Lombardi’s closes to make room for Gilman Square redevelopment
June 11, 2013
By Peter Clark
After 22 years in Gilman Square, Lombardi’s Italian Restaurant is closing July 28.
Owner Diane Symms learned two years ago that there would definitely not be a renewal on the lease for the land. After searching for options to stay in the city and not finding any viable opportunities, she said they had to leave.
“It’s hard to believe it’s flown by this fast,” Symms said. “We had known it would be a possibility that the lease wouldn’t be renewed. It’s still sad. We tried.”
After the initial Lombardi’s location opened in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle 25 years ago, Symms said that opening the second location in Issaquah was a good move for the company. She said it was the flagship location and brought in the most money for the company during the mid-2000s. The restaurant has since opened new locations in Everett and Mill Creek.
The long-standing eatery has seen its fair share of change as Issaquah has grown. When it opened, many commercial locations nearby had not yet broken ground.
“Issaquah Commons was just a patch of grass and mud over there,” Symms said.
Sitting in a booth in the restaurant, Symms pointed to different levels where flood water had risen in three separate incidents, some 3 feet from the ground. The expense and difficulty in dealing with insurance companies to receive money from the damage began to take a toll.
“I tried to convince the city for years to buy this land and develop it into a park,” she said, indicating that the low flood plain ended up moving the restaurant toward closing. “I knew that we were on the last five years. I tried to buy the property but the development restrictions and the costs were beyond my ability.”
Symms said that the property owner’s decision to not renew the lease was primarily motivated by the promise of redevelopment under the Central Issaquah Plan. The city recently passed official design standards by which developers can begin reshaping central Issaquah. Lombardi’s is the first business that announced a closure under those terms.
“Part of the reason there hasn’t been a lot of real estate development in this town is the Central Issaquah Plan,” Symms said about the 17 acres of land, one side of which runs along Issaquah Creek. With the new design standards, she said that much around the city would change. “I think somebody will pick up this land and develop it.”
Store manager Janel Jacobson said that the staff took the news of the closing well when they were informed a few months ago, but restaurant regulars were finding it more difficult to hear. As a longtime presence in the community, she said many patrons lamented the imminent closing.
“It doesn’t feel real yet,” Jacobson said. “We’re still running business like normal. We have a really good team here and I think they are taking it pretty well. Some people are going to the Mill Creek restaurant.”
Having worked in the restaurant for four years, she said that she had formed real bonds with many of the regulars and was sad to leave them.
“We have so many regulars,” she said. “I’ve become friends with some of them.”
Jacobson also wondered about the state of the city in terms of redevelopment.
“I’m serious to see what Issaquah is going to look like in five years,” she said.
Regarding the last day, Symms said they have yet to determine a fitting sendoff for the restaurant.
“We’re going to have to think of something,” Symms said. “It’s going to be a very sad day.”
Both Symms and Jacobson said that they would spread the word for the community once a farewell event was planned.