Labor Ready labors to remake image, increase presence


   With a move across town, Labor Ready is aiming to increase — and improve — its image in the community.
   Labor Ready, which has been located at 1310 G St. for five years, will be moving to 1530 B Birchwood Ave., next to Albertsons, at the end of the month and opening in the new location April 1.
   “We wanted to get more public exposure,” said branch manager Bernard Hanratty. “A lot of people don’t know we’re here, because we’re set a block back off Holly and if you look quick you might see our sign, but you might not.”
   Labor Ready, which assigns employment to 12 to 50 people per day, typically to construction and manufacturing positions, created $430,797 in wages for local workers last year, Hanratty said.
   In the past, said Hanratty, he believed some in the community associated Labor Ready with the Lighthouse Mission, which was located nearby. With the new location, that will be less of an issue.
   “We’re trying to clean it up,” Hanratty said of Labor Ready’s image. “There was a day when Labor Ready had a reputation of throwing bodies at jobs. We don’t do that any more.”

Real estate agency to open Barkley branch
   In an effort to serve more customers, The Muljat Group is opening a new branch in the Barkley area.
   The new location, the real estate agency’s sixth, will open March 10 in the Dahlia Building, at 3110 Barkley Boulevard, Suite 105, between Robek’s Fruit Smoothies and Walker’s Healthy Pet.
   “It’s a great location and another way for us to expand,” said Frank Muljat, a 39-year real estate agent, who founded The Muljat Group in 1988.
   Moving to the new location will be sales associates Doug and Lorena Foster and Mindy Price. Troy Muljat will serve as the branch manager.
   In future years, Muljat said, the new 1,000-square-foot space could accommodate two additional sales associates.
   The Muljat Group, which is headquartered on Lakeway Drive, and has branches in Fairhaven, Ferndale, Bellwether, and Birch Bay, has 78 employees around the county.
   In coming months, Muljat said, he plans to build a new office in Birch Bay.
   Bellingham Weekly vets launch new venture in Fairhaven
   “New opportunities open as others close.”
   This is the motto of Kinsman Creative, a new multimedia marketing firm that has converged the skills of seasoned media professionals previously employed by the Bellingham Weekly, which shut down in January due to financial troubles and infighting between the paper’s owners.
   Not wanting to leave Bellingham, Jesse Kinsman, Marisa Papetti and Jim Pidgeon decided to converge their talents into a full-service marketing firm that provides advertising, print and online marketing materials, Web site design, video production, presentation development, public relations, and event management.
   At the Weekly, Kinsman served as the paper’s art director, Papetti was the sales director, and Pidgeon worked as a graphic artist.
   “To compete in this ever-growing competitive market, Bellingham businesses need choices for their marketing,” Kinsman said. “We’re one of the few marketing firms that are able to provide a wide range of skills — from strategic marketing plans to Web site development — all from one source.”
   Already working with local and national clients such as Alcoa Intalco Works, Lithtex, Signature Environments (Seattle) and Broadcast AP (Fresno, Calif.), Kinsman Creative is committed to helping businesses reflect the image of their communities and be successful in their target markets. The new company is headquartered in historic Fairhaven, in the Morgan Block building at 10th Street and Harris Avenue.
   For more information, visit www.kinsmancreative.com or call 676-7174.

Tractor company keeps plowing ahead
   Brim Tractor Co. recently added two stores, acquiring one in Everett and opening another in Sumner, giving the Lynden-based company six locations.
   Brim Tractor purchased the former Coastline Tractor in Everett in late 2005. It opened a new store March 7 in Sumner.
   Brim Tractor features New Holland tractors of all sizes, ranging from compact tractors preferred for residential acreages to large tractors needed by full-time farms. Brim Tractor ranks second among all New Holland dealerships in North America for sales of compact tractors and seventh in total New Holland sales in North America, according to company officials.
   “The compact tractors are popular with homeowners because they can be used for maintaining and clearing land, hauling material, blading driveways and removing snow,” said Brim Tractor president Dan Brim.
   Brim Tractor, founded in Lynden in 1967, also offers tractor attachments, such as loaders and blades, as well as turf-care equipment for municipalities and golf courses.
   Brim Tractor, owned by Dan and Teresa Brim of Lynden, opened stores in Salem, Ore., last year and in Issaquah in 2003. It acquired a Burlington dealership in 2000 and later moved it to Mount Vernon. For more information about the company, visit www.brimtractor.com.

MT&C finds new office
   Materials Testing & Consulting (MTC) is expanding its Bellingham office by moving to 2126 E. Bakerview Road, Suite 101, which will result in more efficient service for its growing Whatcom County clientele.
   The office location, just west of Bakerview Spur, will be ready by early April and feature a fully certified laboratory. Previously, all of the company’s tests were conducted at its Burlington laboratory.
   MTC offers geotechnical engineering, materials testing, special inspections and nondestructive testing services throughout Western Washington. Its recent local projects include the $70 million expansion of St. Joseph Hospital in Bellingham, plus the construction of Harris Square and 12th Street Village in Fairhaven. MTC also was involved in last year’s construction of the 400,000-square-foot Seattle Premium Outlet Mall and the $80 million Tulalip Casino, both in Marysville.
   MTC, founded in 1981, is owned by Niall and Terri Hackett, Curtis Shear and Brian Steele. The company had been located at 1208 Bay St.
   For more information, call 647-6061 or visit www.mtc-inc.net.

Fund-raiser to benefit local youth
   A fund-raising event to benefit Bellingham’s Jake Finkbonner and his family will be held at the Chinese Martial Arts Academy on State Street, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sunday March 12th.
   Finkbonner, a 6-year-old Bellingham boy, has been battling necrotizing fasciitis, a bacterial infection that has been killing the tissue in his face.
   Professional martial arts performances will be at 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. World famous Chinese calligrapher Kathy Bai will show her work, and sales generated from the event will be donated to the Finkbonners.
   In addition, Academy owner Chris Strelau will donate 50 percent of new student fees during the entire month of March.
   “Our hearts go out to this boy and his family,” says Strelau. “It is our desire to join with the rest of the community in wishing him well, and doing what we can to help them through this time.”
   Chinese Martial Arts Academy is located at 1705 North State St., across from Bellingham Health & Fitness. Call 671-5422 for more information.

New building gets Tails-A-Wagging
   Tails-A-Wagging is moving to a new location on March 20.
   The company’s new home will be in Bellingham’s Irongate District, at 3959 Hammer Drive.
   Owner Angie Lentz said she wanted to be in a larger building and purchased the property, after renting the business’s current space at 2123 Lincoln St. for the last five years. Lentz said she purchased the property for $455,000.
   She said the company’s current location is about 5,000 square feet, while the new location will be more than 10,000 square feet, including outdoor dog yards. The new building will provide space for the business’s growing grooming and obedience clientele, she said.
   Tails-A-Wagging will continue offering its doggy daycare program, now with 54 dogs, but is not looking to add more dogs, Lentz said.
   The second floor of the new two-story building will be used for the business’s positive-reinforcement obedience classes. Also, Pampered Pets Grooming, which has operated inside Tails-A-Wagging since June 2005, will make the move to the new building, she said.
   The company currently has 12 employees, and Lentz said it will look to add more after the move.

Print shop moves from longtime location
   Printing For You, a family-owned Bellingham print shop, will soon be moving, after 26 years at its present location at 1400 N. State St., Suite C.
   The business, owned by siblings Mark and Judy Urich, won’t be moving far, however.
   According to Judy Urich, the business hopes to be in its new location at 1704 N. State St., about two blocks away, by April 1. She said the business, which she and her brother bought from her father 16 years ago, wanted to buy a larger space.
   Urich said, although she and her brother purchased the 5,400-square-foot building, the business will only take up 2,500 square feet and look to rent out the remaining space. She did not disclose the amount of the sale.
   Urich said the new building was attractive because it has good street visibility and parking, and will give the business enough room to expand in the future.
   She said there are no immediate plans to change the company’s services or add anyone new to its staff of four.

North Forest eatery apparently closed
   T J’s Place, an eatery at 1400 N. Forest St., is apparently out of business.
   Several customers have reported that the restaurant, which opens at 6 a.m., has been dormant for at least two weeks and a hand-made sign posted on the business’s front door reads “Closed.”
   The property, according to the Whatcom County Assessor’s Office, is owned by Heron Point Properties LLC of Sumas. Owners could not be located for comment.

Shhh: New day spa opens in Birch Bay
   Whisper on the Bay, a Birch Bay day spa, opened March 6, several months after originally anticipated.
   “We offer people a break from the stresses of everyday life and an opportunity to nourish their body, mind and spirit,” said owner Ellen Shea.
   With eight treatment rooms, Whisper on the Bay, which is located along the waterfront at 7862 Birch Bay Drive, in the new Sandcastle Resort, which has had several setbacks to construction, can accommodate walk-in clients as well as those seeking appointments, Shea said.
   Whisper on the Bay, said Shea, a co-founder of Bellingham’s Chrysalis Inn & Spa, offers massages, facials, manicures, pedicures, waxing, body treatments, a steam room and a tub room. Also, a multi-purpose room is ideal for couples, friends or other pairs who want to enjoy treatments together.
   The spa’s regular hours will be 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The business will be open until 8 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays. Sunday’s operating hours start at 10 a.m.
   A grand opening with demonstrations, tours and door prizes will be conducted from noon to 5 p.m., April 2.
   For more information, call 371-3660 or visit www.whisperonthebay.com.

Demolition of former grocery store to aid flow of traffic
   The city of Bellingham recently purchased Dixon’s Alabama Grocery.
   The former grocery store with attached living quarters at 2121 Alabama St., on the corner of Alabama Street and Woburn, will eventually be taken down to make way for street improvements, said Dick McKinley, public works director for the city of Bellingham.
   The site will become a new right-turn lane, said McKinley. He said, the project will help to alleviate traffic on Woburn Street, by allowing people wanting to make a right turn westbound onto Alabama, to turn right on a red light. Currently, those wanting to turn have to wait in traffic until a green light, said McKinley.
   McKinley said the city has been looking to purchase the property for a while and when it came on the market about a month ago, the city seized the opportunity.
   According to Patty Fernandez, real property manager for the city of Bellingham, the property was bought for about $420,000 from Dixon and Vivi Hynes, and the sale closed on Jan. 18. She said although the deal was a mutual agreement, it was the type of acquisition where the city could have likely used eminent domain.
   McKinley said the plans for street project will likely get drawn up soon. The project itself, however, will likely not begin until next year, as the city is full with other projects and the construction costs have not been established in the budget, he said.
   When the project is finished there may be some usable land remaining, according to McKinley. The use of the remaining property will be decided after the project is completed, he said.

New businesses open in Birch Bay Square
   New businesses are contributing to the facelift of Birch Bay Square in Custer.
   On Feb. 1, Della Reed opened Best Image Framing at the shopping center, in suite C-11.
   Reed, who moved to Birch Bay from Sudden Valley in October, said her new store offers moderately priced custom frames, pre-made frames and shrink-wrapping services.
   “We want to give more business to people of middle incomes because I think they’re underserved,” she said.
   In addition to art classes at Fresno State University and the College of the Sequoias, Reed said she learned how to frame as a longtime artist, doing oil portraits.
   Reed, who moved to Whatcom County from Arizona several years ago, after retiring from her job as a quality-control specialist at a lubricant company, said she wanted to be located in Birch Bay Square because she believes the area desperately needs services.
   “Nobody wants to drive all the way to Bellingham every time they need this little thing or that,” she said. “We want to serve the needs of people in the Birch Bay, Custer, Blaine and Ferndale areas.”
   Elsewhere at the shopping center, Jody Finnegan plans on opening a 12th Street Shoes location March 16.
   Finnegan said her second store will be similar to her Fairhaven location, offering men’s and women’s shoes and accessories.
   Currently, Finnegan said, she is planning a grand-opening celebration featuring a Dansko trunk show, in which the shoe company will showcase all the styles from its catalog and give a sneak preview of fall fashions. No date has been set yet for the event.
   Like Reed, Finnegan said it’s exciting to bring something new to residents of the area.
   Formerly known as the Peace Arch Factory Outlets, Birch Bay Square, located at 3400 Birch Bay-Lynden Rd., is in the middle of a major remodel, transforming from an outlet mall to a commercial village.
   Leasing agents representing the shopping center have said recently that about 15 businesses, including restaurants, boutiques, startups and regional retailers have expressed interest in the site. A 25,000-square-foot grocery store, Scott’s Market Fresh, is expected to open at the center this spring.

Social Security Administration offices slated for Alabama
   A construction application for a new commercial office building at 710 Alabama St., on undeveloped property near Lee’s Drive-In, has been accepted by the City of Bellingham.
   Property owners could not be immediately reached for comment but a project spokesman with Viking Properties, based in Sausalito, Calif., said the new building will eventually house Social Security Administration offices.
   According to the construction application, the building will cost $400,000. No other information was readily available.

Former Skeers VP sentenced
   David Raney, the former vice president of Skeers Construction, Inc., last month was sentenced to 45 days in Whatcom County Jail, and four-and-a-half months of electronic home detention, after pleading guilty to three counts of theft in Whatcom County Superior Court.
   He was also ordered to pay around $217,000 in restitution, which he has already done.
   Raney was originally charged with 19 counts of theft-related crimes, but pled guilty to three of them in January as part of a plea bargain.
   According to Whatcom County Prosecutor Dave McEachran, many of the charges could not be prosecuted by the state because of statute of limitations issues.
   Raney started at Skeers Construction in late 1998, and was eventually appointed to run much of the company for its owner, Dick Skeers, according to court documents.
   Raney began taking money from the company using various methods just after he was hired, said McEachran.
   Personal purchases, unauthorized borrowing without repayment, fabricated expenses and unreported financing of projects were among the things Raney expensed to the company, McEachran said.
   Thomas Fryer, Raney’s attorney, maintains the case was a disagreement over monies owed and privileges granted to Raney as a company employee. He said the plea bargain was a compromise both sides gave ground on, and a situation where nobody is particularly satisfied with the outcome. Fryer said that the defense believed Raney could be exonerated, but Raney decided to enter the plea bargain instead of risking an unfavorable outcome in a trial.
   McEachran disagreed.
   “It was a case of a breach of trust. Dick Skeers trusted (Raney) and he repaid that (trust) by stealing a lot of money,” he said.
   McEachran said he was satisfied with the outcome of the trial, as a restitution payment was made to Skeers Construction and a conviction and jail time were gained.
   “It is unusual to get money back in embezzlement cases, so I was very happy about that,” he said.
   “The damage done far exceeds the money taken,” said Skeers in court. He later said that while Raney worked at his company, a lack of checks and balances allowed Raney to manipulate accounting numbers.
   After having an audit run on his accounting paperwork, Skeers said, there was a documented loss of about $350,000 from his books.
   There were also two civil cases regarding the matter. According to Skeers’ attorney, Loch Clark, a settlement was reached and both civil cases were dismissed on Jan. 27. The settlement resulted in Raney transferring his interest in a construction project back to Skeers, because he financed it with money from Skeers Construction; and establishing a restitution amount in the criminal case that was satisfactory.
   Skeers said he is glad to have the issue behind him.
   Raney began his jail sentence on Feb. 12, according to the Whatcom County Court Clerk’s Office.

Hempler’s links with Canadian company
   Dick Hempler, CEO of Hempler’s BB Meat & Sausage, announced last month that his company has merged with Premium Brands Income Fund, a Richmond, B.C. based distribution firm.
   “We saw some really good business opportunities to be able to expand our business,” Hempler said. “They’ve got a lot of backing and business contacts, and with them coming on board as a partner it took a lot of the risk out of building this new (Ferndale) building.”
   Hempler said he was first contacted by Premium Brands about a year ago.
   Premium Brands CEO George Paleologou said his company saw the merger as an opportunity to grow its market in Washington state and the Pacific Northwest.
   “Dick Hempler has been in the industry for a long time and we have tremendous respect for him,” Paleologou said. “He has a great brand name and products.”

Martial arts academy kicks into new location
   Bellingham Martial Arts instructor Chris Strelau has re-opened his studio, Chinese Martial Arts Academy , formerly Bellingham Kung Fu/Tai Chi Club, in a new location, at 1705 N. State St., across from Bellingham Health & Fitness.
   Strelau is a master in a Cantonese style of southern Shaolin Tiger & Crane Kung Fu.
   The new studio currently offers kids classes in Kung Fu, and adult and seniors classes in Kung Fu and Tai Chi.
   “In this new location we will also be able to expand our services, including selling martial arts equipment and training weapons,” said Strelau.
   Strelau has owned and operated martial arts schools in Bellingham since 1994. His former studio was located at 1103 Railroad Ave.

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