The Sanborn Building, with an underground mall remade in the image of old Astoria by the late local artisan Michael Foster, looked like a ghost town after the wine shop The Cellar closed earlier this year.
But the old-fashioned, wood-paneled halls at 10th Street and Marine Drive have filled up recently with a new collection of businesses collectively marketed as the Astoria Underground Shops.
Kirsten Norgaard, who started Kit’s Apothecary in the upstairs of the Copeland Building on Commercial Street, recently took over the former wine shop space, including a subterranean showroom and a spiral staircase leading up to a showroom on 10th Street.
The space was a dream for Norgaard, who remembers Foster as a librarian when she attended Astoria High School. Foster remodeled the downstairs of the Sanborn Building in the early 2000s into a re-creation of historic downtown, complete with street lights, murals and a jail cell for selfies.
“He just was ahead of his time, and eclectic and just had this vision of what I think would just make people happy and feel like they just stumbled upon this secret,” Norgaard said.
Downstairs at the Sanborn Building is United Way of Clatsop County and professional offices, such as Counseling Solutions NW, run by Camille Holland.
Across a main lobby from Norgaard, artist Sondra Carr opened Weird Sisters Freak Boutique. She describes her space, decorated in nautical, forested and other themes, as an art installation reimagined as a shop, showcasing the work of local artisans.
“We’re just trying to collect all the freaky weirdness in one place,” Carr said.
Norgaard recruited Megan Davis, owner of the Floral Haze Vintage boutique and her former next-door neighbor from the Copeland Building, to move into the center suite of the mall, where a local family had attempted to open a Mexican restaurant.
Janet Hutchings recently opened West Coast Artisans, a gallery for local artists, on 10th Street in the former McVarish Gallery. Jill McVarish has concentrated her efforts into the Secret Gallery, a back room in the upstairs interior of the Sanborn Building accessed from 10th Street through a side door and up a hallway named the John Jacob Astor Alley.
“They see a secret, and they’re like, ‘Ooh, what’s this about,’” McVarish said of passersby. “And the building is so compelling.”
McVarish enlisted Chris Minnick, a local writer who organized the Astoria Freak Show, to market the Secret Gallery and help organize events in the space, such as a vegetarian fundraiser dinner next month for Clatsop Animal Assistance.
All nine suites in the Sanborn Building are now full, owner Elizabeth Konez said. In addition to the underground and art tenants are longtime Marine Drive staples Himani Indian Cuisine and an accounting firm run by Mike Wallis, who also ran the wine shop.
At the corner entrance on 10th and Marine, Konez is building out the Coffee Underground, a new coffee shop with seating in the underground lobby she hopes of driving more foot traffic downstairs.
“I think just getting them in the door,” she said of marketing the space. “Right now, you walk by. Kit’s got some nice signage, but it’s hard to know what’s downstairs.”