YAKIMA -- A sweet, flowery fragrance fills the air in The Collector's Niche. Every corner of the shop in west Yakima is filled -- with clothing, stationery, purses and other gift items.
It's reminiscent of the shop's days on North Front Street, when owner Jane Freitag fit a lot of merchandise into a tiny storefront.
She ran the shop there for 25 years before moving out in 2007. Now she's in Chalet Place, which was the store's second location for two years before she shuttered the downtown location.
But customers remember her time on North Front Street with great clarity.
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"Someone will come in here and say, 'It's like that little shop on Front Street,' " Freitag said.
After 29 years in business, Freitag, 65, is retiring and closing The Collector's Niche at the end of the month.
Regulars will remember the shop and its offerings, but others also will remember Freitag as one of the early merchants who came to North Front Street when no one else would.
Freitag spent her early years as a ballet and ski instructor.
In the early 1980s, she was looking for a new career venture after several years as a stay-at-home mom. She found her opportunity during a post-dinner walk downtown.
That's when her eyes fell on a storefront at the Lund Building on North Front Street and Yakima Avenue.
At 9 feet by 18 feet, the storefront was too small for most businesses. And Front Street in the 1980s was known more for its crime and less for its historical significance.
Freitag was not deterred.
"Something about it pulled me in," she said. "I was intrigued with starting my own business on a very small scale."
She opened The Collector's Niche in fall 1981, just months after she found the space.
The store initially sold German collectibles such as wooden nutcrackers. But the business' concept changed as she read such books as The Scented Room and Living a Beautiful Life and Victoria magazine, which prompted her to create an environment that would help women feel more calm and nurtured.
So the shop became a treasure box of soap, accessories, decorations and other gift items.
"They were the simple things of life," Freitag said. "It was a way of living. Bringing nurturing things that made life more enjoyable."
It also was the best way for Freitag, an avid artist, to express herself. For many years, the Central Washington Artists Exhibition offered "The Collector's Niche Award," named after the shop.
Freitag also worked to make North Front Street a more pleasant environment for visitors.
She was involved in the North Front Street Improvement Association and worked with other merchants to promote the area to potential new businesses.
"She was one of the first of the pioneers," said George Pechtel, a contractor who has worked to revitalize the North Front Street area. "It was interesting that she came down with nice-smelling things, eclectic things and sold them on Front Street before it was redone. I think that took a lot of perseverance on her part."
With the store's large window, Freitag also served as a watchdog for the neighborhood, said Corday Trick, current owner of the Lund Building. He also operated Corday's, a clothing shop, with wife Sharon for 25 years before retiring in 2008.
"She (was) our first line of defense down here," he said.
When Freitag looks back on those early days, running a shop on Front Street was a fun challenge and less of a cross to bear.
"The whole idea was to keep (the area) for small, local businesses that had some adventure," she said. "You're just stepping out believing something was going to happen."
For nearly 15 years, Freitag ran a second location of the store. She spent 12 years at Westpark Shopping Center on 40th and Summitview avenues before the construction of a Walgreens store displaced her business and several others in 2005. That led her to a storefront at Chalet Place, where she is today.
She continued to run two stores until 2007, when she decided to close one. Freitag said it was bittersweet to give up the Front Street spot, but she knew it was unrealistic to fit two stores' merchandise into such a small storefront.
Despite no longer being on Front Street, Freitag's influence still is apparent.
Front now is lined with a new generation of boutique shops and local eateries, the same kinds of businesses Freitag and her fellow shop owners believed would revitalize the street.
The Collector's Niche's former space, for instance, now is home to Le Cup, a coffee shop. Nearby, Corday's is a wine bar and tasting room for Gilbert Cellars.
And Front Street looks a lot different. Gone are the rundown buildings and drug dealers. Today, a portion of the street is repaved with brick, historical buildings have found new uses and the streets are filled with people shopping at the boutiques and dining in the area's restaurants.
"I think (Freitag) brought that idea to Yakima people -- that coming downtown was a viable option," said Michelle Wyles, owner of Garden Dance and raindance, both located at the former Burlington Northern Santa Fe train depot across the street from the Lund Building.
She also credits Freitag for opening up opportunities for business owners like herself.
"She was essentially a trailblazer. She and Sharon (Trick)," Wyles said. "It made it safer and easier for us because they already did it."
After nearly three decades of working to better neighborhoods and other people's lives, Freitag is ready for her next challenge -- to create a pleasant and nurturing environment for her retirement.
That will include reading the books that she's been too busy to read, tending to the garden and pursuing her long-time love of art.
"It's time for me to retire and actually start living a little," she said.