby Brink, according to Jake Heil, who will operate the front of house and bar. His business partners there include Lauren Garaventa with the butcher shop and kitchen and Rustle Biehn with the kitchen and back of house.

Through the better part of 2017, Heil said he and his colleagues worked with an off-island contractor and have since parted ways.

“We are now moving ahead with a new builder from the island, reworking and calibrating after the delays of last year,” he said.

No opening date has been set, but he expressed gratitude in the midst of the delay.

“We are so grateful to have such a wonderful community around us, keeping us inspired, and reminding us of how fun and important our work is for the island,” he said.