Downtown plaza celebrates grand opening

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WALLA WALLA -- There's more on the menu than pizza at The Den Downtown Pizzeria.

There are salads and burgers. And thanks to the open marketplace-style of the building, there are also handmade soaps, throw pillows, coasters with witty remarks, balloon bouquets, paintings, tie-dye apparel, incense, vintage knives and more.

The Den is the largest and main tenant of downtown's recently filled retail complex, Garden City Plaza, at 119 W. Alder St. But it is not the only one, by far.

Through the giant wooden double doors at the revitalized building sandwiched between Misbehaven Spa & Salon and Pho Sho, the space is essentially divided into two sides: one for The Den and the soon-to-come Journey's Pub, and the other for a series of small local specialty retail shops.

Quietly opened in late September, the complex provides a diverse array of businesses space to sell their products under an unusual business model that combines food and shopping in one location.

This weekend, tenants will celebrate their complex with a grand opening event. The celebration kicks off today. Food and drink specials, drawings and discounts will be offered. Bad Monkey will perform tonight from 8 to 11 p.m. Live music will also be offered Saturday night by a Whitman College rock band.

Word of the complex has spread largely by word of mouth, said Jennifer Oney, who owns The Den with her husband, Jason.

As customers discover it, they find numerous reasons to return, she said.

The Den may be a familiar place to many who visited the pizzeria when it was in College Place. Oney said after opening there, she quickly noticed the majority of customers were coming from Walla Walla, as were the majority of deliveries. She set out to find a new location and discovered one where she could also provide space for a friend's business. The concept grew from there.

Friends Scooter and Jesse Johnston had already been operating in tandem with the pizzeria through their business, Nest, a collection of handmade items through their artisan businesses Walla Walla Soapworks and Paleo Press. They were among the first to sublet the small retail shops through the Oneys. They're also partners in Journeys Pub, slated to open late next week. Other tenants include Walla Walla Wine Barrels, Sky Gardens, Sherry Orchard Art and Up Balloon Boutique.

The businesses have a sort of symbiotic nature. "We all help bring in business," said Amber Clark, owner of Up Balloon Boutique. She said some shoppers may have a particular destination in mind when they come through the Alder Street doors. "Then (they) realize the rest of us are there," she said.

For Tiffany Sinclair, owner of Skye Gardens, a shop that specializes in everything from tie-dye to those looking for new age metaphysical items, the relatively small square-footage for each business is ideal. "The feeling in here is just amazing," she said. "It's like a village."

Sinclair said the pizzeria's dinner crowd provides a clientele for evening hours. Consequently, the retailers who operate at night offer a shopping experience that typically ends for downtown's other retail stores by 6 or 7 p.m.

Most importantly, operators say, the mix continues to diversify downtown's retail sector -- both in the local items offered and in the unusual building. Gradually, more and more are finding it, too, especially as The Den expands with Salsa Night and various dinner specials, Oney said. "It's been getting better and better."

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