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Community rallies to save Olalla Bay Market

Posted on October 6th, 2022 By:

The Olalla Bay Market was just weeks away from celebrating its grand opening when disaster struck.

Early on the morning of Aug. 16, a fire broke out in the almost completely remodeled store, known for decades as Al’s of Olalla.

The fire started in the kitchen and “completely destroyed” all the brand new appliances, according to Gregg Olsen.

Olsen, with his wife Claudia, purchased the property in 2021 to turn it into a market and restaurant that would be a gathering place for locals.

Firefighters confined the flames to the kitchen, but the building sustained extensive smoke damage. The fire caused an estimated $100,000 worth of damage.

Workers have cleaned away some of the smoke damage from the Olalla Bay Market’s original wood beams. Charlee Glock-Jackson

And, according to Olsen, because the market had not yet opened, there was no insurance.

Community rallies to save market

Enter the Olalla community.

Once the fire marshal gave the all-clear, volunteers set to work cleaning up the mess and raising money to cover costs of re-doing everything.

The owners of the nearby Olalla Winery set up a Gofundme campaign. Community members staged fundraising events like music concerts. Longtime Olalla resident Karissa Peterson organized a cornhole tournament that brought in $8,000.

At last count the Gofundme campaign had raised more than $50,000. That just about covers the cost to clean up and haul away the debris.

“That was the least expensive cost estimate we got, because that company let us use our volunteers to do a lot of the work,” Gregg Olsen said.

‘The fire was a crusher’

As he did with the remodel, Olalla resident Ross Peacocke is leading the volunteer clean-up effort. He and his partner Beth Taylor were the last managers of Al’s Store until COVID hit and the store closed.

Peacocke will be general manager of the market when it finally opens, but meanwhile he’s been in charge of the remodel – and now the clean-up and restoration.

Olalla Bay Market general manager Ross Peacocke points out some of the damage in the kitchen, where the fire started. Charlee Glock-Jackson

“We were all heartbroken about the fire,” Peaoccke said. “All that work we did to make everything really nice. It was so classy and we were so proud of it. So the fire was a crusher.”

Heat from the fire cracked all the building’s windows, which now need to be replaced. All the electrical wiring must be redone.

The fire destroyed a mural above the store’s entrance, a 1927 photo of workers picking berries in one of local strawberries fields. The old “Al’s Store” sign on the back wall is in “questionable” condition, Olsen said.

The big new pizza oven, imported from Italy, is OK. But its electronics were totaled.

About the only thing that escaped damage was a big refrigeration unit that lines one wall.

Cause still not pinpointed

The cause of the fire remains under investigation, according to Kitsap County Deputy Fire Marshal Kristi Wlodarchak.

In mid-September, she took additional samples of “some material that we’re having looked at by the state lab. There’s no evidence to indicate that the fire was intentionally set, but it’s just another thing to check,” Wlodarchak said.

The lab report could take several months, she added, because “it’s a low-priority event by normal standards, since there were no deaths or injuries.”

Spirits slowly rising

Peacocke and his team of volunteers discovered that the 120-year old barnwood siding they installed throughout the interior is OK.

The original ceiling beams – exposed ­as part of the remodel – are unscathed, save for smoke discoloration. The beams were milled in Olalla decades ago and still show the old saw marks.

The crew also salvaged an old wooden canoe that hung from the ceiling.

Volunteers were able to save an old canoe that was badly scorched. Charlee Glock-Jackson

“It was really iffy, because it was really badly scorched,” Peacocke said. But it will still be a nice “decoration.”

The adjacent apartment, which Olson plans to use as a bed and breakfast, sustained no damage. No one died or suffered injuries. The nearby Olalla Bay Landing building was unscathed, which Olsen said is a huge relief.

The Landing has been popular as a venue for yoga classes, sewing groups, weddings and birthday celebrations, AA meetings and “just as a general meeting and getting-together place,” he said.

Moving forward

While the renovation continues inside the store, progress is being made outside.

Contractors installed new septic tanks a few weeks ago. A plumbing company is boring a tunnel under Banner Road to install a pipe that will pump everything up a hill. A friendly neighbor made a private drain field available.

Installation of a new septic tank at Olalla Bay Market. Charlee Glock-Jackson

“That’s a really big ‘ask’ to have somebody let you use their drain field,” Olsen said. “But, once again, that kind of generosity and cooperation is just so Olalla.”

Getting the septic system installed is a huge thing, Peacocke added. “The old system had failed, and getting a new one was key to keeping this place as a store. And putting in this new system is a very complicated process. And very expensive.”

Amazing volunteers

The team of volunteers that has devoted countless days and weeks and months to the project continues to come back to work every day.

“Those people are just amazing. It makes me sort of emotional,” Peacocke said, almost teary-eyed. “I don’t think I’ve ever been around a group of people who’re so committed. They’re all so different from each other, but every one of them has the biggest heart.

“Some of them only come one or two days a week, but they do come. There are eight or nine regulars. And there are other people who bring food down just about every day. They all do it because they want to see it done. They want to be part of it.

“It’s amazing how many people stop by every day just to see how things are going. And we’ve been blessed with lots of donations, but that’s just the way this community is.”

Sung Hong, who owns Olalla Foods, the town’s other grocery store, agreed. Hong, his wife Tess and their 10-month-old son Calvin sponsored the cornhole tournament.

“We don’t think of ourselves and the Olsens as competitors,” he said.

“We’re all just helping each other. If this happened to us, Gregg and Claudia would help us. This community comes together that way. We all just love living here.”

The Hong family with Olalla Bay Market owner Gregg Olsen. Charlee Glock-Jackson

Much still to do

Still, no one is making any estimates on when Olalla Bay Market will actually open. There’s a lot of clean-up yet to do, and all the remodeling work completed before the fire has to be re-done.

But no one doubts that it will happen, and one day in the not-too-far-distant future, people will again be able to stop by the spiffy new store and get a beer and a pizza, or a gallon of milk, or just hang out and visit.