Avenue Pita & Espresso

Owner: Josephine Garcia
Address: 4184 Cordata Parkway
Phone number: 734-7481
Web address: www.avenuepita.com
Startup date: Dec. 11
Square footage: 1,650

Josephine Garcia’s new eatery, Avenue Pita & Espresso, opened in December on Cordata Parkway, and caters to the area’s businesses, as well as the students at nearby Whatcom Community College.

    Josephine Garcia got her start in the food service industry working for Sodexho while studying business management at the University of Hawaii on the big island, where she grew up.
   Six years ago she voyaged to Bellingham when the company promoted her to food service manager of Western Washington University’s dining services. Overall, she worked for Sodexho for 10 years — enough to know she wanted to be the captain of her own ship.
   “I got burnt out working on campus,” she said. “You work 365 days a year, breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
   And the campus “customers” weren’t exactly appreciative of her grueling schedule, either.
   Students delivered their critiques of the cafeteria food in the form of sarcastic complaints.
   “They would just say things like, ‘This food sucks,’ and not give a reason why,” she said.
   The clientele in her new venture, Avenue Pita, which she opened in December with her partner, Anna Schiess, is much more forgiving. Instead of complaining, they line up for more, and when the line gets long, Garcia slaps on a pair of plastic gloves to assemble pitas alongside her employees.
   Avenue Pita is folded into an innocuous retail center along Cordata Parkway, between Westerly and Kellogg roads. She originally intended to market her pitas, which range in price from $3.99 to $5.69, salads, soups and espresso to nearby businesses who could take advantage of her willingness to accept large, faxed group orders for free delivery within five miles, but also ended up with a market for Whatcom Community College’s faculty and students.
   The casual, airy restaurant offers hefty tables — perfect for a student to spread their books out and study or for a group of professors to meet over coffee — and a reasonably priced option to the area’s surfeit of fast-food chains.
   She felt the pita concept had a lot of potential, with only two national franchises in existence, and decided to hop on board with her first business. Her goal, she said, is to eventually franchise Avenue Pita.
   Because Garcia had experienced the unhealthy imbalance of overwork and little spare personal time, she decided to open a breakfast and lunch eatery that closes at 5 p.m., giving her the ability to lead a normal life. With her best friend, Schiess, the two are able to achieve this balance. Garcia runs the day-to-day operations and Schiess is the accounting wizard.
   She also credits her staff of six employees for allowing both owners to relax when not at the restaurant. Through selective hiring, proper training and setting a good example, she has been able to completely trust her employees to steer the ship in her absence.

The Clothes Rack
Owners: Cindy Brown and Joanne Robinson
Address: 1905 James St.
Phone number: 738-7759
Web address: www.the-clothes-rack.com
Startup date: Oct. 21
Square footage: 1,100

Cindy Brown is co-owner of The Clothes Rack, which opened on James Street in October.

    Joanne Robinson and Cindy Brown originally considered naming their high-end women’s consignment store “Joanne’s Closet,” since it sprang from Robinson’s desire to get rid of an overflowing chest of vintage clothes and purses.
   Robinson had owned an antique store in the past, and Brown — whose middle-school-aged daughter is friends with Robinson’s granddaughter — had consignment clothing experience. After dropping the idea of starting a business together for several months, Brown signed on officially when the space on James Street — a sprawling converted old house — became available.
   “Cindy, we have to do it,” Robinson said at the time.
   Although the two decided on the name The Clothes Rack, the finished product certainly feels like a large closet, brimming with shelves of shoes, racks of womens’ wear and purses dangling from walls. Many of the clothes carry designer labels, like St. John, Escada, Luis Vuitton, Josef Siebel, True Religion Brand Jeans and Coach, with original price tags in the hundreds of dollars. The store sells these items at a large discount. For example, the store sells jeans originally priced at $400 for about $70 to $100.
   Robinson and Brown signed the lease for the space in October and opened two weeks later — almost accidentally.
   “We weren’t officially open, but people just started coming in,” Brown said.
   On the first day, two Canadian women swooped down from the north and bought out the store’s entire initial inventory, Brown said. Clotheshounds from the north and south continue to be a major market for the store; Brown estimates about a quarter of her customers are from Seattle and Vancouver.
   The store also sells more affordable used clothing as well, and offers a Web site that consigners can access to check their accounts, a consignment novelty in Bellingham Brown said only The Clothes Rack can boast.
   Brown said that business has been busting at the seams and they haven’t had to do almost any advertising. Word-of-mouth has propelled their momentum and she credits the store’s proximity to two other used/consignment stores nearby — Passion Fly Clothing and Wee Ones Reruns — for much of this busyness.
   Challenges have been few for the duo, aside from days lost to snow, and operations have been smooth, especially with help sorting through clothes and shoes from Robinson’s granddaughter and Brown’s daughter, who are delighted to have ready access to such hot clothing deals.
   Brown, a single mom, has also enjoyed being able to set her own schedule and work flexible hours.
   Robinson has enjoyed the access to a grand wardrobe of clothes — in fact, Brown said she’s the store’s best customer.

Bellingham Preschool of the Arts
Owner: David Post
Address: 1059 N. State St.
Phone number: 306-1543
Web address: www.artspreschool.com
E-mail: david@artspreschool.com
Startup date: Jan. 29
Square footage: 10,000

David Post saw a niche for an arts-heavy preschool in the area, and filled it, starting the Bellingham Preschool of the Arts in the former Spinnaker Photo site on State Street at the end of January.

    David Post hopes Bellingham youth will be singing in the rain a bit more often now that his performing arts-centered preschool and academy are open on State Street.
   Post moved to Bellingham a year and a half ago after working as a choral and performing arts teacher in Northern California for 17 years. Once here, he noticed a lack of schools or programs dedicated to teaching and promoting performing arts to children and youth, and started pondering opening an after-school academy for that purpose.
   “I thought this town needed this,” he said.
   He started an after-school choir program at Garden Street Methodist church, called Bellingham Children’s Choir, with nine students. The program quickly grew to about 40 students in its first semester. During this time, he held auditions for and directed the musical, “Annie,” which his students performed at Squalicum High School.
   “The kids were just amazing,” he said. “It wasn’t just a cute kids’ show.”
   His goal was to encourage a high level of quality performances from the kids while adhering to a positive attitude (no yelling in that overly dramatic high school drama teacher way), clear expectations and consistent instructional practice, he said.
   After a year, the Bellingham Children’s Choir had grown to 70 students and five different choirs. At this point, Post changed the program’s name to the Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth (BAAY), and began looking for a larger space to run all of the performing arts programs he envisioned in his mind.
   Post moved the academy into the former Spinnaker Photo Imaging space on State Street in January and began hosting after-school choir, dance and theater classes for students there.
   He realized the space was underutilized during the daytime, and a friend suggested he open an arts-focused preschool to generate revenue and fill up the space.
   Post hired Nancy Smith, a preschool veteran with 25 years of experience in early childhood development, and opened the school at the beginning of the year.
   The idea is to suffuse his students’ preschool experience with music, dance, yoga, storytelling and drama classes taught by various local experts in addition to traditional preschool classes and activities. For now, the preschool offers a morning session from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Post’s slogan for the preschool is “Where academics and the arts come together to support the whole child.”
   So far, his challenges have included juggling the duties of improving the nonprofit academy, which will eventually have space for choir practice; drama classes; art instruction; a dance studio; a recording studio and instrumental instruction; and owning the for-profit preschool.
   He said he couldn’t do it without the support of his staff.
   “I’ve been very lucky to have great people all around me,” he said.

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