Yelm is Becoming Commercial Center Growth: New Businesses From Surrounding area in North Thurston County
By Cecilia Nguyen The News Tribune January 30, 2002
Rural Yelm is acquiring some big-city amenities Yelm is at the center of much of the commercial and retail development in North Thurston County, with the construction of a Safeway grocery store, Rite Aid pharmacy and movie theater in the past five years.
Most recently, Starbucks opened a coffee shop off Yelm Avenue, the city’s main commercial and retail street.
Yelm is becoming the commercial hub for a lot of the rural communities in this area. Yelm city administrator Shelley Badger said, “The big reason for the growth is because our location. We are the center of a very large rural area.”
Retailers who once traditionally looked retail centers in Olympia and Tacoma quickly realizing Yelm’s potential. In 1999, the Yelm Cinemas’ developers performed an area market study. It identified a far larger consumer base than just Yelm’s 3,289 residents. The study estimated 65,000 people within a 15-mile radius, 640,000 people within a 25-mile radius.
“What surprised us was the numbers were so high,” Yelm Cinemas spokesman John Thompson said.
Since the movie theater’s opening in December 2000, attendance has exceeded market study expectations, Thompson added.
“This is a growing area with an expanding economic base,” Thompson said. “Other businesses are starting to figure out that Yelm might be the place to locate.”
The additional tax revenue funded most of the city’s essential services last year, Yelm officials say.
In 2001, Yelm residents paid the city $555,000 in property taxes. That same year, the city collected $727,000 in sales tax revenue and $480,000 from the business and occupation tax. Sales and B&O taxes provide more than half- $1.2 million – of the city’s $2.3 million operating general fund budget, Badger said.
Badger commended past elected officials and the current City Council for their realistic planning approaches and foresight.
Officials prepared Yelm for the impending developments by upgrading the city’s infrastructure, such as increasing its wastewater treatment capacity, she added.
Yelm also continues to work on gaining more water rights and improving its systems to accommodate growth.
The next task for city officials, Badger said, is to address Yelm’s growing traffic problems.
The council is searching for a solution to address the high volume of vehicles that drive along Yelm Avenue, which turns into Highway 510. Constructing an alternate route to bypass Yelm Avenue is one option, officials say.
Badger speculates as Yelm’s commercial core expands, more shoppers will discover they can accomplish most of their shopping locally.“People used to have to drive to Olympia or Tacoma to get what they needed,” Badger said. “The choices are increasing here.”
City officials acknowledge hearing residents voice their fears that Yelm’s small-town atmosphere could diminish with added economic development. No formal anti-growth movement has formed so far.
“From time to time we hear people say, ‘It’s not like what it used to be Badger said. “But we also hear positive comments saying, ‘It’s nice to be able attend a movie and shop in town.'”
And Thompson believes Yelm’s close proximity to the smaller Thurston County communities meant the city was destined to grow. “Yelm’s growth was inevitable -whether we wanted it or not,” Thompson said. “It’s just a matter of whether it was planned growth.”