Funny. The bright second-floor restrooms that Mark Camp has led me to look normal enough.
“Just walk in and look down,” urges Camp, one of the building’s owners, who invited me on this odyssey.
So I walk in. I gaze down. And…
I’m standing on a panel of glass. It is suspended 12-feet above some archaic looking machinery.
There’s even an amber light glowing down in the bowels for eerie effect.
Now that’s different.
“This is where the old cracker oven was,” explains Camp, 47, of this mammoth, 400-square-foot curved section of bricks.
The way Camp tells it, when he and partners Darby McKee and Jack Heath first wandered through the cracker building they got to this huge oven and wondered naturally, “What in the hell do we do with it?”
A decision was soon reached.
“We’ve gotta have bathrooms,” explained Camp. “So let’s build them in the oven.”
OK. I get that. But see-through flooring?
Camp credits Heath, the president and chief operating officer of Washington Trust Bank, with coming up with this clever idea.
I believe it. I know Heath. A natural fun-lover, Heath is as far from the stereotypical stodgy banker as it gets.
And no danger comes with the slight vertigo effect, Camp assures. The industrial glass flooring will hold 6,000 pounds, or at least five of me.
This cracker building makeover is so typical of my friend Camp.
I’ve known this cheerful guy since he was a barista for Cave Man Coffee, a long-gone espresso joint that was located near Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center.
That was 1993. Six years later, he reconditioned a beat-up old mechanic’s station and then reopened it as The Shop, a quirky coffee and live performance venue.
The Shop lit the fuse for the Perry District revitalization.
In my mind, Camp, more than anyone else, deserves credit for this now-bustling area for businesses near Grant Elementary School.
Camp spearheaded a business association, invested in more real estate and even started the wacky but wildly popular parking lot summer film showings.
Retread movies are projected onto the white wall of the old pharmacy (now the Casper Fry Restaurant) that borders The Shop.
Camp, with partners, later turned his attention away from Perry. They bought Overbluff Cellars, a craft winery. More recently they acquired this defunct edifice to Spokane’s saltine superiority.
The antique signs – “Home of Snowflake Saltines” and “National Biscuit Company” – are faded but still very readable on one side of the cracker building.
Inside, Camp and his partners have transformed the enormous warehouse into something special.
Terrain, a nonprofit organization that promotes local art, has partnered with the owners to provide a space for live performances, art installations and a tasting room for Overbluff.
Current tenants also include a yoga studio, an internet server farm, a slick third-floor real estate office and mortgage company, and more.
The architecture throughout the cracker building is industrial chic and visually arresting.
Exposed brick and beams. Scarred original maple floors. Repurposed rustic items …
Mark my words. When completed this will be one of Spokane’s must-see destinations.
On the main floor, Camp can be found most mornings hand-roasting his Anvil Coffee blends that he distributes around town. A short walk away is the Overbluff Winery, where Camp, McKee and Jerry Gibson, the label’s former owner, produce 3,000 cases of tasty wine a year.
“We bought the building two years ago in July,” Camp said. “It took a full year to get it to this point.”
The effort is ongoing and two upcoming venues are especially exciting.
Enter Jeremy Hansen, celebrated executive chef who, with wife Kate, own Santé Restaurant & Charcuterie, 404 W. Main Ave. They are nearing completion on two projects inside the cracker building: Inland Pacific Kitchen for fine dining and the Hogwash Whiskey Den, which will feature some 300 labels and styles along with an oyster bar, steaks and fried chicken to be served until 2 a.m.
“It’s gonna be amazing,” vows Hansen, who hopes to be open by August or September.
Seeing all the work that has gone into refurbishing this 1904 icon gives me a lot of pride in my hometown.
And not just for the hard work, but the vision as well.
Mark Camp has gone from a barista to one of the city’s true trendsetters.
And the best part of all? Despite all his success, he’s still that same good guy I knew back when.
Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.