(Pictured above from left to right: Maricel Florenosos, partner Teri Treat and Hailyn Jorgensen)
It’s not the first time that Teri Treat has encountered difficult times in the course of doing business. She started a successful Bellingham restaurant in her 20s, and she’s been involved in numerous real estate projects in both the commercial and private sectors.
Today, as a partner at The Inn at Lynden, Teri is in a position to protect and preserve a boutique hotel in one of Lynden’s historic landmark structures. The Waples building is much like the proverbial phoenix that rose from the ashes—figuratively and literally.
Looking back: The building
The building may be historic, but modern, clean-lined interiors greet guests in the lobby. Abstract paintings by Barbara Sternberger, on loan from the nearby Jansen Art Center, provide a cosmopolitan edge that contrasts with a vintage bike rack loaded with touring bikes for guests.
The building’s founder was businessman W.H. “Billy” Waples, who opened a general store on the corner of Fifth and Front streets in downtown Lynden on Nov. 1, 1897. That building would burn in 1913, but in 1914 Waples constructed a new building on the site, according to an essay for Historylink.org by Phil Dougherty.
The new Waples building at one point housed the largest department store west of the Mississippi River, according to Lynden Chamber of Commerce records, and it is on both the state and national historic registers. Waples himself retired in 1960, and the store—which by then had become the Lynden Department Store, a place to buy anything and everything, even wagons and coffins in its earlier days—had its final sale in 1979.
After a period of stagnation, downtown Lynden eventually underwent a “Dutch” makeover along Front Street during the late 1980s. The reimaging included vibrant flower baskets, workers in Dutch-inspired garb, and an empty drug store becoming a Dutch-themed restaurant.
The Lynden Department Store building at the corner at Front and Fifth streets began its second life under contractor Leonard Vander Velden, who renamed it Delft Square and divided it internally into a series of small stores and eateries.
As recession hit the economy in 2008, another disaster struck the 43,000-square-foot building. A four-alarm fire caused sizable damage, caving in the roof. But the building’s history would not end there.
Local developer Jeff Johnson and his wife, Suzanne, purchased the shell of the building for $210,000 in the fall of 2008. Along with Jeff and Debra McClure and Pete Dawson, from Dawson Construction, they proceeded to clean out the interior of the building. Things came to a halt, however, as they waited for the depressed real estate market to improve.
According to the essay by Dougherty, ideas for the site were plentiful and included a public market, a climbing wall, a six-lane bowling alley, a movie theater, retail kiosks and a 42-room hotel. Both the City of Lynden and the local YMCA had ideas in the mix.
None of those came to fruition. Instead, the McClures and Teri and Matt Treat bought out the Johnsons and Dawson in 2013. Their decision to pursue the project had come while they were having dinner together across the street from the Jansen Art Center and became encouraged by that development and reuse of space.
The historic building itself gave the four partners inspiration for the design. They worked closely with RMC Architects in Bellingham, where Jeff McClure works as an architect, on the design and details of The Inn. Dawson Construction was hired to do the buildout.
While one option was to demolish the heavily damaged building and fully restart, the team decided to carefully protect and preserve what they could while retaining room to be creative. They salvaged Douglas fir, for example, and used it to line some of the floors. They also moved the inn’s entrance to Fifth Street to preserve Front Street for retail. Someday, when the market indicates a need for more space downtown, the partners plan to renovate the 4,500-square-foot basement space.
Back in 2010, the City of Lynden had put together a comprehensive plan to look particularly at the city’s retail needs. One discussion focused on hospitality. At that time, there were few options along Guide Meridian for visitors to stay. Homestead Resort had a small hotel, and there had been a bed and breakfast or two in town. Later, The Mill closed its small boutique to house a local Youth with a Mission group and to focus on the building owner’s primary business, Elements Hospitality. A need did exist for visitors who wanted to stay the night in Lynden—and to spend their days and evenings around town.
“Our guests come, eat and shop,” Teri Treat said. “They come, have a good time and go home.”
The Inn opens
The Inn opened on Dec. 28, 2015. The charming hotel has 35 rooms of various sizes. One extended stay suite has a generous 509 square feet with a bed outfitted in linens and blankets from The Comphy Company in Ferndale. Amenities at The Inn include free parking, free WiFi everywhere, air conditioning, shops and restaurants onsite and nearby, and a shared lounge/TV area. A meeting room, overlooking Village Books, seats 25.
“We are blessed with staff who have been with us from the very beginning, and they are our greatest asset,” Treat said. She pointed to the front desk, where Kira Florenosos, The Inn’s assistant manager, was working.
The Inn occupies just one part of the building. Putting together the tenancy of the building was also vital in bringing it back to life. Most of the tenants have been there since it reopened, with Overflow Taps and clothing boutique Cheeks having moved in later. Cheeks moved within weeks of Christmas just over a year and a half ago from a smaller location further down Front Street. The larger space allowed Cheeks to expand its offerings beyond jeans to a full selection of women’s attire. “She’s an amazing entrepreneur,” Treat said.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the occupants have been much quieter than usual. Village Books, Cheeks and Bellingham Baby Company have been doing online sales, with the latter also selling face masks. Customers can come to The Inn’s front desk to pick up their online purchases. Avenue Bread, which faces Front Street, closed for a time before reopening for pickup orders. Overflow Taps has added pizza to its lineup.
“Each year the Inn has grown in occupancy and revenues,” Treat said. “January and February we were beating our forecasts, then COVID-19 came and revenues dropped. Obviously, 2020 will be different for everyone.”
Teri Treat stays in close contact with Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism. Regional research indicates that travel will pick up in the fall, she said. Research also suggests that folks will travel closer to home and may choose to travel by car instead of flying, a trend that could benefit the Pacific Northwest.
Treat said she is looking forward to the state progressing toward phases in which businesses can reopen. Like many other residents and businesspeople, she is eager to move forward faster than slower—but safely at the same time. While some in the community might be focused on the difficulties surrounding the coronavirus, Treat is opting for positive, long-term thinking. It’s important to discover just how special the community is, she said—and to be resilient, like Waples. “Commit to hard work,” she said. “Collaborate and be self-reliant.”
The Inn is considered an “essential business” and has been open to travelers and workers from near and far. Some guests arrived to retrieve their children from college when schools were closing campuses on both sides of the border. Some came from California, she said, and hurried to meet their children at the Canadian border to bring them home. While travelers have been fewer, some guests are still passing through and others are staying at The Inn longer term while they work nearby.
The Inn has not lost any staff during the pandemic. “We are doing our absolute best,” Treat said.
Like many businesses, The Inn has implemented extra safety measures—cleaning high-touch surfaces, laundering linens at high temperatures and offering no-touch check-in. Eventually, the impacts of the coronavirus will diminish. Treat and The Inn’s other partners are planning to move ahead. They have been holding online meetings with a locally organized, 20-member lodging association that has existed for two and a half years under the guidance of Keith Coleman of the Marriott SpringHill and TownePlace Suites in Bellingham. Though in some ways they are competitors, these businesses also are helping each other out. They share knowledge, learn what is happening in the community and collaborate.
The Inn also is involved with the Lynden Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Lynden Business Association.
“Lynden businesses are not dying,” Treat wrote in a follow-up email. “We are trying! Our hope is for more commerce soon, while keeping everyone safe and healthy. We continue to pick up a bit every week. Our sanitation and extra cleaning protocol is working, and we feel confident we will serve our guests well.”
While some days have not been easy, Treat said she remains optimistic, full of faith and even excited. Throughout the crisis, she has noticed others in the community with positive outlooks, such as those who developed the Whatcom Arts Project, an online collaboration of more than 30 performing and visual arts organizations.
Every day, Treat asks herself, “How can I do my part?” ■