Julie McDonald Commentary: Downtown Chehalis Popping With Paintings, Improvements and Party Plans


If you want fresh local strawberries, but you’re unable to stop at the Chehalis Community Farmers Market downtown early Tuesday mornings, you can reserve the luscious fruit and other produce by ordering online, an option started last year.

“This is a really good way to get yours reserved, and you will always be able to walk away with what you want,” Farmers Market Marketing Manager Michaelyn Erickson told members of the Chehalis Community Renaissance Team (CCRT) in a Zoom meeting Friday. “I’m excited to keep getting the word out there because it’s really an awesome option.”

Erickson updated members about the farmers market, which was founded in 2004 and opened June 1 for its 17th season. It runs through October at the corner of Boistfort and Market streets. For more information, or to order online, check out the website at www.chehalisfarmersmarket.com.

Also at the meeting, Dr. Alicia Spalding, a naturopathic physician, noted that the nonprofit Nature Nurture Farmacy opened in July 2018 and recently expanded and moved to 176 NE School St. behind the Vernetta Smith Chehalis Timberland Library. It offers naturopathic medicine, hydrotherapy and herbal medicine to the community.

“Our mission is to build community health through the use of herbal medicine, sustainable food, cultivation and empowering education,” Spalding said.

The nonprofit offers a no-barrier community health clinic Tuesdays and Wednesdays and a community acupuncture clinic the first Saturday of the month. It runs community gardens to educate people on how to grow food, offers health and herbal medicine classes and runs an apothecary Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

During the pandemic, she said, they distributed 13,000 pounds of food to families, including 3,000 pounds grown in the gardens. 

An open house is scheduled from 5 to 7 p.m. June 20.

David James with the Boys and Girls Club of Lewis County updated the Renaissance Team on plans for Chehalis Fest the last week of July, which is likely to be different than in the past because of the coronavirus pandemic. While restrictions are easing, he said, uncertainty has tempered plans.

“We knew we would be on the cusp, and we pretty much are as far as opening but opted rather than to gather everybody on that Saturday to kind of spread the love over the week and kind of have week-long festivities,” said Annalee Tobey, the CCRT’s executive director.

Sidelines Sports Bar & Grill is partnering with the Veterans Memorial Museum to set up a stage with live music, a beer garden and a food truck Saturday, July 31. A scavenger hunt may take place downtown to encourage people to visit different shops.

“We’re just trying to encourage all of the local businesses to kind of come up with a plan and let us know what that plan is so that we can help market the plan,” James said.

A CCRT beautification committee has offered 27 grants to businesses downtown to improve the look of their businesses through painting, signage and removal or replacement of awnings, Tobey said. Twenty-four of those projects have been completed. Ten businesses have participated in the digital marketing grant program launched last year that provides matching money to improve websites or advertise on social media sites.

Despite the uncertainty of the pandemic, Tobey said the community supported local businesses, and some business owners also received help through the CARES Act, officially known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

“When you drive downtown and you see the busy streets and the improvements that are able to take place, it’s just overwhelming,” she said. “The market was open, and they were working on removing the awning at the bakery and the flowers were being planted and the baskets are up. I just love this time of year downtown. Everything comes to life.”

She said the city is on the cusp of the painting season and the group has five artists lined up to work on 15 small art projects this summer, including the painting of manhole covers and utility boxes.

“We’ll be working with the city on this to kind of just add some little touches of color and fun to the downtown experience,” Tobey said, adding, “We’re running out of utility boxes because there aren’t that many stoplights in our community. The utility boxes show up where there is a stoplight.”

The CCRT also will be seeking requests for proposals for large murals, including one on West Street near Kaija’s and another at the airport.

“We’ve done over 70 pieces of art downtown since we kind of really started taking on these kind of projects,” Tobey said.

The CCRT also created a 20-page children’s coloring book to accompany the historic walking tour booklet of downtown Chehalis. The book features coloring pages of eight to 10 downtown locations, crossword puzzles and word searches.

The organization also heard an update on grassroots efforts to improve the West Side Park, which the Chehalis City Council is supporting.


Children’s Museum

Shortly after its official creation in 2009, the Chehalis Community Renaissance Team of business leaders and city officials brainstormed the possibility of creating a local children’s museum.

More than a decade ago, I wrote a column about a 36-page draft study that concluded a local children’s museum would be feasible — if enough money could be raised to build it. The estimated cost in April 2011 was $2.2 million for construction and $262,500 a year to operate it.

The Discover! Children's Museum shifted closer to reality last week when local leaders broke ground on the United Learning Center, a 12,800-square-foot educational center in downtown Centralia expected to open in the fall of 2022. The early-learning center is part of the United Way of Lewis County’s 30 By 30 Initiative, a goal of lifting 30 percent of local families out of poverty by 2030. A big part of achieving that goal is early learning to prepare children for kindergarten.

The city donated a parcel at 415 N. Pearl St. for the center, which will include six classrooms, a commercial kitchen, a 900-square-foot multipurpose room and gym, and 4,700 square feet for an interactive children’s museum. The second phase of the project would expand the building by 18,000 square feet.

Larry McGee, president of the Discover! Children’s Museum board, noted the idea originated with the CCRT, which in 2013 launched a successful pilot project at the Twin City Town Center. It was set to run six months and draw 5,000 people, but instead remained open 11 months and served 15,000 people.

“It’s kind of one of those exciting projects that becomes its own thing,” he said. “So now, look, it’s very exciting. Many people don’t realize that they came out of us.”

It’s nice to see the Twin Cities collaborating to improve both communities and the county as a whole. I love seeing brainstormed seeds blossom. Everybody benefits.


Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at memoirs@chaptersoflife.com.