A new retail business opens downtown Thursday, May 6. Walla Walla General Store will sell items for home, kitchen and gifts from the old Cummins Athletic Supply location on E Alder.
Locally-crafted copper and carbon steel cookware, decorative mugs and glasses, illustrated fabrics and table linens, pillows, pottery and ceramics are some of the items that have already started to arrive at Walla Walla General Store with co-founders Jean Bender and Peggy Frasse excited to open the doors.
Hours of operation will be 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.
“We’re about homeware, kitchen and gifts so that’s dishes and glassware, pots and pans, pillows and just the thing for your home,” Bender said. “Everything from baskets to ceramics to carbon cookware that’s being made by a local blacksmith, barware, Simon Pearce glass.”
Downtown may look, or at least feel, a little more back to normal now with Walla Walla General Store doing business at 110 E Alder St.
That 4,000-square foot location had long been Cummins Athletic Supply, an establishment here for almost 70 years. On heels of its closure in 2019 came the coronavirus pandemic and economic chaos with Walla Walla losing nine downtown businesses by then end of 2020.
The city has rebounded nicely in 2021 however, and though this year is barely four months old, Downtown Walla Walla Foundation executive director Kathryn Witherington has already reported more than a dozen new businesses.
Witherington especially welcomes the addition of Walla Walla General Store because of its location.
“I am excited that retail is returning to Alder Street,” Witherington said. “So much of downtown’s energy is focused on Main, but there’s really cool things on Alder. Any new business that opens there hopefully brings attention to, not only itself, but the other amazing offers on that street.”
That’s been one of the goals behind Walla Walla General Store, Bender said, because they would only benefit from being in a healthy surrounding business community.
The idea for Walla Walla General Store came to Bender and Frasse last year while walking their dogs at Bennington Lake not long after COVID-19 had begun transforming the world. Close friends the last 15 years since first meeting each other while hunting and fishing in Ellensburg, Wash., they shared a notion that homes were no longer simply the place where people eat and sleep.
Walla Walla General Store would offer the sort of things that could help make home more of a sanctuary. Options were especially limited here with Macy’s having closed its local Main Street location in early 2020. That was one less store where shoppers could see household items of interest first hand, pick them up, examine them and make a better judgement.
Both already had decades of retail experience in customer service, so they saw the opportunity to open a store of their own.
“For us, it was that kitchen moment when Macy’s closed that really allowed us to think, OK but what if we did have more of those things that make life nice and easy, and you can grab,” Bender said. “Whether that’s a perfect pitcher, a nice new mug, a good pot and pan, a pillow to throw on your front porch which you just renovated.
“Or the wedding registry at Macy’s? Where are people going to buy plates and glasses — I always want to grab another pillow for my house; I’m pillow crazy. Where do I do that? Or where do I grab a beautiful hostess gift? We have all of those things.”
Bender and Frasse also hope their shop becomes a boon to local life, more than a retail store. Since recently relocating from Seattle, they have fallen in love with the Walla Walla Valley, its beautiful landscape and friendly community, so they plan to host art classes, book readings and signings, and other social events.
“Half of our business is to really highlight the wonderful aspects of living in Walla Walla,” Bender said. “The friendliness, the way people connect each other with neighbors, stores downtown. If we don’t have what you’re looking for and it’s available somewhere else in town, we’ll send people there. We’ll make sure people here find what they need.”
Walla Walla General Store can also open by appointment, Bender added.
“We really want to be a resource for locals, a place people rely on to grab just that thing — like the right rubber spatula or the perfect hostess gift,” Bender said. “That’s really what we want.”