Olga Store Captures Orcas Authenticity

by Toby Cooper

Sounder contributor

Nestled at the end of a quiet lane on Orcas Island’s eastern flank, the Olga Store sits resolute, steeped in history, drenched in rural character, authentically antique and now — rather suddenly — the focal point of an inspiring community renaissance.

“By saving the Olga Store, we are creating an anchor to our community,” says Gay Paresky, President of the Friends of the Olga Store Building. The vision of creating something foundational to island life motivates Paresky and dozens of others who call Olga home.

At 100 years of age, the Olga Store has seen a plethora of small island businesses arise, flourish and wither within its walls. Paresky loves that about the project.

“If we can succeed, and keep the character of this building — by no means a given — we will have won a tremendous victory,” she said.

To help cement this historical diversity, FOSB plans a “memory wall” on one side of the finished interior.

Professionalism and attention to detail have driven FOSB’s fundraising success. By any estimate, saving the store has become a daunting, seven-figure labor-and-materials-intensive project, starting with acquiring the property in the midst of a real estate boom.

The committee divided the financial equation into three phases: acquisition, design planning and permits and physical reconstruction.

The current “Phase III” need is approximately $370,000. Past funding has come about through a combination of tax-exempt gifts, SBA and other loans, and the judicious use of crowdfunding strategies. Carefully segmenting the fundraising effort, FOSB has required work done at each stage to stand as “proof of concept” before the next phase begins.

“We have almost exclusively hired locally,” Paresky said. “We have kept the money in the community.”

Reflecting on the enthusiasm that permeates the Olga hamlet, she said, “I wake up every day to my phone ringing, and that makes me happy.”

Further complimenting the financial integrity of the Olga Store restoration, FOSB is proud to have secured relatively permanent — and virtually recession-proof — tenants for the restored building: the Orcas Food Co-Op and the United States Post Office. The latter especially has become a vital partner to the project, necessitating design and floorplan modifications.

Paresky and FOSB Vice President Liz Rodriguez warm to the notion that Olga residents will soon be able to pick up mail, say “hi” to friends and share a cup, all at the historic spot.

But there is more. Even more than character, the original Olga Store’s humble structure with the rusty Union 76 gas pumps outside and its lean-to roofline has come to symbolize the unique authenticity that so many residents associate with Orcas Island. And that authenticity is sadly being lost. If passion is the glue that binds the FOSB volunteers together, part of the passion is to save something that is vanishing.

“If we lose the store, we lose the heart of Olga,” says Rodriguez.

Adds Paresky, “Looking around Orcas, it feels like this island loses part of its personality with every new building that gets built. It’s our turn to do something about that.”

Contributions to Phase III are welcome at this time. FOSB is an incorporated 501(c)(3) organization. Visit https://www.theolgastore.org/ for more information.