When Fran and Steve Dreiling bought Kimball Espresso Cafe a decade ago — August 1, 2007 to be exact — the couple had factored the business into their retirement plan, either by selling the shop or using the income as a supplement.
The fourth owners of the coffee shop, which first opened May 19, 1991, business has been steady and customers loyal, allowing their small business to survive even through the worst of the economic depression.
“We weathered the worst of what the economy had to throw at us when a lot of small businesses didn’t survive. We managed to scrap through and we’ve seen what we knew the business could do and grow,” Fran Dreiling said. “We’ve worked really hard to maintain the small coffee shop feel and we work hard to maintain the quality of our product.”
Dreiling was told that her lease — which expired at the end of March — in the Pioneer Plaza complex would not be renewed. She received the information after she spotted a public meeting notice posted near the business park for proposed redevelopment and requested a meeting with the complex’s owner, William Driscoll of D.F. Holdings.
Driscoll and property manager J. Thomas Petramalo of Targa Real Estate Services Inc. could not be reached for comment for this story.
The proposed plaza redevelopment, according to the notice of public hearing sign posted on the property, includes the removal of a portion of the building adjacent to Kimball Espresso, located at 6950 Kimball Drive. Dreiling noted that part of this construction is remediation for contamination from the former dry cleaners located at the north end of the building.
“It’s been pretty painful because of the way we found out, we weren’t even notified,” Dreiling said. “We weren’t even considered to occupy the new space. And it’s become a purely financial decision, which I understand, but it doesn’t help me knowing that the decision has been made purely for financial reasons by the developer.”
She added that the construction plans include a stand-alone drive-thru restaurant, which she had been told will include a national coffee chain, though neither the owner nor the property manager would confirm the name of the company.
“They were very open that that included other coffee businesses. But it needed to be a national train, someone who they felt anchored and drew business in. So that excluded us,” Dreiling said. “They said we would not be able to stay unless we changed our business format and became something that was not a coffee shop.”
Her business is currently operating on a month-to-month lease with plans for the future uncertain, though she has been assured of a 30-day notice to vacate. She intends to remain open through the summer, despite construction that will close much of the parking lot, and remain open as long as customers continue stopping by.
“Our biggest concern is that when they begin demolition they intend to close off most of the parking, pretty much right to our front door,” she said. “We hope to survive as long as our customers fight the parking issues.”
She added that, while information has been spotty, the city of Gig Harbor has been forthcoming and helpful in predicting timelines and providing information.
“There’s nothing really that the city can do except make sure that the demolition and construction are done according to code. They’ve been more helpful in predicting the timeline of this,” she said. “They’ve given me more information than we’ve gotten from the managers or owners in the whole process.”
The contractor is now within two to four weeks of receiving the project’s final permitting to begin work, according to information Dreiling received from the property manager.
Dreiling has considered relocating the business, but real estate is pricey and retail space hard to find in Gig Harbor. She also noted that moving too far away from the current location would mean losing many of their current customers in the neighborhood.
“It’s been really painful. We simply have not even had any luck finding a location that we could consider,” she said. “At this point we have made the decision that if, by some miracle, the perfection location becomes open, we will survive here as long as we can and then we will close.”
Dreiling has been open with her staff of seven, who have been equally devastated by the news of their uncertain future. Customers have also been stopping by to express their support and disappointment.
“We have customers that have been coming here for more than 20 years ... it’s the longest continuously operated coffee shop in Gig Harbor,” she said. “Everybody has the same reaction; everyone’s reaction is that this is a Gig Harbor institution, we’ve been here so long. It’s pretty bad to have us forced out in place of what we’ve had every belief will be another Starbucks.”