We were grateful and excited to be named Best of Clark County by readers of The Columbian. We were doubly excited to see that eight BOCC awards and a runner-up are right here in our shopping center, Columbia Square. We’d like you to meet our outstanding neighbors. See if you can spot the phrase that pops up in every one of these.
Larson’s Bakery: Best Bakery/Desserts (four-time winner)
Fresh banana cake. If you haven’t tasted it, you’ve missed one of Vancouver’s culinary treasures. Larson’s Bakery has been making fresh banana cake and much, much more at this location for 27 years after moving up from the Bay Area. The small, family-owned business, led by Sue Wilson, gets super busy at Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter as folks line up for their cakes, pies, rolls and other goodies.
Larson’s also features a deli with sandwiches, soups and salads. For dessert? How do you choose?
Spanky’s: Best Consignment Shop (six-time winner), Best Clothing Values (four-time winner)
Rachel Phillips bought Spanky’s in 2009, carrying on the tradition of a good selection of fashionable, like-new clothing for kids, women and men. “It’s one stop for the whole family,” she said. “It’s still family-owned, so we provide that special touch.”
Spanky’s started in 1981, and one of the original three owners, Sandy Shepherd, is still general manager. Deanna Cook has worked there more than 25 years and Rhonda Thamert more than 18, so customers see familiar faces. They accept clothing either new within the last two years or very classic. “The cuteness factor goes a long way,” Phillips said. “It has to be in season, too.” The store also consigns home decor.
Mar’s Inn: Best Chinese (first-time winner)
Cantonese and Sichuan dishes from the south of China are the specialty at Mar’s Inn. Instead of Americanizing, “We try to translate what we really take from China,” explained Daisy Huang, who grew up in southern China. Cantonese focuses on stir fry, stews and steam, while Sichuan is a lot more spicy, she said.
The family-owned restaurant started in 1980 on Hawthorne in Portland, said Edward Mar, whose family has had as many as five restaurants but now owns one in Portland and the Vancouver Mar’s. Since opening here in 2008, it’s been a popular place for dining in or taking out.
Pho Green Papaya: Best Pho (first-time winner)
For a decade, Pho Green Papaya has been serving up Vietnamese comfort food. “Since it rains so often here, it’s nice to have a warm bowl of soup,” said Ann Chu, whose mother was born in Vietnam.
It’s mostly word-of-mouth that brings crowds of people to the family-owned restaurant. Besides pho — noodle soup laden with meat and vegetables that’s a street food in Vietnam — Pho Green Papaya serves vermicelli and noodle dishes, shredded salad, stir fries and a few other soups.
Chuck’s Produce: Best Grocery Store, Best Specialty Foods (two-time winner)
When Chuck’s Produce opened on 10/10/2010, grocery shopping in Vancouver changed. This local, independent, family-owned grocery strives to have the best prices in its huge produce department, with a unique selection of fruits and vegetables. If you don’t know what something is, ask a produce person to open it and give you a taste, said manager Larry Maresh.
But that’s only one part of the store. Local, healthy and organic are key words whether you’re shopping the grocery department, grabbing lunch at the from-scratch deli, satisfying your sweet tooth at the artisan bakery, seeking health and beauty products, or looking for hormone- and antibiotic-free meats. A gift shop is tucked in one corner, the Potting Shed fills with plants each spring, and free classes are offered regularly to help customers with healthful eating. Maresh’s team of 120 employees stands ready to serve.
Kazoodles: Best Hobby/Toy Store (three-time winner)
Providing the best classic and kid-powered toys since 2006, Kazoodles has been in this center for four years. The focus of this family-owned business is on getting kids into creative, active, imaginative, brain-boosting play. Kazoodles offers play tables where children can get their hands on many of the toys, help for bewildered grandparents, ideas for families of children with special needs, low-cost activities such as Storytime and Crafternoon, and free giftwrap.
Owners Bob and Mary Sisson have been active with the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association, putting them on the front lines with issues such as toy safety, the shop local movement, and choosing the best toys for child development and fun.
Craft Warehouse: Runner Up, Best Hobby/Toy Store
Headquartered in Camas, this small chain of eight craft stores has been at Columbia Square since 1997. “We’re family-owned, not that huge box store,” said Carol Shand, assistant manager. “When we do a category, we do it well.” She, the store manager, and half a dozen others have been at this Craft Warehouse since it opened.
“The staff is very knowledgeable,” she said. The store commits to having more staff so they’re available to help customers. Scrapbooking, jewelry making, quilting, framing, floral and home decor are some of the areas that spark customers’ creativity.
Now, about that phrase. Did you catch it? It’s “family-owned.” Every one of these businesses is owned by a family that cares deeply about our community and our customers. So next time you’re in the vicinity of 134th-136th and Mill Plain, stop by and be part of the family!