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People Behind the Place: Downtown Champion Lisa James

October 30, 2020 - by Mason Luvera

People Behind the Place: Downtown Champion Lisa James

Call us biased, but we think Downtown is the primo place to shop, dine and explore. The Heart of Bellevue is home to an array of fantastic eateries and amenities, making it a worthwhile destination for dinner out or an afternoon of retail therapy. But Downtown is also a great neighborhood to call home – and there’s no one more likely to tell you that than resident Lisa James.

Since relocating to Bellevue over 20 years ago, James has become a Main Street dynamo – from her time working at the popular shop Hedge + Vine to serving on the board of the Old Bellevue Merchants Association, she’s lived and breathed the Downtown experience while supporting the community in every way she can. We caught up with James in our latest Downtown Q&A for the scoop on the neighborhood, can’t-miss recommendations and why she loves living in the Heart of Bellevue.

BDA: Lisa! You live Downtown, work Downtown, love Downtown… tell us why!
LJ: I love the buzz and activity of living on Main Street, where I’ve been for the past five years following what a friend has coined as “my domestic re-organization.” Downtown really is my working triangle: I can easily walk to coffee, grab groceries, do a little shopping and land at one of my favorite happy hour or dining spots. I love the walkability and vibrancy of our neighborhood! And the community too. 

BDA: Speaking of which… you credit the vibrancy of Downtown as something that’s helped you form your own sense of community over the years?
LJ: Absolutely. I have lived in Bellevue for 20 years and have worked in Bellevue my entire adult life, since my college days at the Bellevue Nordstrom store! My work history includes working for Kemper Development Company when Bellevue Place was just barely under construction and 10 years at Conner Homes as their marketing manager and in-house designer. I have met so many new friends; both merchants and neighbors - I sometimes pinch myself at the number of people I have had the opportunity to connect and re-connect with just by virtue of where I live.

BDA: Living Downtown is a unique experience, because you are not only neighbors with fellow residents, but with businesses as well. That’s something you’ve enjoyed, we take it?
LJ: Oh absolutely! The Main Street merchants and residents are a very close-knit community. There is a wonderful overlap I could not have expected between the shop and restaurant owners and the people who live on or near them – we are our own extended family and we check in and watch out for each other. Additionally, there is a great camaraderie between the many women who own businesses in Bellevue and I’ve personally appreciated the support and friendship of these successful ladies.

BDA: That’s really great. And did you see this support transpire when the pandemic first hit?
LJ: Incredibly so. When we all realized COVID would not be going away any time soon, I was - and still am - so energized by the “can-do” attitude of the business owners on Main Street, and the support from residents. Almost immediately, curbside dining and package pick-up for shoppers was happening – and happening with great success. With help from the City of Bellevue, the BDA and funding from Microsoft, outdoor dining was extended on the street and merchants were flooding their social media with creative promotions and programs to thank and appreciate front-line workers. I have never seen the sidewalks so busy with socially-distanced neighbors eager to get out of their homes and enjoy and support their favorite shops and restaurants. Really, I’ve never felt more proud of my community and never felt so affirmed about my choice of where to live. As we face the changing season, I know I will be looking for ways to continue to support the businesses of downtown. I will happily bundle up to eat outdoors in a heated tent just to feel alive and part of the vibe! And the holidays… my Christmas list could easily be knocked out in an afternoon shopping day on Main.

BDA: Ha! We get it though – we’re not ready to give up patio dining either. And the important question: where are your favorite spots in Downtown? 
LJ: That’s too hard to answer! Hmm. I love a happy hour dinner in the bar at Bis on Main in the fall and winter, pizza on the patio at Mercato Stellina in the spring and summer, a glass of Sauvignon Blanc at 520 Bar & Grill, bagels and lox at Gilberts on Main any time, a quick wardrobe fix at Smith & Main and the perfect hostess gift from Hedge + Vine! Thinking it through… a favorite day would be meeting a friend at Third Culture for a cortado, a walk & talk around Bellevue Downtown Park, running my errands for the day on foot and a romantic dinner at Carmine's or Al Fresco dining at Cantinetta. Have you seen their new outdoor fire tables and cozy fur-lined dining chairs? Love.

BDA: Ok, you’ve sold us! There are a lot of different apartment and condo options Downtown. Any recommendations?
LJ: I live at One Main and I love it. I targeted this property as where I wanted to eventually purchase and was luckily able to rent there until the perfect unit became available. We do have a variety in Downtown, but since I was coming from a home, I wanted a property that was not a big tower and felt a bit cozier. I was also looking for close proximity not just to shopping and restaurants, but to the park and the lake. Having Bellevue Downtown Park and Meydenbauer Bay Park just steps away is something I will never take for granted! It’s a great building.

BDA: Lisa, so good to chat! If you could shout it from the rooftops, what’s your love letter to Downtown?
LJ: Well, it wouldn’t be the first time! My message would be my heart is here in Bellevue. We live in a very special place and I am thankful for the sense of community and entrepreneurship we enjoy here. Some people say living in Bellevue is like living in a bubble, so I looked that up: “…a bubble signifies relaxation, peace and good fortune...” and I couldn't agree more. I hope everyone can feel this same connection I do!

This blog is part of the Heart of Bellevue: our campaign to showcase local businesses while connecting you with stories of activity, creativity and recovery. Find out about our campaign and explore more of what’s happening around Downtown.