New shopping center for Meridian Street

   Developers are planning to build a 48,000-square-foot retail center on the corner of East Stuart Road and Meridian Street, with United Furniture Warehouse as an anchor tenant.
   The one-story building will include 147 parking spaces in front of and behind the development, said Susie Johnson, project manager for Douglas Landsem Architect AIA, who is designing the building at 4411 and 4421 Meridian Street.
   The developer, the Seattle-based John Volken Foundation, hopes the retail center will be completed in the spring. The project is an investment by the foundation to generate income to fund the work of Welcome Home Society, a Seattle charity that runs a long-term residential and job skills training program for people with addiction problems, said Bil Koonar, a representative for the foundation.

Health center opens in Ferndale
   London Health Center recently opened for business in Ferndale, and the clinic will have a grand opening on Jan. 19, from 4 to 7 p.m.
   The health center is open to the public and the grand opening invitation is open to anyone. The event will feature hors D’oeuvres from health center nutritionist Tom Malterre’s recently published cookbook, as well as door prizes.
   For more information, contact Wendy Allen at 671-7292

Fairhaven condo sells for $1.2 million
   Many real estate barometers indicate the Whatcom County market is cooling off. Maybe so, maybe not.
   Consider the answer to this question: What does $1.2 million get a buyer in the Fairhaven condominium market?
   Answer: For Lee McDonald of Cody, Wyo., it bought a 2,329-square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bathroom, unit built in 2004 with a marine view and two decks situated above Village Books at 1204 11th St. McDonald bought the condo from sellers Adele Lloyd, Mark Lloyd Hagen, Eleanor Hagen Jacobsen and Wayne Lloyd in a deal that closed Jan. 5.

Department of Labor sues local company
   The U.S. Department of Labor has sued Washington-based Sumas Transport, Inc. (STI) and its president, Dennis Scheffer, for failing to deposit employees’ salary reduction contributions into the company’s retirement plan. The suit seeks to restore losses to the retirement plan and remove Scheffer from his position as fiduciary to the plan.
   “The Labor Department is committed to protecting the benefits of America’s workers and retirees,” said Francis C. Clisham, regional director in San Francisco for the Labor Department’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA), which investigated the case. “We will hold accountable those who misuse workers’ retirement assets.”
   The suit, filed Dec.29, 2006, in federal district court in Seattle, alleges that Scheffer and STI violated their fiduciary duties under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) when they failed to remit more than $28,000 in contributions deducted from employees’ paychecks from June 30, 2001 through March 22, 2003. The plan’s governing documents allowed participants to make salary reduction contributions to the plan.
   The suit seeks to require the defendants to restore to the plan all losses including contributions and lost opportunity costs. The department also seeks to permanently enjoin Scheffer from serving in a fiduciary capacity to any employee benefit plan covered by ERISA, remove him from any position to the plan, and appoint an independent fiduciary to distribute the plan’s assets to eligible participants and beneficiaries.
   Based in Bellingham, STI was engaged in the business of excavating and hauling waste, sand and gravel in Oregon and Washington. STI filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Nov. 5, 2003, and ceased business operations shortly after converting to Chapter 7 bankruptcy on May 16, 2005. As of Oct. 24, 2004, the STI retirement plan covered 10 participants and held approximately $67,039 in assets.
   The department’s suit resulted from an investigation conducted by EBSA’s district office in Seattle. Employers and workers can call the EBSA’s office in Seattle at (206) 553-4244 or toll-free at 1 (866) 444-EBSA (3272).
   Employers with similar problems who are not yet the subject of an investigation by EBSA may be eligible to participate in the department’s Voluntary Fiduciary Correction Program (VFCP). Participation in the program requires employers to correct any violations but allows them to avoid EBSA enforcement actions and civil penalties as well as any applicable excise taxes. For more information about the VFCP, see:

Real estate company expands, changes name
   Phil Dyer & Associates, Inc. Realtors has expanded and changed its name.
   The company recently opened a new office at 2620 N. Harbor Loop, Ste. 22, in Bellingham to complement its existing office at 1001 Larrabee Ave., Ste. 101.
   The company has also changed its name to Sterling Real Estate Group, said owner and broker Phil Dyer. The new office also houses Sterling Builders, LLC, the firm’s residential and commercial construction company.
   “The real estate market activity in Whatcom County is ready to increase after a slowdown over the last year. All the normal functions of a healthy market are in place and we believe this is a good time to expand our business,” Dyer said.
   For more information, contact Dyer at 739-9900.

Local gelato king is getting ready to expand his empire
   After closing Coppa Mediterranean Bistro in December, owner Fahri Ugurlu has decided to expand his Sirena Gelato business by adding a wholesale component, which he hopes will be operational by April.
   Ugurlu, who also owns Harborside Bistro, is currently looking for a space to establish a small plant where he can make wholesale handmade gelato, he said. He has already imported 4.2-litre plastic containers from Italy that are specifically designed for restaurant coolers. Ugurlu said he has received interest in buying his wholesale gelato from two-dozen restaurants and several local grocers. He plans to sell eight to 10 of his most popular flavors, he said.
   Ugurlu also said he plans to open a few Sirena Gelato shops in King County, possibly this summer, as well as open another Mediterranean restaurant similar to Coppa in two years.
   “Every day people are coming into the Harborside disappointed that Coppa is closed. I have promised them similar Mediterranean food in a different location, maybe smaller, but the same concept,” he said.

Lynden landmark changes hands
   A Tacoma-based hotel owner has purchased Lynden’s Dutch Village Mall for $1.23 million. The deal closed on Dec. 29.
   J. Lei bought the 32,000-square-foot mall, located at 655 Front St. in downtown Lynden, from Oak Harbor-based Valley High Investments. He said he liked the building’s cultural, European feel.
   The mall includes a six-unit inn, seven shops and restaurants, an antique mall and a miniature-golf course, said Roger Spero, the real estate agent representing the seller.
   “It’s a very busy property that needs some love,” Spero said.
   Lei said that other than a few improvements he wouldn’t be making any major changes to the property any time soon.
   “I’m a small guy, I’m not a big company,” Lei said.
   For more information, call Lei at (206) 326-1252.

New business on Champion Street uncorks a new trend
   Whatcom Winemakers is uncorking a new concept for Bellingham: do-it-yourself winemaking.
   Co-owner Ted Sellers said he hopes his winemaking shop will be open by February at 130 E. Champion St., next to Caffé Adagio, where the original Manninos Italian Restaurant was located.
   The 1,850-square-foot store will provide customers with grape juice made from wine grapes imported from Canadian vineyards. The customers will use the store’s equipment and the expertise of Sellers and his partner, co-owner Scott Crippin, to mix a batch of wine. The wine is then fermented at the store, where Sellers and Crippin oversee the process for six weeks.
   “We do the dirty work,” Sellers said.
   After six weeks, the customer returns to make a custom label for the finished product and takes a case of wine home. The price ranges from $6 to $9 a bottle, depending on the quality of the grapes, and each batch contains 30 bottles. The cost for the wine includes the shop owners’ expertise and use of the space.
   Sellers said he is going to offer many different types of grapes, including reds and whites, and will also offer grape juice from specific, well-known regional vineyards.
   After Sellers, who is originally from Memphis, Tenn., graduated from The Evergreen State College, he worked for a similar type of wine shop in Olympia, called Classic Winemakers.
   “I got to know the business and got interested in winemaking,” he said.
   For more information, e-mail Sellers at

Computer-service company is plugging into a new location
   Data-Link West, a Bellingham-based computer-service business, will be moving to a new location at 2001 Masonry Way, Suite A-1. The business is currently located at 4059 Bakerview Valley Road, owner Eric Johnson said.
   Johnson has applied for a permit to remodel the new space — a commercial condo that is three times larger than his current office — and hopes to be moved in by the end of the month.
   “My wife says this will allow me to collect more stuff,” Johnson joked.
   Data-Link West offers services for business technology needs, including computer hardware, operating systems, program software, network design, hardware installation, software installation and custom programming, according to the company’s Web site.
   Johnson has been running the business by himself for nine years. For more information, call 224-4153.

Balcos purchases site on Bakerview
   The president of Balcos Insurance, Mark Balcos, purchased the property where the restaurant Lorenzo’s II — formerly El Cazador — is located, at 190 E. Bakerview Road.
   The one-acre piece of property includes the row of cabins behind Lorenzo’s, which house several small businesses. Balcos said he has no immediate plans to change the site, but is considering building a Balcos Insurance office there. He also said he has some other redevelopment plans for the site’s future, but nothing final at this point.
   Balcos Insurance is based in Seattle and has a second location in Bellingham, at 2211 Rimland Drive.
   For more information, e-mail Balcos at or call the Bellingham office at 752-3110.

Newspaper relocates
   The local publication Cascadia Weekly has recently moved into new offices above Taco Lobo and Johnson’s Flower Shop at 115 W. Magnolia St., Ste. 210. The weekly newspaper was previously located in offices in the Morse Hardware Building at 1025 N. State St.
   Editor and publisher Tim Johnson said that while the space has less square footage, it is better organized as an office to accommodate the paper’s seven employees, and is also more centrally located downtown.
   “The opportunity came for us to find a space we thought was ideal and not likely to come around again,” he said of the move. “We selected it because it seems very central, and everything we write about is close to us.”
   Johnson said he foresees the space being a permanent location for the paper, which he started in March.
   For more information call 647-8200.

Tattoo shop moves to Cornwall Avenue
   Brandon Bradshaw’s tattoo shop, The Inkwell, has new digs at 1210 1⁄2 Cornwall Ave.
   He moved the shop from its previous space at 19 Prospect St. in the Oakland Building to the new 1,000-square-foot space because he felt it was a better location and had a nicer environment. The space’s hardwood and vinyl floors, as well as its cleaner, more sterile atmosphere make the shop more conducive to tattooing, he said.
   The shop’s interior is casual and inviting, without much “flash on the walls,” he said.
   Bradshaw worked as a tattoo artist in Mount Vernon for several years before moving to Bellingham and opening The Inkwell 18 months ago. He inks all types of tattoos but specializes in custom designs where he collaborates with customers in the artistic process, he said.
   “I love doing it all — it’s all fun,” “I’d rather people be involved and do something that’s a collaboration between the person and me.”
   For more information, call Bradshaw at 715-1010.

Four Starrs moves, doubles size
   Four Starrs Boutique is doubling its square footage in February with a move to the former Nibiru location at 960 Harris Ave., Ste. 101, said owner Danielle Starr. She opened her small shop eight months ago in the new Harris Square Courtyard in Fairhaven.
   "This has been a great year," said Starr. "I’m so grateful to my customers and for the Fairhaven retailers who all work together. This district has been good to us."
   The women’s boutique carries a variety of clothing lines and cosmetics not readily available in Bellingham.
   In addition, Starr is considering some men’s clothing lines at the new store and has already purchased new women’s items. Her old location at 910 Harris Ave. is up for lease.

Local nonprofit gets new digs
   Big Brothers Big Sisters has moved from 1405 N. Forest St. to a new location at 1609 Broadway St., Ste. 203, on the corner of Broadway and Elm streets.
   The new location will provide the staff and volunteers with 50 percent more space as the nonprofit organization’s community-based and school-based mentoring programs grow, said customer relations specialist Lynn Dayton. The new location also provides better visibility for the purpose of recruiting mentors, she said.
   “Grants and fund development have allowed for Big Brothers Big Sisters to increase the number of children served and to recruit more mentors, especially the immediate need for males to be matched with more than 30 boys on the waiting list in the School Buddies program,” Dayton said.
   For more information, contact Dayton at 671-6400.

Quilt company owners fixing up parcel
   After recently purchasing the half-acre of commercial property where their business is located, owners Julia Menkee and husband Edward Halasz have decided to make some improvements to the site.
   Menkee, who owns Fourth Corner Quilts at 1844 N. State St., said the couple is in the midst of fixing up the two buildings that sit next to the business. The husband and wife bought the property — which includes the Fourth Corner Quilts building, a 3,000-square-foot warehouse adjacent to the business and an 1,800-square-foot office/retail space nearby — from Frank Hale in November. Aside from the quilt business, the other two buildings have been vacant for some time, Menkee said.
   “Instead of leaving the other parts of the parcel vacant, we thought we would improve them and then lease the property,” she said. The couple plans to lease the warehouse for storage and hopes to attract a business to the office/retail space — a space Menkee said is currently undergoing major renovation.
   “We hope to be done with that in late January or early February,” she said. Menkee said the retail space will be gutted, and services — such as power, water and sewer — are being added to the building, as well as some exterior repairs such as new windows and two handicap-accessible entrances. The site will also feature at least 12 parking spaces and a small kitchenette.
   “It’s such a prime retail position there,” she said. For more information, call 714-0070.

Apex Property Management moves
   Apex Property Management has started operations at a new location. The company recently moved from a site at 2821 Meridian in the Fountain District to a new spot at 1801 F St., said owner Phil Maxwell, who runs the company with his wife and partner, Tracy.
   "We needed more square footage," Phil said. Apex purchased the F Street property earlier this year, so the move made sense, he said.
   "To own something is always better than renting," he said. "What made the decision difficult was that we had good landlords (in our old location)"
   Among other things, the property management company — which opened in Bellingham in 2000 and has 10 employees — works with condominium and homeowners associations, as well as some commercial property owners.
   For more information, call 527-9829, or go online at

Local ISPs NAS, Open Access join forces
   Two local Internet service providers (ISPs) have recently joined forces, said Anna Ehnmark, vice president of finance and operations with Bellingham-based OpenAccess Network Services.
   OpenAccess — which was originally founded in 1998 — has acquired the subscriber base of the county’s oldest locally owned ISP, Network Access Services, Inc. (NAS), which was founded in 1993.
   The move to merge services had been in the works for a while, Ehnmark said.
   “We had known the old (NAS) president, Bob Finch for some years, and being in the same industry — it’s a pretty small market — we had run into each other over the years,” she said. “More recently, we had talked about working together, and sharing some resources and partnering in one aspect or another.”
   After Finch decided to move in a different professional direction, OpenAccess opted to acquire the NAS subscriber base, Ehnmark said. She said she thinks the new arrangement will work out well.
   “I think that together we are stronger,” she said. “We are a bigger company. We are still a small, local ISP.”
   “Part of what this merger will provide is more service offerings for the NAS customers,” said Ehnmark. “There are also some pieces of NAS that can benefit Open Access.”
   This includes some cost savings that will transpire from eliminating certain “redundant network infrastructure,” she said. “Now that we have joined our operations, we don’t both have to keep the same pieces. We can enjoy some economy of scale.”
   For more information, call 733-9279.



Related Stories