New owner takes on The Curious Caterpillar

By: Cynthia Washicko - Apr 13, 2016
Source: The Daily Astorian

With a new owner taking the reins, changes will be coming to The Curious Caterpillar after the store’s four-year tenure in downtown Astoria.

Brigid Koeppen, the store’s new owner, finalized the sale from Stephanie Tichenor in late February, and has since been learning the ropes of running her first business. Koeppen plans to make eventual changes to the store’s inventory and use of space, she said.

Learning on the job

With a background in social work, Koeppen said she’s spent time learning the nuances of running a business after making the transition from customer to owner. Those include details or ordering and accounts, and stocking the store for upcoming seasons, she said.

Financing her purchase of the business came with its own hiccups. Koeppen quit her previous job last year and, after six months, decided to take over The Curious Caterpillar. When she tried to get a home equity loan to finance the purchase, however, she ran into roadblocks with her bank, who saw her lack of income and denied the loan.

She resolved her issues with the help of Craft3, a nonprofit that provides loans to businesses, groups and individuals throughout the Pacific Northwest. Just over a month later, she had the loan she needed to buy the business.

It was her background in social work that gave her an inkling there might be a nonprofit like Craft3, she said.

“Just being a social worker, I know there’s nonprofits out there. There has to be something for small business loans that wasn’t a six month (to a) year process,” she said.

New vision
Her vision for the store include increased clothing and more use of the store’s upstairs space.

While she plans to keep the store largely the same as it is now, eventually she has plans to stock the bottom floor of the shop with gifts and clothing, and use the upstairs space to display the shop’s selection of books.

“We’re doing some (merchandise) that are kind of Astoria-based but also just more artsy, fun stuff for kids that are unique but not too far out there,” she said.

Book sales made up a significant portion of the business under Tichenor, and Koeppen plans to continue that focus during her tenure as owner.

“Having three kids that they read books all the time, having the tangible book is still really important, I feel,” she said. “I think for the long term for the kids in this community, it is an important thing.”

Koeppen added that she hopes to continue Tichenor’s practice of working with local schools to have book fairs later in the year.

Applicable experience
Despite the fact that this is Koeppen’s first foray into entrepreneurship, she said she has the right mindset and experience to run The Curious Caterpillar.

“I know how to work, I think that’s the biggest one. I know for the next five years I won’t have a vacation and I’m OK with that. My parents are going on 35, 40 years owning a business so I’ve been around that and I know the commitment that needs to take place for it to happen.”

Koeppen has experience in customer service as well, and said she’s looking to make the shopping experience at The Curious Caterpillar a unique one for patrons. Her own experience shopping at small, local businesses influenced her own goals for the shop, she said.

“I know when I’m looking for gifts for someone, I do go downtown to look just because there is different stuff,” she said.

Koeppen is planning a re-grand opening of the store on April 9, and has future plans to run promotions for holidays like Mother’s and Father’s Day, she said. She also plans to have the shop’s website up and running by May, and hopes to include online sales with the business as well.

1184 Commercial St., Astoria; 503-325-5521