It's one of the toughest decisions he's had to make, but Monte Falen has decided to close a business he's enjoyed for 40 years.
Falen opened MJB Jewelers in 1972 in downtown Bellingham and for more than 30 years has had the store in its current space at 1600 Broadway, in the Fountain district. Falen began the retirement sale last month and expects it to continue through the holidays, closing sometime at the end of December.
"It was such a huge decision for me, because the customers have made this a great experience for me," Falen said. "I'm aware of the fact that not everyone enjoys going to work every day, but I have."
Falen started MJB - which stands for Monte and his parents, Jerry and Betty - as a wholesale jewelry company. When he moved the business out of downtown to Broadway in 1980, people in what was then a mostly residential neighborhood began dropping in, asking if they did repair work.
It wasn't long before the business focused on retail and service repair. As the business grew he began hiring employees, including longtime staffers Jenny Cobain (manager) and Ernest Garcia (jeweler).
He said the reason the business has survived all of these years was its focus on customer service, trying to treat customers like he would want to be treated in a store. Customers appeared to appreciate it: The business won The Bellingham Herald's Readers' Choice Award in 2008 and 2011, regularly competing with GB Heron jewelers on Cornwall Avenue for the top spot.
"I wanted (the business) to be like Nordstrom," Falen said. "If the customer has a problem, I want them to feel confident that we'll take care of it."
Through the years the business handled various challenges, including the establishment of Bellis Fair mall. A bigger impact than the mall, Falen said, was the rise of online shopping. The national financial meltdown in 2008 also meant a drop in sales, but emphasizing repair work helped the business get back on track, and the past two years have led to stronger sales.
Now 67, Falen decided last spring that he was ready to retire. He thought about selling the business but was concerned about MJB's reputation under new ownership. A big fan of boating and hiking, Falen plans to pursue those hobbies more after the business closes. His wife, Marie, is a retired school teacher.
When asked about what business advice he would pass along, not surprisingly the idea of emphasizing customer service was at the top.
"Take an interest in the customer; that's what I like when I shop at Whatcom County businesses," Falen said, adding that he feels fortunate that many customers consider him a friend, and vice-versa.
The store will maintain regular business hours of 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday during the holiday shopping season. For more details, call 360-734-8230.
MJB Jewelers is not the only jewelry store closing in Bellingham this month: Harry Ritchie's Jewelers at Bellis Fair is having a going-out-of-business sale.
... According to its Facebook page, Warehouse Beautiful in Ferndale has begun a going-out-of-business sale. The home décor store opened in March.
... It appears that the sandwich shop Subway is interested in occupying a space at the new Barkley movie theater property. A recent list of new Bellingham business licenses indicates that Subway is going into 3011 Cinema Place, next to the Regal movie theater at 3005 Cinema Place. Other than the movie theater, the only other officially announced tenant is The Woods Coffee, which plans to open Monday, Dec. 10, in the new building in front of the theater. Zen Sushi and Bar has applied for a liquor license for a space at 3101 Cinema Place.
... Blair Hewitt, who has operated Blair's Repair the past six years, is making plans to start a wholesale bagel business early next year called Blair's Bagels. The wholesale bagel business will be near his computer repair shop at 840 N. State St. He also has plans to open a café in the area.
... A city permit for a $4 million remodel of the Lakeway Fred Meyer is still working its way through the system. Spokeswoman Melinda Merrill said they don't expect to tackle the project until after the holiday shopping season, possibly by next spring. The project will focus on updating several aspects of the store.
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