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Kitsap Peninsula’s downtowns brisk with activity

From Gig Harbor to Bainbridge Island, downtowns appear to prove that the economic recovery is giving small businesses their due. If commercial real estate activity seems sporadic in most cities, it’s because the number of building vacancies is smaller — in contrast to several years ago.

Bainbridge Island is a good example. Steve Sutorius, who owns Wildernest outdoor store on Winslow and The Gear Stash on Bjune Drive, said when he opened six years ago, the vacancy rate was an estimated 20 percent. But in the past six to 12 months, that number has shrunk significantly and the empty storefronts are fewer.

“There’s not much available, and that’s good for business,” said Sutorius, who is vice president of the Bainbridge Island Downtown Association. “When the stores are full, it creates a vibe that shows Winslow is open for business.”

One of the notable empty spots is in the Island Gateway complex, home to the new Bainbridge Island Museum of Art. A 1,200-square-foot retail spot has been open for a few months in the so-called Building B, the former site of Eagle Harbor Market. But property owner Asani Development Corp. says the vacancy is not an accident.

“We are getting a lot of interest but we are very selective about the business we’d like in that space,” said Andrew Lonseth, Asani director. “To prosper, it will need to appeal to multiple demographics and be a lively business that is intriguing to locals as well as tourists. We’d rather have the right tenant later than the wrong tenant now.”

The vacancy is the last at Island Gateway, located at the corner of Highway 305 and Winslow Way. Avalara expanded earlier this year into the second floor of Building B

after outgrowing its space next door. (Lonseth said the second floor was designed for a restaurant but Avalara really needed the space.) 

Bainbridge Bakers recently occupied half of the first floor. In business for 28 years, the bakery opened at Island Gateway in March as a second location. A new craft-beer taproom, Ale House at Winslow, is expected to open next door later in June.

The building has a rooftop events deck that can accommodate about 200 people. It has already been reserved for various summer events. Ale House and Bainbridge Bakers will have priority booking for the space, which includes a small service kitchen, a large fireplace and a glass canopy.

The entryway and the landscaping at the development were due to be complete by early June, and the area will no longer look like a construction site, Lonseth said. A water feature and patio furniture will add to the appeal, he said.

“We feel the plaza will be a draw,” he said, adding, “The museum has been a phenomenal success and drawing people to other businesses too.”

Other new faces on the island include Plum, a home and garden store that opened on Winslow Way in May, Peter Ross Fine Jewelry at Madrone Lane and Café Trios, which opened at the east end of Winslow.

Café Trios, technically, is not a new kid on the block. The café operated for about a year and a half before closing in 2009, and then the building stood empty. Angela Veeder, whose family owns the property, and Michael Doctor reopened in the same spot in May — and kept the name.

Another diner that expanded to Winslow is J’aime Les Crepes, a popular Kingston business. Located on Madrone Lane next to Mora ice cream shop, the creperie offers much of the same menu as in Kingston.

Owner Paul Pluska said he wanted to be on the island when he moved from Seattle more than 10 years ago, but ended up in Kingston because he couldn’t find a spot. 

While being a vendor at various events over the past decade, he consistently saw Bainbridge as the best market. Last year, Pluska went up and down Winslow on a scouting mission. He loved the piazza atmosphere and the pedestrian traffic at the Mora building. So he wrote the property owner, expressing his interest should a vacancy come up.

Lucky for him, it did. 

 “It’s been steady. The biggest difference is the traffic pattern,” he said after two weeks at the new café. 

J’aime Les Crepes will not sell ice cream cones but still offers specialty ice creams with crepes (with ingredients such lavender, which Pluska grows himself). The most notable difference between the two locations is perhaps the interior — the one on the island offers ample seating.

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