Furniture store set to take half of former Michael's site on Meridian

by Dave Gallagher
    Montana Furniture Industries has signed a lease to occupy more than half of the former Michael’s Arts & Crafts building at 3548 Meridian St.
The company makes high-end furniture at its facility in Bozeman, Mont., with the goal of creating heirlooms that can be passed on to future generations, said Greg Metzger, who owns the company with his wife, Kim.
    “We want to make furniture that will last, and our products include pieces used throughout the home as well as the home office,” Metzger said. “We are also very focused on making sure our products are made in North America with North American material, such as upholstery.”
Montana Furniture will occupy 14,400 square feet of space in the building, using the space as a showroom.
    Depending on how the tenant-improvement process goes, Metzger said they hope to have the showroom open sometime in July. When in operation, the new showroom will have at least six employees to start.
The opening of the Bellingham showroom is a bit of a homecoming for Metzger. He grew up in Ferndale and graduated from Western Washington University, along with his wife.
    The business was founded in 1985 and the Metzgers purchased it eight years ago.
    “I know a little bit about the demographics of the area, and know Bellingham is growing, so we’re hopeful there is a market there for our product,” Metzger said. The company has showrooms in Spokane, Bellevue, Great Falls, Mont., Grand Junction, Colo., Beaverton, Ore., and Elk River, Minn. Metzger said he chose the former Michael’s building because he wanted the showroom to be in a destination location where county residents could go.
    “We think our main customer base will be the local residents, and that spot looked like a place people can get to easily,” Metzger said. “The building was also a perfect fit for us.”
    Lydia Bennett, the listing agent for the building, said the splitting of the building makes it more attractive for potential tenants.
    “The size of the entire building (28,000 square feet) did make it challenging to lease, but I think this is a good fit for the new tenant,” Bennett said. “This also leaves a significant amount of space available for another tenant.”
    For more information about Montana Furniture Industries, the company’s web site is

New life for former OSB site
by J.J. Jensen
    A popular, old Bellingham eatery and watering hole could have a new tenant as soon as next month.
    Rodney and Brenda Topel of JHDA, Inc., have applied for a license to sell beer and wine at 709 W. Orchard Dr. No. 1 and No. 2, the former Orchard Street Brewery location.
    Rodney Topel did not return several calls for comment this week but a company official with The Eiford Group, the building’s landlord, confirmed that the new business will be Jeckyl & Hyde Deli and Ale House.
    “We think it will be a nice addition to the area and think it will be something that’s really needed there,” said The Eiford Group official, who asked not to be identified. “There’s been a void there since (Orchard Street Brewery) left.”
    Neighbors of the new establishment say its owners have said they plan to operate as a deli by day and ale house by night. OSB also operated a restaurant at the location for several years, until it abruptly closed in December 2002.
It’s not believed that Jeckyl & Hyde Deli and Ale House will brew its own beer or do brewing on site as OSB did.
    The Eiford Group official declined to comment on terms of the new tenant’s lease.
    The former tenants of the location, well-known regionally for their beers, created a stir around town last April when they suddenly left the property, seemingly overnight. The Eiford Group filed a notice last April 23 asking OSB to either pay back rent or vacate the property. In May they then filed a lawsuit for $118,377 in back rent and damages against OSB, Christian Krogstad and Donal McKenzie, the listed owners of the company.
    The Eiford Group spokesman declined to comment on the status of the lawsuit.

Filter maker moves to Irongate from Santa Rosa
by Dave Gallagher
    Blue Future Filters, a water-filtration company, has moved its headquarters from Santa Rosa, Calif., to Bellingham.
    Along with the move, the company has plans for a big production year, having recently been awarded a $6 million contract to put 355 of its slow sand filtration units in Iraq. The company also recently sent 200 units to help tsunami and earthquake victims in Indonesia.
    The company headquarters are located in a 3,200-square-foot space at 3957 Irongate Rd., suite 102.
    Company president Humphrey Blackburn said the reason for the move to Bellingham was partly family-related, but it also made strategic business sense.
    “While we have been busy with our international contracts, we also have residential units, and the Pacific Northwest has a more positive history with this technology,” Blackburn said. “It is also less expensive to have a business like this in Washington than California.”
    Blue Future Filters is a spin-off of his consulting company, Blackburn & Associates, founded in 1996. Blue Future Filters, founded in 2003, has taken what was a slow-growth business venture into something much bigger, creating a situation where Blackburn is now bidding on major projects from governments and large international agencies.
As a result of this boom, Blackburn expects his gross sales to jump from $200,000 in 2004 to $7 million in 2005. The company currently has eight employees.
    “We spent a lot of years developing the technology, and in the past year it has really taken off,” Black burn said. “When we reached a point where the technology allowed us to make the product cheaply and in large numbers, major business opportunities began presenting themselves.”
    Slow sand filtration is one of only four federally approved potable water treatment technologies. The sand filter acts as a biological reactor and removes pathogens from surface waters, such as streams, rivers, springs or lakes. The result is a water treatment system that doesn’t require power or expensive chemicals.
    “There are a lot of ways to treat water, but almost all of them require electricity, qualified people and chemicals, which are all usually quite scarce in places such as Indonesia or Iraq,” Blackburn said. “So we’ve been able to create quite a bit of interest in our product in those regions.” Blackburn didn’t have plans to go international with his water filtration system, but an opportunity presented itself when an engineer stationed on a Marine base in Iraq was browsing the Internet and came across the company web site (
    The U.S. government became interested in his product and awarded the contract earlier this year. The filters will provide clean drinking water to more than 100,000 people in 36 villages, all located on the Euphrates River near Fallujah.
    “That project manager on the Marine base was concerned that 50 percent of the children under the age of two were dying of water-borne diseases. All we hear about in the news is about the war, but this is all about the United States’ humanitarian efforts for the people of Iraq,” Blackburn said.
    Along with sending filters to Indonesia, Blackburn is also working on a contract to sell his filters to developing nations through international agencies such as the United Nations and World Vision. He will also continue to sell filters in the United States to small, rural water districts, state parks and tribal communities.
    In previous years, Blackburn said a good year was shipping out 300 filters. Through the first three months of this year, his company already had more than 700 orders.
    “It has been a very interesting experience taking this business to a different level,” Blackburn said. “I’m very excited about the potential of this technology, not only from a business standpoint, but in how it helps these communities get clean, drinkable water.”

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