Downtown Bellingham is filled with alleys, some more attractive than others. But only one is home to the Alley District. Here you’ll find artists, makers and dreamers who had a vision to work together and create a wonderful community. Whether metal sculptor or wooden bike fender maker, jewelry designer or bicycle mechanic, they seek opportunities to collaborate and support one another’s work.
The Alley District is located in the heart of Downtown Bellingham, between State Street and Railroad Avenue. It starts around the Depot Market Square and continues along the alley that leads to the South Bay Trail, a popular walking, running and biking path to Boulevard Park and Fairhaven. Park your vehicle and head out on foot or bike and get ready to explore.
Sprinkled throughout the alley are diverse artisans, businesses and shops, a community bike shop, a community darkroom and photography studio, and restaurants and bars. Let’s start our tour at the far end, with one of the Alley District’s very first establishments: The Hub.
The Hub started 13 years ago, is considered a Bellingham institution by bicycle enthusiasts. As a community bike shop, the Hub provides space for folks to fix their own bikes, along with tons of new and used parts for sale. They also sell reconditioned bikes, and service and repair all types of bikes (if, like me, you don’t know how to do it yourself). They also offer free advice and bad jokes, although I heard none of the latter during my visit.
All of their bikes and parts are donated by the community. The space is jammed with tires, rims, chains, grips and gears. Extras that can’t be used are recycled, or end up in the bike-part sculptures that dot the property. The historic Hub building is covered in colorful murals, as is the rest of the Alley District.
Continuing north from the Hub, we find Anderson Intrinsic Wood Work & Design, the woodworking shop of Tom Anderson, the original Alley District resident artist. The shop is home to Creative Openings, his screen door company, as well as Anderson Wood Fenders. These are unlike any fenders you’ve seen, a beautiful and functional combination of woods that are shaped and curved, so they’re actual fenders—not just splash guards.
Anderson Wood Fenders are thin and light, and a gorgeous addition to any townie, road, mountain or commuter bike. Tom’s selling his fenders right here in the ‘Ham, and sending them overseas as well—this week to France and Japan. And Tom’s screen doors grace homes from Bellingham to Costa Rica. After 35 years, Tom estimates he’s made about 5,000 doors.
Ready for an espresso? You’re in luck! The Alley District has its own stand, The Wailing Goat. Owner Megan Wilford serves up the usual choices, including organic (yay!) cappuccinos, Americanos and lattes—as well a most unusual goat milk latte. There’s also hot chocolate and tea, perfect for warming up as you walk the trail to Boulevard Park on these crisp autumn afternoons.
The next stop on the tour is Altility Art Studio, where Aaron Loveitt works with metal, glass and wood to create commissioned mixed media art pieces and architectural products for homes, businesses and public spaces (including the newest piece in the permanent collection at Big Rock Garden Park ).
Inside is some seriously heavy-duty equipment, from an old-fashioned anvil to a huge, 50-ton hydraulic press and jib crane that swings in an arc and spans much of the shop area. It’s amazing how, with such burley tools, Aaron can form metal into sculptural shapes that mimic less-rigid materials. From his central location in the Alley District, Aaron has played a big part in the spirit of collaboration here, as well as with other artists throughout the area.
Across the lot from Altility is Positive Negative, a non-profit led by Jason Bayl that rents a dark room and studio space to local photographers. It’s open Thursday 2:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., plus Friday and Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., or by appointment. Look for events during first-Friday Art Walks, as well. Jason tells me an enthusiastic group of photographers is returning to film and taking Positive Negative workshops to learn how to process and print their photos.
From Positive Negative, turn around and off to the right, you’ll see Plantas Nativas, a nursery owned since 1994 by Bay Renaud, assisted by his dog Benzo (who was too busy chasing sticks to pose for a photo). The nursery is stocked with both common and hard-to-find native plants, trees and shrubs, carefully chosen for hardiness and suitability for our area. In the fall, Bay stays busy collecting and harvesting native seeds for his growers to cultivate, then buys back their plants for nursery stock. It’s a full circle of native life. Bay also repurposes used barrels and food-grade tanks into rain barrels, so his customers can collect and use rainwater in their gardens. Be sure to poke around and check out the way they use scrap metal and found materials to create rain gardens and micro-climate planters.
Leaving this block, you can keep exploring the Alley District by crossing Laurel Street to continue north on the alley. You’ll pass the Green Frog’s deck (perfect for a cold one) as well as Honey Moon meadery and Pepper Sisters restaurant. Grab a pint or a glass of mead and a snack, or a meal of southwest cuisine. If you keep walking a few more yards, you’ll find yourself at Tide Lines, a delightful shop filled with artsy things for you or your home.
Tidelines is owned by Chelsea Jepson, a watercolor and jewelry artist, who had her eye on her space for years. When it became available, she jumped on it and fulfilled her dream of curating a shop featuring artists from within a 100-mile radius of Bellingham.
The final stop on our Alley District Tour is Oyster Creek Canvas Company, where they work with marine-grade canvas, making everything from boat cushions to tote bags. I have no nautical needs myself, but my chicken coop run has been protected for years by a custom-made tarp from Oyster Creek.
I hope I’ve piqued your interest about the Alley District, an amazing little pocket of Bellingham awesomeness! It’s easy to find, so next time you find yourself at the Bellingham Farmers Market, on a Bellingham Brewery Tour, or just wandering downtown, take a little stroll over to the Alley District and check out the artisans who make it their home. You’re sure to find inspiration and a spirit of friendship that will stay with you long after you leave!
Upcoming events in the Alley District
Shop Small Saturday: November 29, 2014