Some might know Edmonds as the regional ferry launching spot. Others might’ve strolled along the town’s lovely low-tide beaches, taking in the views of the Olympic Mountains. But those really in the know can identify Edmonds as home to Washington State’s first certified Creative District.
The Edmonds Creative District is the town’s downtown heart, in more ways than one. It’s awakened a culture where creative businesses work to support each other — during normal times and during COVID-19 — through networking and innovation. It’s a model that translates to communities everywhere.
Mixed-media artist Lillyan Hendershot, owner of the graphic- and web-design business, The Branding Iron, helped establish the district’s boundaries and determine who would be classified as a “creative” business.
“One could assume that creativity only includes the traditional fine arts, but that’s not the whole picture. We wanted to see you working with your hands creatively,” Hendershot says, along with being a small, independently owned business.
So the district’s creative sector includes businesses exhibiting visual arts (fine art, photography), design and architecture, and literary arts (bookstores and publishing). But it also includes those who demonstrate talent, an eye for presentation, oran artistic gift. For example, businesses focused on culinary arts (brewing, coffee, food and catering), cabinetry, software, jewelry, advertising and more.
The diverse mix can amplify creativity for individual businesses.
“When you’re surrounded by other creative professionals, it helps you be more creative,” Hendershot says. “You have inspiration all around you. Even going to a coffee shop with art on the walls, a foam-fern in the latte, and music playing. There’s a vibe that makes your brain start working and thinking creatively. It’s definitely helpful to me to have a downtown focused on creativity.”
In a town with so many distinctive small businesses, “even the experience of purchasing everyday items can be unique and filled with art,” she points out. She takes her 3-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son to buy art supplies at Art Spot, shop for Edmonds-designed clothing at Little Bipsy, and ooh over ancient fossils at The Wishing Stone.
Other business owners relocated to Edmonds, attracted by the creative vibe. “Edmonds has such a strong-knit community that supports small and family-owned business,” says restauranteur Shubert Ho, who moved to Edmonds from San Jose, California, 16 years ago.
Significant advantages include its seaside location, beautiful views and lack of congestion, Ho says. People live and work in Edmonds. And it’s a day-trip destination for the Greater Seattle area — with Instagram-ready backdrops everywhere.
In downtown Edmonds, Ho opened a catering business and destination restaurants (with business partner Andrew Leckie): Bar Dojo, Salt & Iron, The Market, and San Kai.
That diverse creativity can also create new partnership opportunities. Ho hangs new artwork every month in Salt and Iron and caters galas for downtown Edmond’s Cascadia Art Museum, focused on Northwest art and artists.
A believer in cooperative business-building, Ho has helped several former employees get their own restaurants off the ground. “We’re only as good as the neighbor next door,” he says, “so it’s in everyone’s interest to offer mutual support.”
“We’re really used to coming together and supporting each other from a business and personal standpoint,” he says.
“We have quite a community of networking to get art out there, and get art on the walls,” says Denise Cole of Cole Gallery and Art Studio, a downtown Edmonds art gallery.
The gallery consists of a 1,650-square foot gallery representing more than 50 artists — most from Washington and Oregon — along with an 800-square foot space for art classes. Since COVID-19, some of the 100 classes per year have moved online, attracting students from as far as Germany.
Cole participates in the third Thursday-night art walks, an opportunity for creative businesses to open their doors. Up to 35 businesses, galleries and restaurants host photos, paintings and sculptures, as hired musicians enliven the background. Art Walk Edmonds, or AWE, is now on hiatus but will be brought back when safe, hopefully, later this summer.
“Art has tendrils in everything here,” Cole says. “We have a reputation of being an arts town, so customers and students come looking for arts,” she says. Those who move to town often mention that they’re art aficionados.
“The Creative District creates an increased sense of wanting to come here and look at art, and spending hours instead of minutes,” Ho says, in agreement. “In turn, people might spend a little more money, get a snack after they’ve walked around, and start planning their next trip back.”
And creativity can inspire innovative pivots, as well. In response to COVID-19, Hendershot and her team began making masks after a few friends requested fabric masks. Now they’ve custom-designed, sewn and sold more than 700.
“When the economy came to a halt, we saw a need that wasn’t being met,” Hendershot says. “Thinking creatively and responding to our community is what got us through the closure.”
The Edmonds Creative District is a traditional, walkable small-city downtown featuring a rich mix of arts, culture, creative-sector businesses, public gathering spaces, and historic structures – all on the shores of Puget Sound with panoramic views of the Olympic Mountains.