Idea floated in Port Townsend to replace defunct Swain's Outdoor with mercantile co-op

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

Port Angeles group discussing locally owned store in former Gottschalks building

The Port Townsend plan of seeking local ownership of a store to replace a landmark business is similar to that of a group in Port Angeles, who hope to develop a locally owned department store at 200 W. First St., where Gottschalks closed its doors in May 2009.

The idea of creating a co-op in the empty building that once housed Gottschalks in Port Angeles was considered and discarded, said Jerry Nichols, co-owner of Coldwell Banker Uptown Realty and a member of the group.

The K.O. Erickson Trust, which owns the downtown building that housed Gottschalks, is working with Coldwell Banker Uptown Realty and a handful of Port Angeles residents.

The group tasked with developing a business plan for the store includes Nichols and Dan Gase of Coldwell Banker, Kaj Ahlburg, Ted Simpson, Bill Hermann, and Roy and Mary Gotham.

Nichols said they need to raise between $1.5 million and $2 million from investors to open.

If the money is raised, the store would likely open in spring 2012, he said.
PORT TOWNSEND -- A proposal to establish a community-operated mercantile store in the downtown space to be vacated by Swain's Outdoor will be addressed in a private meeting this week.

"We are in the research stage and are looking at the possibility of whether this will be a good idea," said Port Townsend Mayor Michelle Sandoval, a member of a community group -- Local Investment Opportunity Network -- or LION.

The Wednesday meeting is not open to the public, although public meetings would take place if the idea develops, Sandoval said.

Swain's Outdoors -- which has offered sporting goods, housewares and clothing in downtown Port Townsend since 1996 -- announced Jan. 7 that it was going out of business. The lease expires in September. Store manager Grant Cable said that a sublease agreement would be considered.

To replace the landmark store, LION -- which is part of North Olympic Peninsula's Local 20/20 -- has come up with an idea for a co-op offering appliances, furniture and other items.

Sandoval said the specifics of the proposal had not been developed, including inventory, management or membership structure.

Only the concept exists, which is the co-op model where the store will be owned by its members.

It will not be exclusive, elitist or expensive.

"I hope we can offer a low buy-in so a more people can participate," she said.

As a comparison, the Food Co-op requires its members to make a $100 capital investment in the business, payable all at once or for as little as $2 a month.

The Swain's space, at about 17,000 square feet, is flexible enough to accommodate inventory from appliances to wing nuts.

"There are a lot of stores that have closed downtown throughout the years," Sandoval said.

"I think people here would like to be able to buy appliances locally instead of driving to Sequim or Silverdale."

Inventory would be limited and displayed items would have to be ordered.

City Council member Kris Nelson, a Port Townsend restaurateur, said she didn't know how shoppers would respond to that system.

"People like to interact with what they want to buy, and touch the appliance or furniture they are getting before taking it home," she said.

"On the other hand, more people are comfortable buying things online they have never touched, so this could be successful."

LION is an informal group of local investors and community leaders who broker agreements between small businesses who are looking for cash infusions and those who wish to invest outside the stock market.

"We are like a dating service," said LION member Steve Moore.

"We introduce the people who need short-term cash to get their business going to those who want to invest."

After the introductions, the parties strike the deals themselves and LION itself does not benefit, Moore said.

"The investor and the business work out their own deals and the payback can be in cash or the investor can get a part of the business," he said.

According to its website, http://tinyurl.com/me25m4, LION is not a bank, lending institution, or financial consultant.

Its membership consists of local citizens who want to invest their money locally, thereby putting their investing money to work within the community.

Filling the Swain's space is well suited to LION's mission, Moore said, because a strong downtown benefits the entire community.

"We will use what we learn at the meeting to decide what path we take in the future," Sandoval said.

According to its website, other LION members are Leslie Cox, James Frazier, Ian Keith, Kees Kollf, Greg Kossow, Joanna Loehr, Thomas Loehr, Earll and Rena Murman, Bob and Phyllis Schultz, Linda Smith, Deborah Stinson, Jerry Stinson, Scott Wilson, and Bill Wise.

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Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or charlie.bermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: January 23. 2011 12:52AM
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