East-West Fashion

Owners: Paula and Ronni Sohal
Address: 1132 Finnegan Way
Phone: 733-1279
Startup date: July 29
Square footage: 950

Sisters Paula and Ronni Sohal do everything together, including having kids and opening a business. Clockwise from left is Paula, Ronni, Ronni’s daughter Rose and Paula’s daughter Angela.

    Sisters Paula and Ronni Sohal do everything together. They worked as nurses’ assistants together on the same floor of St. Joseph Hospital and they had kids at the same time, so when each began thinking about opening a clothing store, it made sense to do it together as well.
   “Anyone who knows us knows we have always worked together,” Paula said.
   The two, who were born in Punjab, India, and emigrated to the United States with their parents as teenagers, felt that Bellingham lacked an Eastern-influenced clothing store, and thought Fairhaven, especially, could use some spicing up.
   “We wanted to bring some color to Fairhaven, which is kind of plain,” Paula said.
   Their idea was to blend Eastern and Western fashions, adding some spark to what Ronni said was plain Western attire.
   The Sohal sisters have since brightened up the area with East-West Fashion, a women’s clothing and accessories store.
   Inside, a rainbow of colors pops from the clothing racks. Purple and green dresses, brown and orange skirts, and embroidered tunics line the walls. Tables are stacked with beaded bracelets and belts as well as camel and elephant figurines, incense, cloth purses and vibrant mobiles hang from the walls.
   They spent three weeks painting intricate designs and paisley shapes on the store’s walls with 18-karat gold paint, which they said was time consuming and expensive.
   Some of the tunics and tops are Ronni’s creations that she designs, sews and dyes. Her mother taught her how to sew three years ago.
   “And now I can’t stop,” she said.
   Her hobby began with creating outfits for friends and family, including her 5-year-old daughter. She said she likes to make things that are colorful, bright and out-of-the-ordinary.
   The sisters import some of the other garments from Singapore, India, Indonesia, China and Thailand, as well as picking them up while on vacation.
   Neither has owned a business before, but each has distinct inclinations that suit them in their first endeavor. Ronni is the fashion guru and Paula is the numbers expert.
   “I hate paperwork, so she has to do it,” Ronni joked.
   The sisters continue to work full time at St. Joseph Hospital as nurses’ assistants as well as take turns running the store and raising their children.
   “Being originally from India, we believe in working hard, that’s what we know,” Paula said.
   “And we wanted a place for ourselves,” Ronni finished. “This is who we are.”

Shipyard Coffee
Owner: Dale McKinnon
Address: 501 Harris Ave.
Phone: 303-3710
Web address: www.shipyardcoffee.com
Startup date: May 15
Square footage: 290

Dale McKinnon’s new coffee shop, Shipyard Coffee, opened in Fairhaven May 15.

    Dale McKinnon has worked as a photojournalist for Newsweek magazine and the Associated Press, as a technical writer for Apple Computer and NASA and has rowed from Ketchikan to Bellingham to raise money for Northwest Youth Services. Recently, she’s trying out a new gig as owner of Shipyard Coffee in Fairhaven.
   “Retirement is not a part of my vocabulary,” she said. “My retirement includes rowing, teaching rowing and spreading the gospel of rowing.”
   It’s convenient, then, that her new endeavor is located right on Bellingham Bay in a location you might miss if you weren’t looking hard enough.
   Once you get there, however, the view is breathtaking.
   McKinnon’s new coffee shop is small and only offers outdoor patio seating. She describes it as a destination coffee shop that is dog friendly and caters to bike riders, “cruisers,” rowers and boaters, as well as people who are simply in-the-know.
   Old wooden pilings strung with weathered buoys frame the picturesque view of the bay from the coffee stand’s brick patio. In the view, 20 sailboats calmly rock on the water as a rower skirts through them like a water bug.
   Motors purr and seagulls caw, punctuating the stillness.
   “This is Bellingham’s best kept secret,” said Carolyn Quigley-Alcon, an Indiana resident visiting friends. She often vacations in Bellingham and said she found Shipyard Coffee while wandering around Fairhaven.
   McKinnon said she wanted to learn about business and considers the coffee stand an educational experience. Before she opened, she had no idea what the “x” and “y” functions on a cash register were, let alone how to keep a business’s books, she said.
   Lucky for McKinnon, this business is not her sole source of income.
   “Right now it’s not any source of income,” she said.
   McKinnon will close the stand during the winter because its business is so weather dependent, being busy only on sunny days.
   Another challenge for McKinnon is that she’s not a coffee drinker — she’s more into tea, she said. But she decided to use Batdorf & Bronson Coffee Roasters’ beans and the company sent a trainer from their head office in Olympia to give McKinnon an espresso lesson.
   She’s incorporated her love of tea into the business by creating a creamy Earl Grey tea specialty drink made with steamed milk.

My Northwest Home
Owner: Jeff Chance
Address: 155 W. Kellog Rd.
Phone: 647-1227
Web address: www.mynorthwesthome.net
Startup date: June 10
Square footage: 2,000

Jeff Chance, left, has opened My Northwest Home on Kellogg Road; at right is his business partner, Bob Putich.

Jeff Chance recently started noticing the increase in TV shows dedicated to home improvement and thought Bellingham could use an all-encompassing home-furnishings store.
   The Richmond, Va., native said he thought the home-improvement media blitz would prompt consumers to desire one-stop-shopping for home interiors — and, thus, My Northwest Home was borne.
   Along with his business partner, Bob Putich, the two have created a store that offers the full gamut of dining, home office and home theatre design items, from furniture to lighting to wall hangings and rugs.
   “I’m not an interior designer or decorator, but I can help the customer make a house into a home,” he said. He got his design sense from his mother, who always paid close attention to his childhood home’s interior environment.
   Chance said he felt there was also a need for a Northwest-specific aesthetic in Bellingham’s home furnishing market.
   “It’s earthy, but yet at the same time there’s some boldness in the color and some clean, Asian lines,” he said, describing the Northwest look.
   The light and bright 2,000-square-foot loft features intact living areas, dining room set-ups and myriad light fixtures hanging from the walls.
   “The products are laid out so someone can have a vision of how it could look in their home,” he said.
   Chance has always been an entrepreneur, he said. His resume includes starting a business within General Motors to expand the company’s Asian sales market, as well as co-founding Bellingham-based Microstaq, a high-tech automotive-products company.
   But he’s always dreamed of owning a home-furnishings store.
   As far as advice for anyone thinking of starting a retail business, Chance said business owners need to look forward and be confident, to not be deterred. So far, his biggest challenge has been achieving the right mix of products.
   “It’s not for the faint of heart,” he said of starting a business.

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