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Old Salisbury bakery building becomes arts and crafts mall

SALISBURY — An arts and crafts mall is rising in the old bakery building on Olive Street.

Since the days of Owen Kruase and his Salisbury Baking Co., the century old building in the heart of the city has been home to the Eastern Shore Baking Co., Ray-Mor Baking, Sweetheart Bakers Inc., and finally, the Schmidt Baking Co.

Gordon and Linda Johnston bought the property in 2007, a year after Schmidt closed its Eastern Shore operation that operated there almost 30 years. At the advice of locals, including former bakery employees, the couple cooked up a plan for a mall with hand-crafted furnishings, custom-made clothing, woodworking and jewelry, antiques, home accessories, homemade pastries and produce.

Their Olive Street Mall & Consignment Warehouse officially opens Friday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony hosted by the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce.

The Johnstons said the facility is the city’s only indoor vendor, merchant and consignment mall, with more than 24,000 square feet of enclosed space for merchandise and another half-acre of space outside for produce and farmer’s market vendors.

“(We) spoke to many of the neighbors and former employees that once worked here,” said Gordon Johnston. “The plan for an arts and crafts mall offering fresh produce began to take shape.”

The mall is a venue for artists, craftsmen and merchants to offer their works, and interact with customers on a regular basis, “similar to other larger retail malls or outlet centers.”

“Olive Street Mall is best described as a community of talented, passionate and caring people coming together to share and support one another,” Johnston said. “Our artists, crafters and merchants offer quality, hand-crafted items. We differ from other consignment and crafts stores in that each of the many talented artists, crafters and merchants are here to meet and develop relationships with their customers face to face — each from their individual space.”

Space under one roof is an affordable option for vendors as well as customers who can browse scores of offerings at once. The Johnstons expect the concept to catch on and grow.

“Our goal and common purpose is to assist one another in these extraordinary times,” he said. “Olive Street Mall provides a place for locally owned small businesses to combine their efforts and pool their resources. Shoppers will find a wide a wide array of high-quality items and services available.”

The original bakery space has two floors and a basement, with distinctive 10-foot ceilings and maple floors. There are 3,000 square feet of space in a separate maintenance building across Olive Street from the main warehouse, and an 8,000 square-foot space on the building’s north side where a steel building stood until collapsing in winter 2010.

“The original entrance from 1908 is the same one used today for the Olive Street Mall,” Johnston said.

A fire burned much of the original building in November 1933, the result of an overheated stovepipe, Johnston said. The 34,500-square-foot building was updated and expanded, stretching one-and-a-half city blocks with remnants of the past that include the original front facade.

Repurposing the property also preserves a city landmark that dates to 1806.

At Olive Street Mall, a shopper can encounter furniture “selected directly from the craftsman in the jungles of Indonesia,” Gordon Johnston said. There’s even a cellphone service, and there are talks under way with farmers and other agricultural officials regarding a produce market this summer.

The Johnstons grew up in Arnold, and after marrying in the mid-1990s moved to the Eastern Shore town of Cordova, and later, to Ocean Pines.

“We are now looking in Salisbury for a place to call home,” Johnston said.

At Olive Street Mall, the Johnstons intend to rekindle the spirit of the old bakery days.

“I am often told that the smell of fresh- baked bread filled the air around Olive Street Mall,” Johnston said. “Many also tell of coming to the bakery as children on field trips and receiving a loaf of warm, freshly baked bread. We are working with and reaching out to local bakers and pastry chefs that would like to offer their handmade goods for sale.”