By Joseph Riverson.
As Gem of the Sound continued to speak with Nelle Reichert, owner of “Three Tree Point Store – A Modern Corner Market,” her zeal, passion, drive, and love for the community and neighborhood unfolded with each turn of the discourse.
After gathering inspiration for her store from other notable and reputable local general-store classics whilst away in college at the University of Washington, then subsequently building her family, Nelle moved back into her childhood neighborhood to set up, build and live out her dream of owning and running a neighborhood store like the one she frequented as a child herself.
Looking back to 2018 whilst still living in Montlake, Nelle was longing to move back to the Normandy Park, Burien area, her childhood vicinage.
“My family was growing, and our house was closing in on us, space-wise. I also wanted to get away from the traffic and the congestion, and I really wanted to move back to Normandy Park because of the smaller community and just the bigger lots. Also, I always wanted to buy Mom’s house; I knew I would live there at some point,” Nelle mused.
“I currently live in Normandy Park, and I bought my childhood home from my mom, moving back in 2018. It’s where my dad grew up as well, so it’s generational. My parents still live in the area, less than five minutes from the store,” added Nelle.
So, when she was younger, there was a store that she used to go to which she loved, and when she got older, she was able to turn that store into her dream and make it hers. She “bought her childhood home and her favorite childhood store,” Nelle declared cheerfully.
After moving back in 2018 through a mutual friend, Nelle was introduced to the Three Tree Store building owners, who had just purchased the building a year later in 2019. There was interest on their part to do something with the store, so after some discussions and Nelle presenting her vision for it, she got involved in the renovation of the store and was given the opportunity to build it out as she saw fit.
“When I became involved, I wanted to maintain as much of the original features here as possible. The original door, the screen door, and others. So many people notice those details, especially when they came into earlier versions of the store as kids and teens in the ’50s and ’60s; they remember the door, they remember those little things that “shock their memories” of what it was like, even what the floor plan used to look like. I hear such customers talk about the Pepsi machine that was over here and the Coke machine which was over there; even my dad told me that this room was filled with little toys where at one point, the parents would ask little Johnny to go and pick up a paper airplane, etc.,” Nelle explained with glee.
So, it’s 2019, the store is being renovated, and things are moving along smoothly. Ms. Reichert’s dream of being a business owner, building and running her own local community store with all the amazing influences and unique tastes she’d been inspired by, was moving full steam ahead; everything was falling into place, piece by piece until the screeching brakes of the “Covid locomotive” came barreling down on the progress that was being made. The mega-ton weight of that reality threatened to bring her plans to a screeching halt, if not a slow crawl.
“For so long, this was just an empty space,” Nelle recalled. The Space had been vacant until the purchase in 2019. Then afterward, work began to renovate the actual building and the general store space.
The process for the permits was exacerbated by the Covid era, which began right at the end of 2019 and continued throughout 2020. “It felt like we were just standing around. And because of the permits, since it was covid time, that added 3-4 months to the process,” said Nelle.
Given everything that was going on during that time period, especially with the various city agencies, businesses, and residents all across WA adjusting to the “new normal,” the City of Burien rallied and helped the process be as smooth as possible, especially since it was a brand-new store, in essence.
“We pitched reopening the store as a commercial property to Susan McLain, the community development director. I started out with her, laying the framework that this used to be a commercial property. We put together all the historical photos of the store, from the day it was established until it stopped being a store. With that information, we were able to put together a pitch for the development commission for the city of Burien. After that was approved, it went to the City Council, where a new zoning code was pitched. Once all the necessary discussions, documentation, and regulations were met, a formal application was submitted; there was a time for public commentary where everyone that wrote in was very approvingly accepting of the store, which led to the necessary documentation and permits that needed to be granted,” Nelle appreciatively explained.
“There were many, many zoom calls, and the entire process took about a year and a half. We considered a lot of factors, such as being respectful of the neighborhood, not having loud outside music, not staying open until late at night, no hard alcohol, etc.,” added Reichert.
Through and through, this is a good testament to the city of Burien, the residents, the city council, Nelle and her family, and the neighbors of Three Tree Point, where they all came together to make the best of a difficult period in its history; out of that seeming chaotic era, they birthed something so resilient, and unifying, that is a source of joy for all of the community!
Look for the final article next week in this three-part series.