A cooperative project to add hanging flower baskets in downtown Shelton this summer is a harbinger of things to come in the City of Shelton, which is hoping to make a future for itself by playing up its past.

Organizer Mary Gardener reports that Shelton-Mason County Chamber of Commerce and Olde Towne Shelton Assn. volunteers helped raise more than $21,000 this month from area businesses and organizations to put up hanging flower baskets and banners throughout the city. The project, a cooperative venture between the City of Shelton and the two organizations, will culminate in the installation of the baskets in time for the area’s Forest Festival at the end of May.

The $50,000 flower basket project wasn’t just about raising the money, says project volunteer Virginia McCarty.

“It really brought the town together,” she says. “I thought it was really community-building.”

The Chamber will pay the City to maintain the baskets. The City, in turn, will purchase the brackets to hold the baskets from the nearby Washington Corrections Center in Shelton, where inmates are manufacturing the brackets, McCarty says.

The community is also preparing a six-acre historical park along the city’s waterfront. This spring, the City received a grant allowing it to purchase 2.8 acres of what remains of City founder David Shelton’s homestead.

That homestead featured a pear orchard, and several of the now-more-than-a-century-old trees are still alive. These will be saved as part of the project, whose conceptual design will be completed by the end of March, according to planning director Paul Rogerson.

Walking trails, a park-and-ride lot for Kitsap Peninsula-bound commuters, a marina and even an old-fashioned train station may be included in the park project. Tourist trains could make their debut on weekends as early as this summer, says Rep. Kathy Haigh, D-Shelton, who has been working with regional operators to bring a tourist train to the area. Public comments on the project can be directed to Rogerson at (360) 426-9731.

Simpson Timber Co., the area’s largest private employer, has a long history on the Shelton waterfront. Its facility there is widely considered to be the nation’s last surviving working waterfront mill. With 20 other area businesses, it has been asked to provide opinions on the park project.

Rogerson says Simpson already is talking about including its own interpretive signs on the history of lumber operations in the community.

It may even conduct tours, says Deborah Webber, executive director of the Olde Towne Shelton Association.

The Association is having a promotional video produced for people planning to visit Shelton. Ten thousand copies of the 12-minute feature are being readied for distribution by OD Unlimited, a local media company. The videos are scheduled to be ready for distribution by the end of February, Webber says.

The video will be mailed at no cost to people planning to visit from out of state, she says. It can be purchased for $9.95.

“We’re already taking orders from real estate companies that want to use them for clients looking to buy a house,” explains Webber, who was able to get the video financed with a $7,000 grant from the City’s hotel-motel tax.

These recent developments follow on the completion of the Shelton Civic Center, featuring an auditorium that can be used for community activities and a LID sidewalk project—and what appears to be a renewed interest among area businesses to get involved in downtown activities.

Shelton Chamber Executive Director Dick Taylor reports that membership reached 387 last year, eclipsing its goal of just 350. This year’s goal is a membership roster that includes 400 names.

“For having just 47,000 people,” Taylor says, “we’re doing pretty well for a community this size.”

Such symptoms of revitalization had been lacking in recent years. Large stores such as JC Penney’s and Sprouse were closing up shop and leaving large black holes in the downtown five years ago, Taylor says. Yet as downtown franchises left the area, they’ve been replaced near its uptown Wal-Mart.

“We’ve seen a change from old retailers to small mom-and-pop operations,” Taylor says. “The chains are gone. You’re never going to see a JC Penney’s here again. Times have changed.”

But more empty spaces are being filled than vacated, says Webber, who produced a report revealing that last year, more businesses moved into the downtown core than left. Seven businesses brought 28 new employees to the downtown core last year, he says, while five stores left with nine jobs.

Thanks in part to a downtown reinvestment loan program Webber promotes, $301,500 in renovations took place last year, sprucing up 10 stores.

More retail space is being created, meanwhile. Last year, a downtown building that previously housed two stories of antique stores was purchased and renovated, reopening as the 1912 Building.

The refurbished historical building is the new location of not only the Chamber and the Olde Towne Shelton Assn., but other businesses, including retail on the first floor.

Downtown is where it’s at for Richard Bidwell, owner of Old Town Hobby, a 1,350-square-foot hobby and art supply store that opened on the first floor of the 1912 Building on Nov. 2.

“I wanted to be where the parades were. You have all these downtown activities. We’re right across the street from the post office. You have Music in the Park. There’s lots of stuff happening, and we wanted to be right in the middle of it,” Bidwell says. “I’m excited about the resurgence downtown. I wanted to be a part of that.”

Bidwell’s hopes to create a niche providing a center where artists and hobbyists not only can get supplies, but other kinds of help, too.

“I’m trying to be encouraging,” he says. “I want to be a hands-on owner, give any advice I can offer. We’re hoping to have classes for kids on model-building, and rubber stamping.”

By Kamilla K. McClelland, Business Examiner staff