On a drizzly evening in the Pacific Northwest, a pack of people are huddled under a street lamp on the corner of Cornwall Avenue and East Holly Street in downtown Bellingham. At the front of this pack is a slender woman dressed in a vintage flapper dress with a cloche hat snuggly drawn down over her wavy bob hairstyle. No, she has not time traveled from the pages of The Great Gatsby but she does lead this crowd back in time through Bellingham’s somewhat sordid past of brothels and saloon scrimmages. This is Kolby LaBree, co-owner with Wren Urbigkit, of the walking tour company Good Time Girls.
Walk the streets of Bellingham with these ladies and find yourself soaking up the off-beat history this town was built on.
How It All Began
The Good Time Girls walking tours started in 2011 under the creative inspiration of Sara Holodnick and Marissa McGrath. This same year, Kolby, who holds an anthropology degree and a background in historical development, went on a tour. She was smitten with the experience and recalls, "I thought it was great. I saw an ad the following season they were looking for guides and jumped at the chance."
In 2017, the founding women wished to pass on the legacy of their popular business, or as they say, "pass on the corset strings."
Kolby and Wren were ready to carry the torch.
Keeping their most popular tours of the Gore and Lore, where all the spooky stuff happens, and the Sin and Gin for retelling those good ole fashioned stories of brothels, saloons, flappers, and speakeasies, the girls also began to add a few more tours to the repertoire. The Rated Mature tours for the over 21 crowd and a general history tour which is geared towards kids, school outings, and a family audience. A series of free tours is also in the works sponsored by the City of Bellingham.
"Our whole goal is to try to make history fun, engaging, and interesting," says Kolby. "And to connect people to the place they live."
It might be shocking to learn that Bellingham was built on the shoulders of brothels and saloons, much like many of its sister cities further south on the Puget Sound. The revenue of which supplied the budding city with a budget in which to grow. An interesting fact to learn is that Bellingham started out as four separate settlements: Fairhaven, Whatcom, Sehome, and Bellingham becoming incorporated in 1903. Many of the murals around the city display this history along with giving honor to the original peoples settling this area, the Coast Salish Tribes. These are just a few fun facts picked up from the Good Time Girls.
During the pandemic, the Good Time Girls pivoted by developing Virtual Tours, which became a great way to offer more accessibility to the tours for people with disabilities and mobility issues.
For Kolby, she relates her favorite part of her job as: "Getting to talk about history, which I can’t get enough of, while getting to play dress up and be a bit flamboyant."
And she does make it fun! Meeting new people is always a plus, as the tours see not only newly transplanted 'locals' to Bellingham but also regional travelers staying close to home and exploring their own backyards.
The tours run rain or shine, which can prove a bit dicey in our Pacific Northwest climate, but there are drinks to end the evening plus add a little warm-up if the weather turns nippy.
The Good Time Girls' current season is running May-October with new tours on the schedule including Freaky Fridays featuring their Gore and Lore tour. They follow all Covid-19 policies to ensure safety and comfort for all -- but do know this is an outdoor event. Most walking tours last around one hour with a walking radius of less than a mile. Check out their additions and register a tour for your next outing to Bellingham.
While the products, services and/or accommodations in this story were provided without charge, the opinions within are those of the author and the Seattle refined editorial board.