Fledgling businesses will soon have a nest in Colfax

A new business, This Country Haven, produces signs like these and is one of eight startup businesses setting up shop at the Colfax Mercantile, a business incubator on Main Street.

COLFAX — A once-empty building in the middle of downtown Colfax is being transformed into a place locals from around the Palouse can get their startup businesses off the ground.

The business incubator, called Colfax Mercantile, is scheduled to house eight businesses when it opens, with seven more on the waiting list, said Valoree Gregory, director of the Colfax Chamber of Commerce. The Colfax Chamber of Commerce and the Colfax Downtown Association are the organizers behind the incubator.

Ice cream, clothing, furniture, soaps, cookies and signs are among the products that will be sold at 214 N. Main St.

“It’s going to give Colfax a greater variety of businesses,” Gregory said.

Gregory said she is aiming to have Colfax Mercantile open by Sept. 1 at the latest. First, the city and Whitman County must finish inspections on the building.

Colfax Mercantile is being funded by a grant from Whitman County. Businesses share the space and the rent cost. They can operate there for as long as five years, or until a business generates $60,000 per year in revenue, Gregory said.

“It’s a great way to see if you can actually make it,” she said.

Gregory said she hopes that when businesses are finished at Colfax Mercantile, they will have enough success to move into their own space in other empty Colfax storefronts.

“We’re trying to revitalize downtown Colfax,” she said.

She also hopes it will have an impact beyond Colfax, as many of the entrepreneurs come from cities around Whitman County. She said the Colfax Mercantile can steer them toward bringing their businesses back to their hometowns.

Kelly Johnson and her family love to bake sweets and decided to use Colfax Mercantile as a way to provide a niche service for Colfax.

She is starting her family business, Double J Ranch Cookie Company, alongside her mother and her daughter. They will be baking up family recipes from Johnson’s great-grandmother, as well as themed-base specialty cookies.

Johnson said she is retired and became interested in starting her company because she loves people and wanted to give Colfax something it does not have.

Gregory said every storefront in Colfax used to be filled with retail businesses when she was growing up, but that changed once malls started to drive those businesses out.

Now, she said, that trend has reversed and people want to bring locally owned businesses back to Main Street.

She said many young people came to Whitman County to attend college, moved away to work in a big city and decided they wanted to return to small-town life to start a family.

Those people want places to shop, Gregory said. The businesses at Colfax Mercantile were chosen to cater to their needs.

“We looked for things we thought would entice that demographic,” she said.

Gregory said the Colfax Downtown Association and Colfax Chamber of Commerce are renting the building from local business owner Austin Storm, who is opening his new clothing store, Davy Jones Locker, this weekend in the space next to Colfax Mercantile.

Gregory said she was inspired to start Colfax Mercantile after hearing about business incubators at a meeting for the Washington Main Street Program, of which Colfax is a member.

Anthony Kuipers can be reached at (208) 883-4640 or by email to akuipers@dnews.com.

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