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Chocolate Flower Farm puts Langley fire station offer on hold

The Chocolate Flower Farm won’t be moving its shop to the city’s vacant fire hall after all, at least not right away.

“We kind of want to sit on it for a while to see what’s going on with the economy,” co-owner Marie Lincoln said Thursday.

She said the city offered the building to her and her husband, Bill Schlicht, but that the couple notified city officials Wednesday that they prefer to wait and see.

“We’re not saying no to signing a lease at some point,” Lincoln said. “We just want to make sure the business is there.”

“We’d be really willing to work with them if there’s something we can do to help them get started,” Langley Mayor Paul Samuelson said Thursday. “We’ll continue to keep the conversation going.”

The city has been seeking possible tenants since Fire District 3 got ready for its move to a new fire hall on Camano Avenue earlier this year. The new station became operational last month.

The city received three other proposals for recycling the old fire hall, including one from the South Whidbey Parks & Recreation District and a private proposal from Councilman Russell Sparkman.

The parks district, which had eyed the building as a possible place for recreational and education programs, withdrew its interest. Another proposal for a Firehouse Centre of Fine Arts, suggested by Cary Jurriaans of Fall City Fine Art Studio, also was abandoned.

That left Sparkman’s proposal for a multimedia arts center in the building, and the Chocolate Flower Farm’s suggestion to expand its retail shop into the hall. The city opted for the farm.

Lincoln said that, based on a positive response last summer to the Chocolate Flower Farm’s new wholesale operation, the couple thought it was a good time to expand.

“Now, all our wholesale customers are 100 percent not reordering,” she said. “It’s not about us, it’s about the economy.”

“We would love to be there,” she said of the fire hall. “But we have to be reasonable. The circumstances are different today than in September, when we put our hat in the ring.”

She said the lease on their current downtown retail shop is up in March, but that they have the option to renew.

She said the city wants $2,500 a month for the fire hall, but the “unknown” is the cost of utilities, considering the hall’s concrete walls and floor and its large spaces.

“We’re not in a position right now to commit to expansion when everything has kind of slowed down,” Lincoln said.

Samuelson said the city would continue to look for a new tenant, and that his economic team is recruiting throughout the region.

“Do we have someone else who approached us about the building? No. But I’m really confident we’ll find a use for the facility,” he said. “It’s just not clear what the direction will be.”

He said the current seasonal use of the hall by the Bayview Farmers Market, for example, and been “a big success.”

“That opened our eyes to some different opportunities and concepts,” Samuelson said. “These are times when creative people need to get creative.”

The Chocolate Flower Farm, opened in 2005, is a specialty garden nursery offering selections of “chocolate” (dark colored) plants and rare perennials. It’s Garden Shed shop on First Street features gifts and garden specialty items.

The fire hall would have been used to expand the retail shop, and for production, wholesale and mail-order sales, Lincoln said.

“The city has been very supportive of us,” she said. “We’re firmly planted here. We love the idea of being a positive addition to the town.”

“Everybody is really concerned about the economy, about trying to make the right choices,” Samuelson said. “I’m sure we’ll work through it.”

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