The pastel storefront at 1740 Pacific Ave. in downtown Tacoma was teeming with shoppers Thursday waiting for their last chance to point to pedestals of chai spices, hot cocoa, strawberry and carrot cupcakes. More than a couple of devoted regulars pre-ordered a dozen for Sunday, when they would return for a final goodbye.
Hello, Cupcake, Tacoma’s pioneering cupcake bakery that opened in 2007, will be closing January 8, the owner announced this week.
“As sudden as it may seem,” owner Allix Weber wrote on Wednesday, “it is a decision I have been forced to accept after two long years of trying to weather the storm of unforeseeable circumstances, economic difficulties, rising ingredient costs, and a myriad of other challenges.
Speaking at a table tucked away behind the buzz of the lunchtime cupcake crowd, she explained: The numbers just stopped making sense, and the last year has been particularly difficult as funds from Pandemic relief ran out, foot traffic stagnated, and staffing became a daily challenge, leading to shortened hours that weighed on sales.
“For a lot of small businesses, it’s just been a struggle,” Weber, 35, said. “At some point, I can’t keep hoping that will change.”
The situation “bounced back a bit,” she continued, but it fell short of what was needed to maintain its ground-scratch approach.
Every day, starting at 4 a.m., bakers would arrive to whip up fresh batter in more than a dozen flavors, scooping up each treat by hand, mixing and pouring fresh buttercream in different shades. What you see in the pictures – nearly identical swirls of frosting adorned with miniature cookies, cinnamon sticks and sprinkles – is what you see in store.
“Quality and customer service have always been my top priority,” Weber said. “Fashion has come and gone… but we are meticulous, down to the last detail.”
Fans flocked to the Tacoma store for staple flavors like Lemon, Red Velvet, and Chocolate on Chocolate, and for Limited Editions: Lemon Lavender, Magic Marshmallow, Shirley Temple, Sweet Cranberry, Peach Crumble.
On Thursday, a customer ordered six for today and a dozen hot chocolate, one of two monthly specials, to pick up on Sunday.
Mary Cabrera enjoyed the minis with her two young children, Caleb and Olivia. She’s celebrated most of her life’s significant occasions over the past 15 years with Hello, Cupcake: her engagements, pregnancies, births, birthdays, and anniversaries.
“Any celebration was a tradition,” she said. I asked if she came by on a whim from time to time.
“I intervened too many times!” she laughed. “It was my feel good in Tacoma, my pleasure. I don’t know what we’re going to do.
LET IT BE CUPCAKES
Hello, Cupcake’s 2007 debut put it squarely on the cupcake’s rise nationally, a trend sometimes attributed to a scene from HBO’s “Sex and the City,” where two of the leading ladies indulge on a bench outside Magnolia Bakery in the West Village. (There are currently 10 Magnolia Bakery locations, all but two in New York City.)
In 2003, a store called Crumbs became the “gourmet cupcake” mogul to emulate, growing to dozens of stores before collapsing in 2014. (Interestingly, the defunct company just announced a resurgence, supermarket-focused.) Other stores took the United States by storm in between, including Georgetown Cupcakes in Washington, DC, which had its own reality TV show on TLC. Food Network also launched a competition called “Cupcake Wars”. In Seattle, Trophy Cupcakes also opened in 2007, followed by Cupcake Royale; both operate multiple stores today.
Some argue that at some point in the early 2010s fancy donuts usurped the cupcake’s status as the winner of affordable daily indulgences.
For Weber, cupcakes “always seem extravagant” but manageable, in terms of cost and effect.
“Especially those mini cupcakes – they’re dangerous,” she laughed.
His Instagram and Facebook posts are awash with comments praising the care and quality of his iterations, and treasured memories: a son’s birthday 13 years in a row, a wedding that then bravely avoided the cake, a first date you for a couple now married, a teenager whose late father always brought her here.
“The stories people are sharing have been a little…not what I expected,” Weber said. “We are usually some of their most special moments. It’s easy, doing this every day, to say, “We’re just making cupcakes. Good to know we did, and we did.
Weber purchased Hello, Cupcake in 2014 from original owners, mother and daughter Reina Beach and Tina Miller. After graduating from university in 2009, her plan to teach elementary school changed with the job market. With a growing interest in baking, she was hired at the Pacific Avenue store part-time and became manager two years later. When the family was looking to sell, they asked her first.
Then, in her mid-twenties, Weber recalled saying, “What do you mean? I can’t own a business!
Reflecting on this opportunity, she is grateful to have raised her daughter, now 6 years old and in preschool, with the flexibility that owning the shop affords. She employed 8 to 12 people at a time.
Around Thanksgiving, after celebrating eight years of ownership in August, she realized she would need to cut staff to make ends meet. Looking at the numbers on New Year’s Day, the “delayed effect” of the pandemic was felt.
“I don’t think I could have done anything differently,” she said. Moving to a new location with more parking, expanding to a second store or food trailer, borrowing more money – “It would just be a bigger version of the same thing.”
WHAT’S NEXT FOR PAC AVE?
Hello, Cupcake was a bright spot in a growing stretch of downtown and a growing college campus. Its building, along with most of its neighbors, is owned by the University of Washington Tacoma.
Communications director John D. Burkhardt told The News Tribune that the store was “an excellent long-term business partner,” which has been instrumental in helping the university achieve its goal of ” fostering a vital and vibrant commercial presence in downtown Tacoma.”
Tenants were offered rent relief in the early months of the pandemic, he noted, and the UWT has “reached in” to help further where needed.
“The downtown retail landscape is very different today than it was until 2019,” he said in an email. “Things have been more difficult for retailers. Road traffic has not returned to pre-pandemic levels and inflation is driving up inventory and labor costs.
At the store on Thursday, Stephanie Mann sat down with a friend for one last cupcake. She worked in administration at UWT for about 10 years, she said, and the loss of that longtime business stings.
“I told her as we walked in, ‘It’s a quarter to 11 and we’re the only ones on the sidewalk,'” she told me, adding that a $5 cupcake was a rare splurge. for students.
“When I started, it was $2.80!” said Weber. She raised prices gradually over the years, but acknowledged, “I feel like we’ve reached the limit of what customers would pay.”
Its ingredient costs, especially for dairy, have doubled since 2018. Others might have cut corners; she refused to waver in her commitment to high-quality, handmade products.
“I hope it’s not unsustainable to be that kind of bakery,” she replied, asking if being a single-location independent business with a singular offering in an area with ostensibly high foot traffic – what downtown Tacoma strives to offer – was a relic from another era. “I liked that it was a destination here. It was special. You need some sort of excuse to indulge.
By noon, at least 20 clients had decided they had their alibi.
Hello, Cupcake will be permanently closing on Sunday January 8th. The store is open until then, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and will offer all-time favorite flavors on its last day of operation.