The Olympia Downtown Association has honored three “Champions of Downtown” who it says have the courage, passion and resilience to own a business in the city’s core.
The ODA hosted a short reception Friday morning at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts for the honorees, who were nominated by ODA members and selected by the association’s economic vitality committee.
Selection was based on job creation, economic impact and a willingness to take a risk.
The first award went to Alana Carr and Paul Shepherd of Captain Little toy store and Compass Rose gift shop. Captain Little became downtown Olympia’s toy store in 2014, just months after the iconic Wind Up Here closed at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Washington Street.
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Captain Little’s co-owners were lauded for taking action and investing in downtown Olympia. Shepherd also owns the recently remodeled Compass Rose, a gift shop near Capitol Way and Fifth Avenue.
“We both love Olympia and have nothing but faith in downtown,” said Carr, who co-owns Captain Little and manages Compass Rose.
The second honoree was Mary Corso, owner of Courtyard Antiques and the new Courtyard Studio 721. She serves as board chairwoman of the Parking and Business Improvement Area, also known as the PBIA, a self-taxing district with about 435 business owners.
Corso, a Minnesota transplant, said she loves her adopted hometown and is here to stay.
“I hope in some small way I can make a difference in the city of Olympia,” Corso said.
The final honorees were Dean and Carla Jones, who own Encore Chocolates and Teas. The business opened in 2013 across from The Washington Center and recently moved to the New Caldonia building around the corner.
The couple were recognized for their “unbridled faith” in downtown Olympia for 25 years, and for having the courage to open a new business at a time when perceptions of downtown have been much less favorable.
Dean Jones noted that his wife is the backbone of the business because of all her behind-the-scenes work.
“We feel downtown Olympia is where we belong,” he said. “As business people, one goal should be to promote the positive things about downtown.”
Jim Haley, president of event-sponsor Thurston First Bank, said the perception of downtown Olympia is changing for the better because of business owners who believe in downtown. Haley shared a story about a time he reached out to a group of businessmen after overhearing their criticism of downtown’s business climate. Haley said he invited the men to visit the bank, and they showed up a week later, asking him to “show us how it’s done.”
To that end, Haley said business owners are ultimately responsible for making downtown thrive.
“The city government moves at a full glacial pace,” he said. “We need to move at the speed of business.”