Business

Madrone Lane: More a piazza, than a street

Madrone Lane has it
Madrone Lane has it's quiet time, but many islanders have grown to love the piazza feeling of the downtown gathering place.
— image credit: Dennis Anstine/Staff Photo

Linda Brandt’s moment of truth came on a Saturday a couple of years ago when she saw a pizza-delivery car nearly smack a mother of two pushing a double-wide stroller down Madrone Lane from the Farmers’ Market.

“I was terrified because the guy almost hit her and the kids,” she said. “I came home and told my husband (James Brandt) that we needed to something about it.

“He said, ‘You own the street, so shut it down.’ I bought four tables and eight chairs, put some orange cones at one end and a pot of flowers at the other, and closed it from 5:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Saturdays only,” she said.

Now, spurred by the need for relief from the Winslow Way reconstruction project, the private property dubbed Madrone Lane, is opened 12 hours daily.

The Brandts, who bought four buildings and the nearby “street” sight-unseen from realtor Georg Syvertsen in 1989, are now considering keeping it open year-around.

“I’ve decided to definitely have it open daily during the market’s six months (April 15 to Oct. 15),” she said, “and maybe all year. But I want the community to weigh in on that.”

(Visit www.madronelane.blogspot.com, key “home,” and fill out Brandt’s poll.)

The retired couple’s move here from Palo Alto, Calif., has a serendipitous feel to it, considering that Madrone Lane is now surrounded by three of the island’s most successful small businesses – Blackbird Bakery, Churchmouse Yarns and Tea, and Mora Ice Cream. And it will soon be the home of Marché, a restaurant owned by Greg Atkinson, one of the Northwest’s most popular chefs.

But it hasn’t been all about good luck.

“The previous tenants were mostly services,” she said, “and it was my goal to get some retail down there. Fortunately, I could hand-pick people and kind of make them prove what they could do because we were still living in Palo Alto. That paid off because Churchmouse, Blackbird and Mora are all one of a kind.”

The connecting arterial was known then as Harold’s Square, named after renowned Northwest architect Hal Molstad, who “sort of created the street” when the buildings were constructed in the 1960s.

It was never, however, an actual city right of way, though the owners allowed it to be used as an option after the city bought property up the hill that now contains City Hall and Bainbridge Performing Arts.

“Some people think it’s owned by the city and others  know it’s private property,” she said, “but I can tell you who does all the work.”

She tells the story of some young adults drinking beer at one of tables, which have a “no-purchase-required” policy for those sitting at them.

“I approached them about them drinking there, and this guy said, ‘Hey, this is a private street.’ That’s true, I said, but you can’t drink on this street because it’s my street. We all laughed about it.”

She cleans tables and chairs (left overnight) and opens the island’s facsimile of an Italian piazza early every morning, then closes it at 6 p.m. sharp.

“I need some help and have tried to get volunteers to chip in,” she said, “but they don’t last long. “I’m the old guy doing all the work down there.”

Still, she knows how much the community has enjoyed the space, especially during the recent hectic months.

“It’s all been a very positive experience for the community, including the owners and their tenants,” she said.

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