Once again, it's time to give thanks

Business owners tell the BBJ those they are most thankful for, and why

Vicki Rogers, owner of Inside Passage, said she is incredibly thankful for her trusted bookkeeper and friend, Renee Thompson, who, when Rogers had an illness occur in her family, basically took over running the business until Rogers could return to work.

Heidi Schiller
   Sometimes we tend to get lost in the gravy.
   Or we can’t wait to hit the shops for post turkey-day sales. Some of us can’t think about anything but touchdowns and pigskins.
   But of course, Thanksgiving isn’t about those things — err, at least not entirely. It’s about giving thanks and counting our blessings, something many business owners don’t have enough fingers for.
   The Bellingham Business Journal decided to ask five local business owners whom they would thank this season for contributing to the success of their business. All of them groaned when posed with the seemingly impossible task of picking just one person or entity, but in the end they all knew exactly whom to thank.

Vicki Rogers, owner of Pacific Chef, Inside Passage and Halibut Henry’s
Who would you thank? Renee Thompson, her bookkeeper
   “I’ve just worked so closely with her for the past 17 years,” Rogers said.
   Thompson has been at Roger’s side since she opened Inside Passage in 1989 and stayed with her to open Halibut Henry’s at the airport in 1999 and Pacific Chef in 2004.
   “When I first started, I knew how to be a buyer, I had a pretty good vision for what business needed to be like, but my strong point is not numbers,” she said.
   That’s where Thompson came in. Astute at all the normal bookkeeping tasks, she also excelled at budgeting and open-to-buy accounting.
   “Which lets me sleep well at night,” Rogers said. “She’s just an amazing retail bookkeeper. And she’s great support.”
   Two years ago, Rogers found out her mother was terminally ill the same week she opened Pacific Chef. While Rogers was taking care of her mother — and rarely in the three stores — Thompson took care of everything.
   “She kept a complete handle on the whole thing for me,” Rogers said. “If I wouldn’t have had Renee, who I can completely trust, I don’t know what I would’ve done.”
   “Our relationship — our friendship and our business relationship — is just so valuable to me,” she said. “She’s my right arm.”
   Rogers also said she has appreciated being able to share similar life experiences with Thompson. Both have sons and both have dealt with their mothers’ illnesses.
   Thompson also keeps Rogers in check.
   “When I start talking about doing this and doing that, she can get into my head. The whole time I’m talking about color and placement I can see her thinking about budget and cost,” she said. “The key is that we really have fun working together.”

Terry Lehmann, owner of Lehmann’s Maytag Home Appliance Center
Who would you thank? Hardware Sales
   Lehmann is no stranger to longevity. His appliance store on Iowa Street has been in business for 77 years.
   And for the past 15 of those years, he has developed an invaluable relationship with his neighbor, Hardware Sales, on James Street.
   “Over the years we have had a real good relationship with them. We do referrals between each other,” he said. “It’s kind of a two-way street.”
   Lehmann estimates the folks at Hardware Sales have referred thousands of customers to his store.
   Recently, Hardware Sales installed cabinets in Lehmann’s new kitchen center free of charge. Now when customers admire the cabinetry, Lehmann refers them back to Hardware Sales.
   “It’s another family business and we’re both part of the buy local, be local environment,” he said.
   Lehmann said he also appreciates Hardware Sales’ business environment, which he said is similar to Lehmann’s.
   “It’s pleasurable going over there and getting the same kind of service that I want over here,” he said. “You get good answers to your questions and then you go home and do your project.”

Gretchen Bjork, owner of Left Right Left
Who would you thank? Ty McBride, co-owner of Frank James and Paris Texas
   When Bjork began the process of opening Left Right Left, a shoe store on Railroad Avenue, 10 months ago, McBride helped her walk through the sometimes-difficult steps of first-business ownership.
   As the co-owner of Frank James, a retail-clothing store next door to her in the Gateway Building, he helped her with suggestions for brands and resources, as well as offering his professional and emotional support.
   “Starting out, I didn’t know how the other businesses (on Railroad Avenue) would react to another shoe store,” she said. McBride encouraged her to move forward with the business when she was in doubt.
   Since then, she and McBride have become friends in addition to business neighbors.
   At a recent trade show in Las Vegas, McBride introduced Bjork to a new shoe brand he thought would go well in her store.
   And if she ever needs a pick-me-up, McBride makes coffee runs.
   “If I’m having a bad day, he’ll go to Starbucks to buy me an iced tea lemonade,” she said.

Scott Richardson, owner of State Street Insurance, points to a picture of his father, Walter Richardson, perched atop a B-17 bomber in the army. Richardson credits his father with instilling in him the values that have made him a successful business owner.

Scott Richardson, owner of State Street Insurance
Who would you thank? His father, Walter Richardson
   “I choose to thank my father, Walter Richardson, for the values he instilled in me from an early age: honesty, integrity, punctuality, and knowing the value of the dollar, and to always give your best effort,” he said.
   Richardson’s father died earlier this year, and he said he misses his wisdom, humor and support.
   As a child, Richardson’s father worked as a foreman for Georgia-Pacific after serving in the Army, and also played baseball for the Bellingham Bells.
   He led by example for Richardson, who recalled his father’s devotion to punctuality.
   “If dinner was at 6 p.m., he’d be there at 5:45 to peel potatoes,” he said.
   He also learned from his father’s days in the Bells that sports were a good way to learn leadership and sportsmanship, and joined the wrestling team himself in high school.
   These values were priceless for Richardson, who uses them every day in his business.
   “He taught me to do it right the first time, and to always take responsibility,” he said.

Susan Albert, owner of Pepper Sisters
Who would you thank? Jane Burns, the artist who designed her restaurant’s artwork and interior
   When Albert started thinking about opening a Southwestern-style restaurant in Bellingham in 1988, she and Burns — her friend since college in the ‘70s — traveled to Santa Fe to soak up some of the town’s character.
   Albert took notes on the food while Burns took photos and gathered design ideas.
   “She helped me establish the ambience of the place,” Albert said. “It’s a fun atmosphere that exudes the warmth of the Southwest, its color, warmth and earthiness.”
   Burns created all of the art on the walls and designed Pepper Sisters’ interior when the restaurant opened in 1988. At that time, it was located on Garden Street, where Tokyo House is now located. Four years later, Albert moved the restaurant to State Street, where it’s been ever since.
   “If you eat food that’s delicious but you’re inside a place that looks like a school cafeteria, you wouldn’t enjoy it as much,” Albert said. “She contributed to the soulfulness of the place.”
   Albert said Burns, who is a professional artist, made the restaurant warm and welcoming, an important part of the eating-out experience.
   “We really can’t live without art,” she said.
   She credited Burns’ maverick design for being more modern and urban than Bellingham was accustomed to at the time — but welcomed.
   Her favorite piece designed by Burns is the neon chair in the front of the restaurant that says “Eat.”
   “She can take anything and make a genius piece out of nothing,” she said.



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