Bellevue’s ‘Brady Bunch’ of business

“I always thought she was a sweetheart,” says Eric Straub of his now wife, Kathryn.

  • Wednesday, May 28, 2008 12:00am
  • News

The family that makes up Common Folk: (back row

For the folk of Common Folk,

it’s a family affair

“I always thought she was a sweetheart,” says Eric Straub of his now wife, Kathryn.

The two were friends in high school, but never dated. It wasn’t until they reconnected at their 20-year reunion that they decided to make their relationship romantic. They married in 2003, both bringing three children into the marriage.

“The kids have been together so long that they don’t consider each other step-siblings,” says Kathryn.

Something else that brings them all together is the family business, Common Folk Co. and Common Folk Kids at Crossroads Bellevue mall.

Kathryn and Eric purchased Common Folk, the home store, in 2002 and took over the kids store last June. Each family member contributes to the business in some way.

Lindsey, 14, and Jessie, 15, “grew up in the store,” says Kathryn. “They’ve been ringing up sales since they were seven,” she adds. The girls work mainly at the home store but also have enjoyed hosting events at the kids store.

On the day of the interview, Jessie, who was covering for a kids store employee, asked, “Dad, what’s my sales number?

“Just type in Jessie,” Eric replied casually, grinning at his daughter’s question.

Jessie nodded and went back to help her mom at the register.

Nathan, 16, is the “gadget guy.” He helps Eric with maintenance and moving larger items. He’ll be of great assistance with the Common Folk Kids remodel this June, taking inventory, moving product and fixtures, etc.

Sam, 16, works as a sales associate at the kids store roughly 16 hours per week. “He’s a people person,” says Kathryn.

Nate, 18, uses spray paint and stencils to create 2-color silhouettes that are sold at the home store. “He’s getting quite a following,” notes Kathryn.

His work ranges from chickadees and ravens to an Indian chief to Audrey Hepburn, a piece on which he is currently working. He uses classic black and white as well as modern color combinations.

“I tell him what the hot colors are,” says Kathryn, smiling. Pink and black were popular for a while and blue and brown dominate today’s market.

Jaennae, 21, has her own apartment in Redmond and attends BCC, but works at the Common Folk Kids hair salon on weekends.

Family members aren’t the only ones who with long-term loyalty to Common Folk. A group known as “the Longview ladies” comes up for all of the stores’ events, such as the open houses for Easter, fall and holiday, as well as the anniversary celebration.

“There are one or two cars-full [of them] at every event,” says Kathryn.

The Longview ladies fell in love with Common Folk when the business, started by Ilona Steelhammer in 1989, was located in Centralia.

Eric says the Centralia store had more of a country slant. “It was known as the store with the checkered stairs,” he explains.

The Straubs incorporate traditions of the Centralia store at their new location, 15600 N.E. 8th St., Suite A-5 at the mall. The kids store and hair salon are located within the mall.

Upon relocating their home store in 2006, they installed the beloved black and white checkered stairs in the front. The original neon sign from the old storefront is displayed on the wall behind the register.

And the Straubs encourage graffiti. A strange but tasteful concept, new and seasoned customers alike are encouraged to leave messages on the bathroom wall with various shades of pen and sharpie that match the room’s interior. This is only one way that the Straubs interact with their clients.

They also pride themselves on offering impeccable customer service from the time a person reaches the doors to the time he or she exits.

Soothing music, such as songs from Café Italia, entices one from the sidewalk just outside the 10-foot, custom-made wooden doors.

Upon entering, free coffee, tea, and Chehalis mints, a favorite among seasoned customers like the Longview ladies, are offered.

“The bar has an inviting ambiance,” says Kathryn. “If someone is having a bad day, they can come and hang out,” she adds.

While relaxing, people can browse and perhaps even treat themselves to a little something as the Straubs offer many unique pieces. They have the Eastside exclusive on everything from folk artists Ilona Steelhammer (the former owner) and John McCloskey to star wedding planner Mindy Weiss.

Weiss, who is on national book tour, stopped by the store recently to help Kathryn prepare for the wedding party the store hosted that weekend.

Some of Weiss’ clients include Seal and Heidi Klum, Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson and Ryan and Trista. At her visit, guests who wore old bridesmaid dresses received 15 percent off any purchase.

At 2 p.m., just two hours before Weiss’ arrival, Kathryn bustled into the store, carrying bouquets of various white flowers and dressed in a trendy white blouse with black slacks and patent leather heels. An oversized, black, vinyl Glenda Geis handbag, one that can be found at the home store, was draped over her arm. Her assistant, dressed just as elegantly, tiptoed in carrying a three-layer wedding cake from Hoffman’s. Another employee worked diligently to create veils out of tulle.

How does this woman keep herself so together?

“I work from my satellite office, which is my minivan or my kitchen,” she explained, noting that all six children are involved in an extracurricular activity. On most days, she is off work by 2 p.m. in order to pick the kids up from school and drop them off wherever need be.

“Our eight-foot harvest table is always covered in projects. We haven’t been able to eat at it for weeks,” she says.

Whether it’s schoolwork, Nate’s paintings, or displays for the store, the family’s work is never finished. Kathryn and Eric both make product that is sold at the home store as well.

“Life is crazy,” she says.

It’s doubtful she would have it any other way.

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