Editor’s note: Curious about the structures lining Broadway Street? Here’s an in-depth look at the buildings around downtown Alexandria, businesses who previously occupied the spaces and the purposes they’re being used for today.

One of the many historic Broadway storefronts has hosted everything from a theatre, cafe, sporting goods store and interior design shop throughout the years.

Now, the building at 609 Broadway St. now sits empty.

Carl Kvale purchased the location for his business Kvale Real Estate in February 2020. He’s currently remodeling the space, so it hasn’t been officially opened to the public. All passersby can see is the new canopy over the front door and a poster board with his name and number situated in the window.

The building was put on the market in 2019 by Ravnik & Co. because two of the company’s employees and owner Betty Ravnik planned to retire.

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Ravnik Interior Design originally opened in Ravnik’s home in 1999 and later moved to the lower level of 504 Broadway St.

While operating from this new downtown location, the Ravnik Interior Design staff grew to include two designers and an office manager, offering full service design for commercial and residential spaces.

Ravnik was determined to have a downtown space because she had owned the first coffee house in Alexandria from 1992 to 1993. Betty’s Coffee House was located at 518 Broadway St., where Potomac Bead is now. Because of her previous experience there, she wanted her business to remain a part of the downtown environment.

When the designers outgrew the 504 Broadway St. spot, the company searched for other available buildings downtown.

The business’ move to 609 Broadway St. proved to be a beneficial transition because the upstairs area provided a wide-open office space and the main level was rented out for retail.

Ravnik Interior Design offered interior design services, furniture, accessories, rugs and custom window treatments. The company was also a training ground for other area designers.

“The tradition of good design and great products available in this community is a feather in the town’s cap,” Ravnik said. “One does not need to look to larger communities for quality service and products.”

Since she opened the new location during the Great Recession in 2008, Ravnik said the beginning was spent focusing on goals and hoping that business could only go up from there.

“Downtown business owners are the caretakers of these historical buildings,” Ravnik said. “Alexandria is lucky to have such a beautiful downtown, a passionate Downtown Merchants’ Association and a community that sees value in locally owned businesses.”

A sign for Howard Theatre (right) protrudes from the building at 609 Broadway St. This street scene postcard was dated Sept. 14, 1917. (Photo courtesy of the Douglas County Historical Society)
A sign for Howard Theatre (right) protrudes from the building at 609 Broadway St. This street scene postcard was dated Sept. 14, 1917. (Photo courtesy of the Douglas County Historical Society)

Prior to Ravnik & Co. occupying the space, here’s a closer look at the history of 609 Broadway St., according to records at the Douglas County Historical Society:

  • 1875: The Trenham Gallery displayed items at this location.

  • 1876: Before moving elsewhere, the Douglas House also resided here.

  • 1887: At one point, there was a James Walker grocery store.

  • 1911: For a short time, C. K. Foslin Saloon opened its doors here.

  • 1911: The Howard Theatre could seat up to 400 people and would run two shows every night. Tickets to one performance “War Novelty Coming” cost children 25 cents and adults 50 cents to attend. The show’s preview announcement, published in a 1918 issue of the Alexandria Post News, listed a guarantee for any spectators: “If anyone after seeing the performance, comes to the box office and says that it was not worth twice the admission fee, he will be given that amount.”

  • 1928: Leonore and Tony Osterberg first opened Osterberg’s Cafe on Sixth Avenue East, but the business later moved to this 609 Broadway St. location. After they retired, Leonore’s son Bill took over as co-owner along with his cousin Steve. The upstairs level was remodeled and redecorated to create an additional lunchroom space, seating up to 152 people at one time. The front of the cafe was remodeled in 1962, and the balcony was removed. In a 1980 issue of the Lake Region Press announced, it described the closing of the cafe like losing a central piece of the community: “The name Osterberg and Alexandria have gone together like the proverbial ham n’ eggs since most people here can remember … and even longer.”

  • 1989: After Osterberg’s left, Video Update came in.

  • 1996: Play It Again Sports took up shop here for a while.

  • 2008: The Interior Shoppe, later called Ravnik & Co., entered the picture.

Osterberg’s Cafe was a popular restaurant in downtown Alexandria for decades. This photo is estimated to have been captured in the 1970s. (Photo courtesy of the Douglas County Historical Society)
Osterberg’s Cafe was a popular restaurant in downtown Alexandria for decades. This photo is estimated to have been captured in the 1970s. (Photo courtesy of the Douglas County Historical Society)

Employee memoir: ‘What I Remember About Osterberg’s Cafe’

Alexandria resident Mildred Signalness wrote a few pages about her memories of Osterberg’s between 1948 and 1955.

She and her friend were working at a different cafe in Glenwood, but they kept receiving letters from Osterberg’s asking them to come and work there instead.

New employees worked the night shift for their first week on the job. Some of her shifts would start at 4 a.m., and she would sleep in a booth during her breaks.

Waiters and waitresses could write down customer orders for two weeks before they had to start memorizing them.

“We worked like slaves, but we had fun, too,” Signalness wrote.

Richard Osterberg Sr., grandfather of Bill and Steve Osterberg, opened the first family restaurant in Kensington prior to the Alexandria location’s existence. Signalness’ account discusses the legend that Richard traded a team of horses for $50 to purchase the cafe in downtown Alexandria.

On days that were especially busy, Richard would go around telling employees that a typical day in Alexandria was like the Fourth of July in Kensington.

“Sometimes I think people come in just to see us run,” Signalness wrote. “I know many times we’d hear people say, ‘Just watch now, it goes like a clock in here. Just watch the waitresses.’”