Front Street building gets a makeover

A recently restored building will soon house tourists and visitors in historic downtown Coupeville.

A recently restored Front Street building will soon house tourists and visitors in historic downtown Coupeville.

Salty Vons Waterfront Inn, formerly known as the Coupeville Cash Store, opens on Tuesday after three years of renovations. The long project has been a labor of love for building owners Von and Barbara Summers, who hope that their investment in the property will spur other private individuals to help preserve historic structures in Central Whidbey.

The Summers purchased the building in August of 2019. Originally constructed in 1886, the Coupeville Cash Store sold just about everything, Barbara said. The building’s lower level was once a blacksmith’s workshop.

By the time the Summers came into the property, it was a hodge-podge of periods and styles, having undergone renovations by its various owners across the decades. In the past, Von said, owners also rarely needed permits to make changes, making the accumulation of elements even more haphazard.

More than that, some previous owners had compromised the structural integrity of the building by cutting through the ceiling or floor during various renovations. The building would need a lot of work, both to restore its original appearance and to prevent it from completely collapsing.

The couple took on the restoration project just a few months after Von retired from a career in public affairs. Barbara had had some construction experience, but neither had any historic restoration experience.

“Restoration is just such a different game,” Von said, adding that every time the couple visited the site, they discovered something new they would need to do.

Referring to historic photos throughout the design process, they restored the building’s facade and other historic elements, adding single-pane windows in keeping with the time in which it was built and a catwalk balcony that appeared on the back of the building in the early 1990s. They also had to reframe much of the building to stabilize it, rebuild the floors and replace the plumbing, water and electrical lines. Von said most of the work was done by local contractors.

“We feel like we know every board and mechanism personally,” Barbara said. “It should last another hundred years.”

The top and bottom floors will be vacation rentals. A two-bedroom rental and a studio rental are finished, furnished and ready for guests on the top floor, with views of the wharf, Penn Cove and Front Street. Von said both units have already been booked out for several weekends.

The two bedroom unit faces the cove and has catwalk access, as well as access to a small loft area where, historically, building inhabitants would keep an eye out for incoming ships in the cove.

Von said the bottom floor unit requires a little more work but will likely be ready next month. The lower rental has a unique historic character, with a set of large double doors after the style of the carriage doors that once led into the blacksmith’s shop, original supporting beams exposed in the ceiling and an old safe still embedded in the bedroom wall.

At street level, Sea Bre’s Yarn will continue to sell yarn and locally made gifts in the building, and a cidery and tasting room operated by Greenbank Cidery is expected to open in September.

Von said the contractors who worked on the building were excited to be involved in such a unique project. The couple is hopeful that the love and labor they have poured into the structure will prompt other able private individuals to make similar investments in Central Whidbey’s many historic buildings.

“It was fun to do. We really feel grateful to have had the opportunity to restore this building,” Barbara said.

Salty Vons Waterfront Inn is located at 12 Front Street. The rental units will be open to the public for tours during an official opening ceremony at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 16.