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Columbia City’s Sweetest Places: The Columbia Confectionery

RVHS Photo # 93.01.425

This was the sweetest place in Columbia City in the 1920’s and ‘30s. It was a regular stop for all the school kids on their way to and from Columbia Grade School. Standing in the entrance is Nick and Mrs. Vamkros, owners of the Columbia Confectionery. 

One of the main attractions of his store at 4867 Rainier Avenue occurred every Saturday morning. It was the day Nick made his famous peanut brittle and all the kids, and some adults with a sweet tooth, came by to watch and savor the aroma emitting from his shop. He made other kinds of candy including chocolates which you can see on the trays displayed on the two lower shelves in the front window. 

Notice the popcorn machine moved out onto the wood planked sidewalk to attract customers. The sign at the lower right offers “Ice Cream To Take Home” and the upper windows advertise Henry the Fourth and Chancellor Cigars.

The small vending machine to Nick’s left, attached to the door casing reads “Pulver Chewing Gum” and to entice passers-by, is the slogan “One Cent Delivers a Tasty Chew”.

Below, to Nick’s left, is their “paper vending” chair with the twisted and curved wire back that holds copies of that morning’s Seattle Post Intelligencer. The white vending machine at the far right, attached to the building, pronounces in vertical letters, “Wrigley's Spearmint”.

My fondest memory of Nick’s Confectionery was in the ‘30s when he had “grab bags” for sale. I can remember stopping at Nick’s every day on my way home from school and purchasing, for a nickel, one of his grab bags. If I didn’t have a nickel, I would scrounge up some milk bottles and trade them in for the treat. Not knowing what was going to be in those white paper bags was the fun part, but it always contained some of his homemade candy and sometimes a really neat toy. 

Nick was a great salmon fisherman. He would be out on the Sound every chance he had. That was in the days of the Seattle Times Salmon Derby and Elliot Bay would be jammed with boats, mostly rentals from the several marinas along the shores. 

One of his favorite fishing spots however was on Camano Island, a little over 70 miles north of Seattle. He would leave his home on the corner of 45th and Dawson, across the street from Whitworth School, and drive up to Camano and like most people in those days, rent a cabin and a 16 foot Reinell outboard boat and motor. In those days you always caught salmon. It was just a question of how big and how many.

He usually rented a cabin at Camp Lagoon resort on the Northwest side of the island. That was only about two blocks from a group of about twelve summer cabins built by residents of Rainier Valley’s Columbia City area. In a previous article I mentioned that group of cabin owners and the unofficial, but functional, post office address they had, Columbia City #2.

I knew Nick quite well and ironically my wife and I purchased one of the remodeled Camp Lagoon cabins in1978. My grandparents, Will and Edith Brown, had sold their Columbia City #2 cabin about 1955 that they had built in 1927. My fond memories of spending my summers there enticed my wife and I to again have a cabin on that stretch of beach. I wonder how many times Nick had stayed in that same cabin which we enjoy today. Unfortunately there are no salmon left to catch, but the crabs and clams are plentiful.

Confectionery stores were popular in the early days. Pierre Weiss had one next door at 4871 Rainier Avenue in 1911 that included sporting goods along with the usual fare. Ulysses S. Tibbetts and his wife Mary had a confectionery at the same location as Nick’s, also in 1911, according to the King County Directory. Others at that same location were Fraker’s Confectionery and M. Paul’s Confectionery, date unknown.

Later at that same location there were several drug stores including Otto Richardson’s Drug Store that later moved to Hillman, Rainier Drug Store and Elmo’s Drug Store. The one thing I remember was they had a soda fountain and I was a regular customer always ordering either a green river or a vanilla malt.

Today the Wellington Tearoom is at that location. Owner Gwyn Baker has also just opened a second location in West Seattle. Seattle Magazine focused on the Wellington in an article on Columbia City, and Gwyn was featured in a national coffee and tea magazine and both the Seattle Weekly and the Seattle Times had articles about the Wellington. They are now offering weekend brunches. 

The Wellington is yet another example of the positive things that are happening in Rainier Valley and particularly Columbia City.

Days Gone By 

South District Journal 11/3/1999

By Buzz Anderson


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