The future of the quirky Country Village Shops with its giant spotted chicken statue, pirate ship playground and collection of small shops and restaurants could be in peril.
The family who owns Country Village has signed a letter of intent with a national townhouse developer to potentially sell the property contingent on a feasibility study.
“I know there is a lot of community outcry,” said Bryan Loveless, one of the family members. “We have agonized over this as a family.”
He said his father, Rod Loveless, who made Country Village into the attraction it is today, is nearly 92 and undergoing serious health problems and mom, Barbara, is 89. And he is concerned that wetlands could prevent a sale for development in the future.
“As a family, if it wasn’t for the health issues for the family and environmental regulations with more and more stringent setbacks becoming larger and larger, if it wasn’t for those two factors, we probably wouldn’t have sold at this time,” Bryan Loveless said.
Still the deal isn’t done and the family, who has a lot of emotion tied up in the property, might end up reversing course.
Leeann Tesorieri, Rod’s daughter and Bryan’s sister, has managed Country Village since the 1980s. She’s worried the news of a possible land sale could hurt the shops on site.
She said nothing will happen for at least a year. A letter to shop owners said they would be able to have their current spaces through at least March 2018.
“I’ve worked here a long time,” Tesorieri said. “I know a lot of these shop owners, I’ve known them for years. It’s definitely not an easy decision to make.”
She and Katie Loveless, Bryan’s daughter-in-law who helps manage the property, are moving forward as if a sale won’t happen.
They just opened a new children’s playground, are planning this Saturday’s Sparkling Stroll Wine & Prosecco Walk and are gearing up for the 20th anniversary of the Bothell Farmers Market to be held on the grounds this summer.
Country Village is about a mile south of the Canyon Park at 23718 Bothell Everett Highway. It is meant to be a whimsical world where meandering brick paths lead between duck ponds, gardens and funky old buildings.
About 45 shops and restaurants are listed as being on the property including spas, a toy store and even a lactation consultant. The Greater Bothell Area Chamber of Commerce is housed at Country Village.
The grounds are dotted with eccentric features dreamed up by Rod Loveless, most notably the giant chicken made of fiberglass and Styrofoam that faces the road.
“My dad is a unique guy,” Bryan Loveless said. “Some people are pro chicken and some people are not. I may not be pro chicken, but my dad would do things like this.”
The family owned 13 acres at the site, but sold 6 acres last year behind Country Village. The sold land is planned to be developed into 92 townhomes.
Earlier this year, the family received unsolicited offers for the remaining property. Bryan Loveless, who is serving as the family’s real estate broker, said they’ve looked at selling it as a shopping center, but it’s worth far more selling it as land to be developed.
The charm of Country Village is the fact that all the shops are small and unique, Bryan Loveless said. But property management companies want shopping centers with anchor tenants and that is something Country Village has never attracted.
When they decided to consider an offer, the family sent out a letter to shop owners for full transparency. The letter has been posted on a Bothell Community Facebook page. Many of the commenters’ reactions have been negative, citing the iconic status of the center in Bothell and how much it would be missed, both as a community center and haven for local businesses.
Bryan Loveless said his dad’s medical expenses are mounting.
“We really aren’t trying to create a problem,” Bryan Loveless said. “I don’t think we’re the bad guys here. The reality is I believe anybody in our shoes would have done the same thing.”
Chic Boatique shop owner Jennifer Higa has been worried about the potential sale since she received the letter from the family. She called it stressful and eye-opening and made her realize how much she values Country Village as it is.
She said she would have to pay much higher rents elsewhere for her store, which sells hand-crafted jewelry, chalkboard art and wood crafts. Country Village is unlike other shopping centers.
“Nothing has this feel,” Higa said. “We want to stick together. If I go someplace else, I’m going to be next to T-Mobile, I’m going to be next to a grocery store. We’re in this little cottage and we all complement each other. How do I complement a big chain restaurant?”
Nancy Stoll started at Country Village 11 years ago working for the property management office before she opened her own shop, Quite the Find, a home decor and gift shop.
“If the time comes and the family makes the decision to sell, then I guess we’re relocating,” Stoll said. “To me, there doesn’t seem to be a point to worry about it right now until there’s some motion with that decision.”
Bryan Loveless told the Reporter that the city will take 90 days to conduct a feasibility study to see if the potential buyer’s redevelopment proposal can be carried out on the property.
When the family sent out the letter to shop owners, they included at the top of the page a recent quote from Rod Loveless, who developed residential property during his career and owned a heating oil company. The quote read, “Of all my lifetime projects, the Village was my favorite.”
“He’s done a lot of projects so that was surprising,” Bryan Loveless said. “That’s why we put it in the letter. To us, that’s pretty special. We still have a lot of emotion in the property. When we say that we agonized about this, that’s not the party line.”
Jim Davis: 425-339-3097; firstname.lastname@example.org.