As the Bellingham community tries to move on from the Squalicum Harbor boat fire that killed two people two months ago, one sign things are returning to a semblance of normalcy is the reopening of the America's Cup coffee stand.
The coffee stand at Squalicum Harbor's Gate 3 reopened Saturday, May 26, under new ownership. It had been owned by husband and wife Jim Langei and Sterling Taylor, who were killed in the early morning hours of March 30 when the Squalicum Harbor fire tore through the boathouse where they lived.
The new owners are Terri Zweber and Norbert Zalabai, who chose Memorial Day weekend to open as their way to try to honor the memory of Langei and Taylor.
In the first few days of opening, regular customers had their own ways of expressing support, according to coffee shop manager Annie Rook: one customer dropped off a photo of Taylor, which was tacked up near the front counter; another put money in the tip jar without buying anything to show support for the business; a few other would have lingering thoughts about the couple, particularly Taylor, who regularly was behind the counter.
"The people down here are really good, down-to-earth folks," Rooks said. "We've had so many thank yous for just being open."
Several family members of Langei and Taylor stopped by on Memorial Day weekend to express thanks for reopening the stand. A note hangs near the front counter from the two families introducing the new owners: "We have been diligently and prayerfully looking for someone who would carry on the wonderful traditions, services, friendships and the exciting changes Sterling and Jim had planned for this year," the note says.
Zweber appeared touched by the feedback, particularly from the two families.
"I think the families have a need to move on as well, and I think it's easier to do that when the coffee stand is open," Zweber said.
Zweber and Zalabai already are quite busy in the business community. They own Our Kitchen is Your Kitchen Bakery & Studio in the Barkley district, while Zweber also operates Cordata Family Dentist in the Blossom Commons retail center on Kellogg Road. The dentist office is in the midst of an expansion project.
Operating a coffee stand is something Zweber said they've wanted to do for the past two years because it would allow them to sell their fresh-baked goods from their bakery in another retail setting.
"What was nice to discover is that a lot of my regular customers (at Our Kitchen) are regularly down at the waterfront," Zweber said.
Changes to America's Cup include longer hours (7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday) and a revamped menu that includes those fresh-baked goods and coffee from Olympia's Batdorf & Bronson. The coffee stand plans to have other additions by July, and Zweber is hoping to add items from other local eateries. Zweber also plans to keep the coffee stand open year-round, even during the slower winter months.
"If we have good local food, I believe customers will come by even in the rain if they know we're open," Zweber said. "We also think it'll be good to promote local businesses with our menu, because a lot of people who come off the boats aren't local."
Staying open year-round also should work because the area maintains a strong workforce in the area, including the nearby Seaview North boat facility.
"We already have workers regularly stopping by, wanting something warm in their hands," Rooks said. "Our goal is to be convenient for people who need a quick snack."
Zweber said they welcome suggestions from customers. They can stop by the coffee stand or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Five Columns restaurant on Samish Way is celebrating its 25th year in business throughout the month of June with a 25 percent discount on dinner entrées. It's valid after 3 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, and not to be combined with other special offers, according to a news release.
Storefront business start-ups are still happening at a strong clip in Whatcom County. Through last week I've counted 61 businesses that have either opened or plan on opening soon. That's ahead of last year's pace; the 2011 total of 114 openings was the highest during this Great Recession. As for storefront closures, I've counted 27 so far, which is at a slower pace than 2011 (67 closures) but right around the 2010 pace of 57 closures.
Retail Tip Sheet runs each Sunday. Reach DAVE GALLAGHER at email@example.com or call 715-2269. Visit his business blog online at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/business or get updates on Twitter at twitter.com/BhamHeraldBiz.