Startups brave COVID to open in BI

Despite the many challenges of COVID-19, including some operations going out of business, four new businesses have braved the economy and opened in downtown Bainbridge Island.

New entrepreneurs include” a former Disney employee, a woman who came here to be near grandkids, a couple who did so well during the pandemic in Port Townsend they started a second store here, and a couple who “accidentally” moved here.

Island Life Artisan Gifts

What’s your favorite travel memento? A button, a magnet, a photo or a piece of art?

For artist and business owner of Island Life Artisan Gifts on 424 Winslow Way, Alex Sanso, she remembers that her favorite mementos were a book of leftover Disneyland ride tickets that her mother saved in the top drawer of her desk.

“I can really remember, every once in a while, just pulling open that drawer and flipping through them and thinking, I can’t wait to go on these rides again,” Sanso said.

Ever since then, Sanso has had a passion for creating meaningful mementos and a career designing merchandise that connects people with those experiences.

Sanso began her career working in an art store and eventually moved to Florida to work for Disney as a designer and artist for their merchandise and gift shops.

“That was the first time that I really got a sense of how important a simple souvenir could be. How meaningful it was for guests of the parks to find really great, meaningful mementos of this trip that they saved up for years to come to Walt Disney World for a week with their family. It’s very expensive, so it was on us as the creatives, to create compelling art and products,” Sanso said.

With the help of friends and local merchants who donated furnishings and labor, the shop has an eclectic, funky style and a welcoming vibe filled with items like the ones Sanso made working for theme parks, cruise ships, resorts, national parks and merchants. It is here where she exhibits her iconic artwork and souvenirs while featuring local artists who have delighted shoppers since her grand opening a few months ago.

“The place was filled with people,” Sanso said. “I had live music here, and it was a smashing success. Every time a local walked in during those first couple of months, they would inevitably say, “Wow, we have needed something like this on this street for a long time. Something focused on Bainbridge.”

With 17 artists contributing consignment items, the gift store offers a range of goods and souvenirs priced from $3 to $3,500. Items include; buttons, postcards, t-shirts, photographic prints, handmade ceramics, jewelry, hand-knit items, fused glass, canvas prints and high-end cutting boards.

Sea Glass

A grouping of richly textured pillows greets visitors at the door of the coastal-inspired design showroom brought to life by owner, artist and designer Michele Gardiner at Sea Glass, 380 Winslow Way. Gardiner is a multi-talented woman who had four successful careers before bringing all her talents together at Sea Glass.

Originally based in Utah, Gardiner built a career portfolio of work as a florist, a wedding gown designer, an interior designer and an artist in Park City. But when her daughter moved to the Northwest she made the move to Bainbridge to retire and be near her grandchildren.

Two years ago she opened Park City Design in Pleasant Beach Village at Lynwood Center. When she saw the Winslow location become available she jumped at the opportunity to move. After several months of remodeling, the Sea Glass design showroom opened in May.

“I’m thrilled with how the art carries the business, which I didn’t foresee. It’s nice that I don’t need to worry about deliveries or inventory and that the art has become an accessory,” Gardiner said.

Her seafoam green and blue watercolor paintings anchor the Sea Glass motif and feel of a beach house with luxurious decor, furniture and gifts in the light-filled space.

As visitors enter her showroom, Gardiner greets everyone with a smile and a laugh. “It’s so much fun. People come in and they’re just delighted with what we have here. They tell us, ‘I love your store, I love your spot, and we love your art.’ It’s delightful. It’s more than I imagined it would be.”

Lively Olive Tasting Bar

Jennifer and Jeremy Wake, managing owners of the lively Olive Tasting Bar at 152 Winslow Way, are the purveyors of imported olive oils and balsamic vinaigrettes sourced from travel destinations that are drawing local cooks to their shop to buy and refill bottles with tastes and flavors that remind them of meals enjoyed while traveling before the pandemic began.

Together with extended family, the Wake’s purchased the Lively Olive store in Port Townsend in 2019 and a few months later the pandemic hit.

“We kind of expected the worst, but found out, people were cooking a lot more, and business picked up. We did really well, even through the pandemic, and decided to open up a second store.” After scouting out locations in the Tacoma and Silverdale malls they felt like Bainbridge was the best spot.

A year later, they have performed better than expected for opening a new business in the middle of the pandemic. “We expected to lose the first year. We’re going to be right around break even this year if everything goes as anticipated,” Wake said.

Wake said it took a lot of work to get the shop ready for business. His wife and his father made all the cabinets and shelves themselves and the tasting bar was made with wood reclaimed from a bowling alley.

Wake said the community has been excited and supportive.

“Everyone seems really welcoming, especially our neighboring businesses. They listen to us, and they give us advice.” Wake especially enjoys getting to know his customers. At that moment a local couple entered to refill a bottle of olive oil which Wake said happens every day.

“A lot of them have traveled to Greece and Italy and have fresh olive oil, so they love it when they come in here and taste that.”

Bottle refills receive a $1 discount to encourage reuse and to keep the green bottles out of the landfill.

If you’re new to olive oils and vinaigrettes, Wake recommends Tuscan Herb with garlic and sundried tomatoes and herbs with their Sicilian Lemon White Balsamic Vinaigrette. It’s especially good on a green salad or for bread dipping, he said.

The Lamb & Kid

For Sarah and Robert Dimond, co-owners of The Lamb and Kid yarn shop at 104 Madison Ave. N, opening their business last summer wasn’t really planned, it was a circumstance of the pandemic.

They were actually on a long trip and renting a place on BI when their life changed. “We accidentally moved here. We went on a long road trip, then COVID hit, and we never went home,” Dimond said, laughing.

Dimond isn’t a newcomer as she’s been in the yarn industry since she started a company out of her kitchen in 2006 and for a number of years, she hand-dyed custom yarns and offered them at trunk shows. But in the spring of 2019, she decided to take a sabbatical and says the passion never left her.

Dimond is a “dye-pot-to-your-needle” hand-dyer of exclusive yarns that she and her husband feature in their store. Her love for color, pattern and texture influences the yarn she makes to create the finished object she envisions. “I’m a knitter at heart. I love textiles of all sorts.” The Lamb & Kid offers artisan yarns and workshops for every skill level.

The Lamb & Kid shop is filled wall-to-wall with skeins and balls of exclusive, colorful, custom-milled, hand-dyed yarns made of yak, cashmere and mohair.

“We are knitters, and we love to cater to knitters, crocheters and crafters. And, help their ideas come to life.”

Dimond says there’s so much more to a skein of yarn than meets the eye. “It’s entertainment. It’s tactile. It’s self-care. It’s a hobby, and it’s a potential heirloom. You’re making it for yourself or someone you love.”

Since their opening, business has been good. “The reception has been very warm and welcoming, both online and in-person here on the island,” Dimond said. “It’s no small feat to open a new business in any environment, but COVID added an extra layer of intrigue and difficulty. But even with that, it’s been a lot of fun. I’m glad we’ve done it.”

Felted bowls displayed in a wooden bowl at Sea Glass interior design showroom in Winslow.

Felted bowls displayed in a wooden bowl at Sea Glass interior design showroom in Winslow.

Alex Sanso, owner and artist of Island Life Artisan Gifts, who pours her passion for creating meaningful mementos into everyone one of her creations.

Alex Sanso, owner and artist of Island Life Artisan Gifts, who pours her passion for creating meaningful mementos into everyone one of her creations.

Sarah Dimond with a bowl full of artisan yarns is the co-owner of The Lamb & Kid, and a yarn hand-dyeing expert and knitting enthusiast.

Sarah Dimond with a bowl full of artisan yarns is the co-owner of The Lamb & Kid, and a yarn hand-dyeing expert and knitting enthusiast.