Lenore Rutherford, The Union Democrat

Thalisha's Photographic Boutique is the latest business to open its doors in Columbia State Historic Park, continuing an upturn in business after a two-year dry spell.

Businesses in the Gold Rush-era park are coming out of an economic funk that started about two years ago. The national economic downturn hit the park hard, especially since June 2009, when one concessionaire that managed seven separate venues pulled out of town.

Thalisha Kamice opened the newest store about three weeks ago in the

former barber shop display on the town's main drag. The barber's pole

is still just outside the front door.

She moved to Columbia with her family in the early 1990s, graduated

from Sonora High School in 1994 and earned a degree from the Brooks

Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara.

She has worked at the Columbia Candy Kitchen the past five years.

"I'm also a costume designer," she said, "so this combination is really fun for me."

At the studio, people can get dressed up in costumes provided by

the boutique and have old-fashioned pictures taken in black and white

or sepia tones.

Her opening comes on the heels of new concessionaires taking over

the Columbia Mercantile store from Paul and Mary Gjerde, who have owned

the concession for 33 years.

The new owners are Claudia Carlson and Lisa Taylor, of Columbia.

They plan to maintain the old-fashioned theme of the store while making

minor changes.

Teri and George Van Buskirk re-opened Fancy Dry Goods Store this spring.

Following on their heels, Jeff and Jackie Briggs moved from Aptos

to take over the seven concessions that had been closed since June 2009.

They now own the concessions for City Hotel, City Hotel Restaurant,

What Cheer Saloon, Bart's Black Saloon (former Jenny Lind Restaurant),

Fallon Hotel, Fallon Ice Cream Parlor and Fallon Theater.

Columbia State Historic Park is unique in that it's a living town

that was turned into a state park in 1945 to save its Gold Rush-era

buildings which had begun to deteriorate.

Business owners negotiate concessionaire contracts with the state and provide the public with living history lessons.

Business owners, state park employees and a large contingent of

volunteer docents put on events throughout the year to bring Gold Rush

history to life.

Contact Lenore Rutherford at lrutherford@uniondemocrat.com or 588-4585.