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The café is closed for now, but Traditions carries on

The owner of Traditions Café in downtown Olympia hopes rentals can sustain this community venue that never recovered from Covid.

The café, connected to New Traditions, a fair-trade store located on Fifth Ave., has been known for hosting concerts, fund-raisers and other events for 26 years. On Dec.31, the café served its last meal, said owner Jody Mackey. Actually, by then cookies, bread and avocados were all that was left.

“We just ran out of food on that last day,” she said. “The last two days were the busiest we ever had.” It was also the last day for six café employees.

Mackey said rising food and labor costs piled on top of pandemic problems. State workers and students stopped coming downtown to eat. Many of the café’s regulars were educated and older, said Mackey. “We have a clientele that is careful around Covid, and I want them to be.” The number of diners fell by half.

Mackey and a former business partner bought the store from Dick Meyer in 2016, and the café in 2018. Meyer, who started the business in the ‘90s, was grandfathered into outdated health-department regulations, but the new owners were required to make changes.

“And then suddenly it was Covid,” said Mackey. “What timing.”

A couple concerts a week are scheduled through March, but they won’t generate enough to cover debts and about $4,000 in monthly expenses. Between 75 and 80 percent of the ticket price goes to the musicians, said Mackey, who might take in $300.

She hopes she can bring in additional revenue by renting the café space at $40 an hour for things like meetings, weddings and music lessons. Even before she began to promote rentals in February, Mackey had booked a Saturday writing and storytelling group, a seventieth birthday party and a retirement party. A group of teens working on environmental-justice issues will use the space for free, and a labor organization gets a discount on the rental rate.

Business at the attached store has returned to pre-pandemic levels, but the future of community events will depend on rentals.

“I am hopeful about this. I don’t know what’s going to happen. Do we ever know what’s going to happen?” said Mackey, who suddenly remembered it was time to organize a benefit for the victims of the earthquakes in Syria and Turkey.

“Maybe I’ll work on that tonight.”

Margaret Thomas is a recently retired librarian.

Traditions, a gathering place!

Call us for parties, club meetings, benefits, pop-ups, art parties, classes, a quinceañera and other celebrations, workshops, concerts, recitals, cooking classes, drum or ukelele circles & business meetings. Rent by the hour or over multiple days.

With a view of the capitol, and a cozy atmosphere we just might be the perfect fit for your gathering.

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