Standing with her family in front of the Golden Rule Bears store in downtown Sumner, Gracie Anderson turned to her 5-year-old grandson, Mitch Jr., and asked, “Do you want to look at bears?”
The boy’s father interrupted and answered with a quick and excited “Yeah!”
To several puzzled looks he replied: “What? It’s a cool store.”
The Andersons were drawn south from Everett to Sumner by the Old Cannery Furniture Warehouse, and like much of the pedestrian traffic downtown, they decided to make a family day of perusing the specialty and antique shops that line the town’s Main Street.
“It’s fun to get ideas for birthdays and Christmas,” Mitchell Anderson said. “These places have stuff you won’t see at the mall.”
The uniqueness of the shops is what continues to make Sumner’s downtown viable, said Simple Tidings owner Suzanne Sallander.
“They’re not all antique stores, and even the antique stores have very different feels when you walk through them,” Sallander said.
Simple Tidings is a cross between the general store on “Little House on the Prairie” and a Pier 1 Imports, and its merchandise ranges from jawbreakers and Gummi Worms to wallpaper and potpourri. On one shelf sat more than 10 different brightly colored bottles of laundry fragrances with names such as Beach Days and Paris Rain. Soaps range from almond to Tahiti.
“We sell functional things, things people are really going to use in daily life,” Sallander said.
Monica Grant, 29, of Auburn, was in the Antique Angler sizing up a carved, wooden, black bear toilet tissue holder for her brother-in-law.
“There was a time I would wonder, ‘Who do they make this stuff for?’ Now I know. He’d get a kick of the this,” Grant said.
Along with novelty gifts like fishing-themed toilet seats, shower curtains and big-mouth bass mailboxes, the store has fly-fishing gear, antique fishing equipment and a rod-and-reel repair shop.
“We like to joke that we squeeze four stores in 700 square feet,” Bill Redman, Antique Angler’s owner, said.
Not all the Main Street businesses are specialty shops. There’s a bank, real estate and law office, mechanic shop and a bookstore.
A Good Book cafe feels less like a bookstore and more like a book club with a mission to get people to read. Customers constantly stream in and out, smiling even if they aren’t carrying books.
Sumner’s Main Street eateries do their parts to keep with the downtown novelty feel.
The Gast House Bakery offers authentic German food, and the Berryland Café builds thick, jaw-straining, straw-destroying milkshakes that begin with a foundation of three or four heaping scoopfuls of ice cream.
But there is a problem brewing in paradise – a big-city problem.
City officials are looking for plans to deal with the problem without sacrificing the area’s charm.
“The idea of a parking garage lingers but is constantly frowned on by city officials,” said Paul Rogerson, Sumner’s community development director. “It’s just not seen as appropriate for us.”
Location: East Pierce County, 15 miles east of Tacoma and 30 miles south of Seattle.
History: Settled by members of a wagon train that crossed the Cascade Mountains in the mid-1800s.
Andre Cherry: 253-597-8650