Owner: Paul Hemminger
Address: 1422 Cornwall Ave.
Startup date: Oct. 1
Square footage: 1,100
Initial investment: Less than $10,000
As a kid growing up in Bellingham, Paul Hemminger always envisioned himself being a downtown merchant.
“I believe in downtown,” said Hemminger, 33, a 1990 Sehome High School grad. “As a kid I just always assumed I’d be a guy who cobbled his wares downtown. I wanted to be that local-provider guy.”
Now, Hemminger is living his dream. This month, he opened Bellingham Frameworks, his first business, on Cornwall Avenue.
The opportunity to open his own picture-framing business at the location came about last month when Linda Kolbo decided to retire and close her Hang Up Shoppe and Gallery, where Hemminger had worked as a framer for six years.
Upon learning the news, the decision to stay in the location and start his own business didn’t take Hemminger too long.
“I thought about it for maybe a minute or two and decided I didn’t want to leave Bellingham, or even Cornwall Avenue,” he said. “I’m a picture framer; this is what I do.”
Hemminger said his store will be different from Kolbo’s, which carried a large selection of home décor.
The main focus of his business, he said, will be custom-picture framing, but he’ll continue to sell greeting cards, ready-made frames and local artwork.
In his 10 years as a framer, in addition to prints, photos and original artwork, Hemminger said he’s framed just about everything, including wedding dresses, jerseys, shadow boxes, flags and baby memorabilia.
“I’ve kind of got a niche for weird things,” he said, “but where I shine is working with the customer.”
Hemminger, who carries hundreds of frame styles, said his favorite part about the job is working with a customer to find the right frame.
“Paranoia is what drives me,” he said. “I don’t want to put any product out there that’s bad. Over the years, people start to see my dedication.”
Indeed, Hemminger’s created quite a following since he started working with Kolbo. Currently, he has more than 700 people who receive a periodical framing newsletter he sends out.
While it’s been long hours getting the store ready, Hemminger, who’s also worked downtown at Blackburn Office Equipment and Northwest Computer Supplies, said it’s been worth it to stay downtown and fulfill his dream.
“It’s happening,” he said. “I feel comfortable downtown; I dig it. This is what I’m going to do the rest of my life.”
Superior Design Concrete Flatwork
Owners: Neil Villhauer and Mike Cofer
Address: 527 Willow Rd.
Startup date: Sept. 1
Square footage: N/A
Initial investment: $7,500
While working for another concrete contractor several months ago, Neil Villhauer, 20, and Mike Cofer, 21, came to a realization: Their hard work was making someone else rich.
The two were confident in their abilities, took pride in their work and had all the necessary equipment — so, they figured, why not just start their own company.
After a few months of planning, last month the two followed through on their idea.
“Our backs are only good for a certain amount of years so why break ‘em for someone else,” said Cofer.
Despite their ages, the partners said they’ve already learned plenty about the business through several years of on-the-job training with other contractors.
“It’s about how you represent yourself,” Cofer said. “It’s about quality and caring about the customer.”
While the two recognize there’s plenty of competition in the concrete business, they believe they have some advantages.
First, they said, because of their youth they’re not tied down by a lot of commitments and can put in long hours.
And, by being a small company, they can give customers more personal attention.
“With most other companies, you never even see the guy in charge,” said Villhauer. “With us, we’re the owners and operators so we’re always on site. It’s our butts on the line, not someone else’s.”
Because Cofer had been running a crew for another contractor, he said, he’d already developed quite a few contacts in the construction industry. Already, the two have secured large jobs at housing developments in Birch Bay and Blaine.
With the current construction boom, the two, who do mostly residential work, such as driveways and garages, see themselves staying busy in coming years. In the future, said Villhauer, they’d like to add decorative concrete work to their repertoire.
Cofer, who graduated from Timber Ridge High School in 2002, and Villhauer, who’s working toward his high school diploma at Whatcom Community College, say they both have the same long-term goals for the business.
“We both have ambition and want to be the kings of concrete in Bellingham,” Villhauer said.
Wild West Auctions
Owners: Susan and Robert Franklin
Address: 2006 James St.
Startup date: Sept. 23
Square footage: 3,000
Initial investment: Less than $5,000
Auctioneering and antiquing can be powerful addictions, said Robert Franklin.
Consequently, he and his wife, Susan, have succumbed to both.
So, after graduating from Eastern Washington University in 2003, the couple, despite having just earned their teaching certificates, decided to go to work in the antique and auction field.
Last month, they opened Wild West Auctions on James Street.
“Being in the auction and antique business gets in your blood and kind of sticks with you,” he said. “It has a way of getting into your system.”
Both Robert, 26, originally from Spokane, and Susan, 40, a Bellingham native, have been around antiques nearly their whole lives, as both sets of their parents were antique dealers. And Robert ran his own auction service while he was in high school and college.
When deciding whether to open their own business or go into teaching, Robert said, the couple compared the two lifestyles.
“We get to go out in the community and meet new people every day (with auctioning and antiquing),” he said. “And even if we don’t get an item consigned to our auction, we’re still meeting neat people. It’s not your typical job.”
The couple, which just moved back to Bellingham several months ago, believe their business will give locals something new to do in the cold and dark winter months.
“This time of year, from an auction standpoint, is a good time to open because the kids are back in school and the nice, sunny weather, unfortunately, goes away and people start looking for indoor activities,” Robert said.
The first few auctions at Wild West, which can accommodate about 100 people, have drawn about 30 to 40 people, said Robert. He anticipates more participants in the future, as word gets out about the business and the types of deals that can be found there.
“I have the view that people go to an auction, for the most part, to find a special item or a bargain,” he said. “It’s cool that sometimes you can show up and find a neat item and get it for a fraction of its value. Sometimes a $200 item you might get for 20 bucks. Auctions have a way of turning up interesting and unusual items.”
Up for bid at Wild West, typically, are antiques, collectibles, tools and household items, in addition to other odds and ends. Auction-goers can view items from noon to 6 p.m. on Fridays, with auctions starting at 6:30 p.m. The Franklins are usually at their business from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays.