Local insurance company merges with Seattle’s Balcos

   Bellingham’s Barkley Associates announced in July that it had merged with Balcos Insurance, a rapidly growing regional company.
   Barkley president Rob Knode said the merger would allow his 3-year-old insurance company to offer more markets to clients.
   “(With the merger) we’ve probably more than doubled the options we have as far as service carriers to present,” Knode said. “We just have more things for our customers, which is always good.”
   Balcos, a 20-year-old, Seattle-based company, with about 25 employees, and a gross premium volume of about $23 million, brings a strong background in hospitality and home insurance.
   In hospitality insurance, Knode said, Balcos had been one of his biggest rivals.
“By combining forces, we should dominate the hospitality market in the state of Washington,” Knode said.
   Balcos president Mark Balcos, a Ballard native who attended Western in the early 1980s, said Barkley, too, offered some things his company didn’t, like construction insurance and nonprofit expertise.
   “We really wanted to expand up there and grow that segment of our business because of the tremendous growth in the region,” Balcos said.
   Over the next six months, Barkley, which will keep its Rimland Drive offices, will slowly phase out its name and become Balcos Insurance. Barkley, which has about six employees, will likely see a small workforce reduction, as some reception and service duties will be offered out of Balcos’ Seattle headquarters.
   Balcos said he eventually wants to increase the number of Bellingham employees, though.

Specialty business expands into larger warehouse
   Putting a little scare into people has turned into quite a nice business for James and Laurel Burke.
   The couple just moved their business, Spookshop.com Inc., into a 6,250-square-foot warehouse on 800 Marine Drive, more than doubling their space. The company is gearing up for its eighth Halloween season selling costumes, wigs and props.
   “The dot-com is still growing, and we need the extra space to warehouse merchandise not just of Halloween orders, but for customers all year long,” said James Burke.
   Spookshop.com will also be opening a store in the Macy’s wing of the Bellis Fair mall at the end of September. Local residents can also order products online and pick up the products at the warehouse.
   The biggest part of the company’s success, however, has been the online business. Laurel Burke said they started the web site six years ago as a fluke and it generated $700 in gross sales. Last year, the gross sales totaled $197,000.
   “We now have more than 500 pages of merchandise online, and are still growing,” Burke said. “We carry unique and specialty products that you wouldn’t normally find at a large store.”
   To check out their web site, go to www.spookshop,com. To contact the Burkes by phone, call the warehouse at 752-1668.

‘Friendly’ web site launched
   William Harmon, a Bellingham aerospace and racing consultant, is looking for friends.
   So in July he launched www.CouldWeBeFriends.com.
   The site, which was launched with the help of Bellingham’s Blu Sky Web Solutions, is intended to help people search for lost friends and loves.
   Harmon, said the friend-finder service has been in the works for about a year.
The idea for the site came to him last year as he was boarding a plane in Seattle to join the Rahal/Letterman Racing team for the 2004 Indianapolis 500 and was wishing an old friend, Sebrena, whom he’d met years ago at the Molson Indy in Vancouver, British Columbia, could be with him.
   “You met someone, somewhere, out there — in a restaurant, in a bar, on a plane, at a football game — you remember when and where, but have only a first name or an old phone number,” Harmon said. “You didn’t pursue the friendship, but now you wish you had. How do you contact that person?”
   CouldWeBeFriends features postings of friends seeking friends. Members may post as many messages, with or without photos, as they’d like. Members can search for friends by name, dates, times, events and locations. They can also see if anyone is searching for them.
   “I think almost everyone has met one person they wished they would have gotten to know,” Harmon said. “I created this sight so people have that second chance at a special friendship.”
   For more information on the site, contact Harmon at 961-4641 or visit his web site.

Downtown eatery now open
   At the end of July, Michael and Florita D’Anna officially opened Chiribin’s, a casual-dining restaurant located at 113 E. Magnolia St., in the former Calumet location.
The restaurant serves lunch and dinner, and the menu is described as comfort food by Michael D’Anna and includes steaks, seafood, burgers and a wide variety of appetizers.
   The D’Annas changed the look of the location, adding different color schemes and bringing in glass-blown artwork. They also have a large mural of Chiribin, Michael’s childhood pet rooster.
   “We want it to be a casual place where everyone can come for lunch and dinner,” said Michael D’Anna. “We also plan on having late-night music.”
   Lunch is served between 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m., while dinner is served from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. The bar is open until last call.

Computer sales and repair business moves to city
   Paul Caudill recently opened a computer sales and repair business in Bellingham, American Eagle Systems, and is offering his services to custom-build computer networks for commercial businesses and residential users.
   Caudill moved to Bellingham from the Port Angeles area because of the potentially larger customer base. He is certified to handle Cisco products and is working out of his home to help keep costs down. Caudill has owned the business for three years.
   “I want to offer the customer a better solution with a custom-build system, and offer it at a much lower price,” Caudill said.
   For more information about Caudill’s company, call him at 738-8414. You can also e-mail Caudill at paul@americaneaglesystems.com.

OpenAccess acquires Evolutionary Visions
   OpenAccess, a Bellingham-based Internet Service Provider, recently purchased the assets of Evolutionary Visions, a web-hosting company also based in Bellingham.
   The purchase of Evolutionary Visions’ business assets was completed in June. Chad Stephens, the former owner of Evolutionary Visions, decided to pursue other business ventures, said Michael DeMan, director of technology at OpenAccess.
   “We are excited to extend our full-service ISP offerings to Evolutionary Vision customers, including but not limited to dial-up, DSL, fiber-Internet and wireless-Internet,” DeMan said.
   OpenAcess was formed in 1998 and has been offering Internet solutions for commercial and residential customers in Whatcom and Skagit counties. For more information about the company, click the OpenAcess link.

Bookstore owner carves out new business
   Michael Elmer, longtime owner of Grand Avenue’s Michael’s Books, has started a new business.
   Elmer, who has been doing stone carving for more than 15 years and operated a sign business in the early 1990s, has launched ArtisanCarvings.com, and opened a display booth with his designs at the Bellingham Public Market.
   At both the Web site and display, customers can see examples of Elmer’s monuments, memorials, memory stones, plaques, garden art and corporate promotional signage.
   While Elmer will continue to run his bookstore, he felt a drive to work more with his stone carvings.
   “There were stones inside me waiting to get out,” he said.
He said stone carvings offer permanency other forms of signage do not.
   “They have an image of permanence and high-class quality that will outlast any other type of signage,” Elmer said.
   If all goes well with his Bellingham Public Market display, Elmer said he may rent a space there in the future.
   For more information on Elmer’s work go to www.ArtisanCarvings.com or 380-0549.

Two new tenants move into Peace Arch Outlets
   Two new tenants have signed on at the Peace Arch Outlets in Custer. Little Beach Angels, a children’s clothing store, opened this past weekend. Opening soon is Papillion, a home furnishings store.

Logos starts remodeling project
   Logos Bible Software has been approved for building permits to do $500,000 in tenant improvements for 1309 Commercial St., where Giuseppe’s Italian Restaurant was formerly located. The location was destroyed by a fire at the end of 2004 and the company had been fixing the fire damage before deciding to move forward with plans to expand their offices. The contractor for the project is McBride Construction Resources of Seattle.

Up & Up to get makeover
   Thursday nights won’t be the same.
   The World Famous Up & Up Tavern, a staple destination for Western students during their Thursday night beer bacchanals, will get a makeover this summer.
Owner Ian Relay said he plans to split the bar into two separate rooms. The Up & Up will remain a tavern at 1234 N. State St., while the other half of the bar, 1232 N. State St., will be transformed into the Andover Lounge, complete with spirits and requisite bar food.
   “We’ll be basically dividing the bar into two and they’ll be evil twins,” Relay said.
The decision, he said, to divide his popular watering hole was an economic one.
“It’s getting hard to compete in this marketplace without hard liquor,” Relay said.
   Depending on how the permitting process goes, Relay hopes to have the new lounge open before local college students return to town in September.
   As for the lounge’s new name, Relay said it had to do with directions.
   “It’s the Up and Up, and over.”

New owner at Barkley driving range
   On Aug. 1, local golf pro Dean Russell took over operations of the driving range and pro shop in Barkley Village. The new venture has been renamed The Hitting Zone at Barkley Village, and also includes Dean Russell’s Golf Shop.
   Russell, originally from Ferndale and a longtime Whatcom County resident, is a 22-year member of the Professional Golf Association of America, and is a two-time golf professional of the year, as recognized by the Western Washington chapter of the PGA.
   Russell also coached the women’s and men’s golf teams at Western Washington University for 4 and 5 years, respectively, and was head golf pro at the Bellingham Golf and Country Club for nearly 16 years.
   He plans to reinvigorate the driving range and shop, introducing a variety of improvements, and said his goal for the center is “a new name, new management, new service, new hours, new expectations.”
   The Hitting Zone at Barkley Village features 24 covered hitting stalls, a grass tee box, and a putting and chipping green. Group and private lessons are available, including full and junior lessons. In addition, video lessons will be provided at no extra cost. Dean Russell’s Golf Shop will be a full-service pro shop, and will include clubs, balls, clothing and accessories, as well as club repair, such as re-gripping and re-shafting.
   The Hitting Zone at Barkley Village is located just north of the Barkley / Woburn intersection, and will be open seven days a week.

Several projects get the go-ahead
The City of Bellingham has given the go-ahead on several new projects:

Fitness operation to add location
   A health and personal-training company is bulking up its offerings.
Dave Adamson, 36, owner of the Fitness Together Bellwether franchise at 12 Bellwether Way, plans to open a second Bellingham location in September.
   The new location, Fitness Together Barkley, will be at 2075 Barkley Blvd., Suite 240.
“We’ve just grown so much, we don’t have any more space here (on Bellwether Way),” Adamson said. “My biggest reason for adding a second location, versus expanding, is because I think our clients like the small, personal touch.”
   Adamson, who opened his first franchise about three years ago, said many members come to Fitness Together because it’s not a typical gym environment.    Fitness Together provides one-on-one personal training and nutrition and lifestyle management.
   Due to growth, Adamson said, he’s recently added two personal trainers at the Bellwether location, bringing it to 11 employees. He also plans on hiring four trainers when the Barkley location opens.
   In addition to the Barkley studio, Adamson also plans to open a location in Beaverton, Ore., in the next few months. His long-range goal is to open six or seven locations in the Portland area, along with keeping a Bellingham presence.

Fitness Gear owners heading to Hawaii
   Bob and Pat Palmer, owners of Fitness Gear , are turning over their business to their son Zachary and moving to Hawaii. The Palmers will be working at Hawaii Kailani and will manage three condominium complexes on the island of Kauai. The condos are owned by the Bolster family of Bellingham.
   Zachary Palmer has worked at Fitness Gear for two years. Located at 1311 Cornwall Ave., the company sells and services all forms of exercise equipment for home or commercial use.

Northern Light breaks ground
   A groundbreaking ceremony was held on July 21 for the construction of the new Northern Light building on 225 Marine Drive in Blaine. The new 7,000-square-foot building will be built next to the current location of The Northern Light, Blaine’s weekly newspaper.
   In a couple of years, the second phase will add another 9,000 square-feet to the new building. The Northern Light is planning on taking about 1,500 square feet, leasing the rest of the space for retail and commercial businesses. Brian Finnegan of WestCom Properties is the listing agent.

Clearwire comes to Bellingham
   A new wireless, high-speed broadband Internet provider has arrived in Bellingham.
Todd Wolfenbarger, a spokesman for Clearwire, said Bellingham is slated to join a dozen or so markets around the country where the company offers its wireless technology.
   Clearwire, according to company officials, connects customers to the Internet using radio spectrum, which eliminates the need of traditional cable or phone wiring. Clearwire towers transmit radio signals to paperback-book sized wireless modems in customers’ homes.
   “You plug it into the wall and you have Internet access,” Wolfenbarger said. “It’s very easy to use. And with Clearwire, you don’t have someone come to your house and drill holes in your wall.”
   Clearwire, based in Kirkland, is led by Craig McCaw, whose McCaw Cellular grew to be one of the largest U.S. cellular service providers in the 1980s and 1990s.
The wireless broadband Internet provider began offering its technology in select markets in 2004. Wolfenbarger said Clearwire, in part, seeks to establish itself in markets where broadband is “underserved and underserviced.”
   “It’s generally priced competitive to DSL and cable,” he said.
   Clearwire had originally planned to announce its arrival in the community with an event at the Hotel Bellwether at the end of July. A company official said that event will now likely be in September.
   In the past, Wolfenbarger said, Clearwire has opened offices in areas where it has introduced its technology.
   For more information on Clearwire, go to www.clearwire.com.

Green Frog Café hops to new site
   The Green Frog Café, which was originally supposed to open this summer at 1323 Cornwall Ave., will now be located on North State Street.
   Brian Finnegan, who owns State Street Plaza at 902 N. State St., home of the Wing Dome and Bargainica, said today that the Green Frog Café will now also be a tenant at that location. Spyglass Vision Clinic has also recently announced it will be moving to the building.
   The new business, Finnegan said, will be a coffeehouse/pub, but he was unaware of when it will open.
   Green Frog Café owners James Hardesty and Nate Carlson could not be reached for comment.

New owner at Arlis’s
   Ryan Callier, 25, a longtime employee of Arlis’s Restaurant, took over ownership of the eatery Aug. 1.
   Callier, who started at the restaurant as a 14-year-old bus boy in 1994, has worked off and on at Arlis’s for seven years. His mother, Denice, a waitress, has worked at the restaurant 11 years.
   “This is a dream of mine,” said Callier, a lifelong Bellingham resident and 1998 Bellingham High School grad. “I don’t want to change a thing. Arlis Flohr has a recipe for a good thing here. I’d really like to keep the tradition of Arlis’s alive.”
   He decline to disclose how much he purchased the restaurant for.
   Flohr, 69, who opened the eatery at 1525 Cornwall Ave. in 1987, sold the restaurant about five years ago to Tim Katzenberg. She resumed ownership recently, however, when he experienced some minor health and financial problems.
   Callier, who worked for a stint recently as a pharmacy assistant at his cousin’s Custom Prescription Shoppe, said he’s always wanted to run a restaurant. He’s worked almost every position at Arlis’s and has been a line cook for Bob’s Burger & Brew in the past.
   Flohr said she plans to mentor Callier for a couple months and then return to her home in Montana.
   “This restaurant has meant everything to me, especially with my mom working here,” Callier said. “And Arlis has been like a grandma to me.”

Check your permit status online
In August the City of Bellingham officially began offering online permit review status checking as a service to citizens who have applied for a building permit or a combination building permit. The service is available through the city’s web site at www.cob.org
   “We’re pleased to offer applicants tools to check on permit status at their own convenience,” Planning Director Jorge Vega said. He said this service is being accessed frequently by permit center customers, even in the short time it has been available.
   This feature allows permit applicants to follow the approval status of their permits as they move through the permit application and review process: application acceptance, plan review, ready-to-issue, issued, amendments reviewed and issued, inspections, final and occupancy certification. Most of these steps are now available on line, with the information updated daily.
   Permit review status checking is just one of several recent additions to city services available on the web site, all designed to improve customer service and communication. Other recent additions to the city’s online services include registration for city recreation programs, electronic notification of city-issued requests for proposals and other purchasing documents, and forms for making public disclosure requests.

A-1 Builders gets five-star rating
   Recognizing A-1 Builders’ commitment to sustainable practices, EnviroStars has awarded A-1 Builders its highest rating — Five Stars. A-1 Builders is not only the first building firm to receive the highest EnviroStars rating in Whatcom County, it is the only builder at any level of recognition in the entire Western Washington EnviroStar program.
   “We are excited to award Five Star status to A-1 Builders. They are truly a leader in hazardous waste reduction within the construction industry,” said Charles Sullivan, Whatcom County EnviroStar Representative. “A-1 Builders has shown outstanding dedication to the environment in all facets of the business.”
   To receive the Five Star rating, A-1 Builders met several requirements. The company demonstrates proper management of any hazardous waste produced, and has changed multiple business practices and processes to reduce its hazardous waste across all aspects of the company. The company has made waste reduction changes in the office, with company vehicle usage, consultation with clients, and on project sites.
   “We are proud to receive the Five Star rating from EnviroStars. The A-1 Builders team strives to be a model for our community and industry, excelling in sustainable practices,” said owner Rick Dubrow, “I hope that with this recognition we can encourage other building and construction companies throughout the Northwest Washington region to implement environmentally oriented practices.”

Premier Graphics parent company sold to Bain Capital
   School Specialty, Inc., the leading education company providing supplemental learning products to the preK-12 market and owner of Premier Graphics in Bellingham, announced that it has signed a definitive agreement to be acquired by an affiliate of Bain Capital Partners, LLC , a leading global private investment firm. The transaction is valued at approximately $1.5 billion.
   The transaction is expected to be completed in School Specialty’s fiscal second quarter, ending October 29.


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