It's still a busy time for business openings in Whatcom County

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 20, 2013 

RETAILTIPSHEET

Linda Melim, center, and daughter Morgan Gaunt prepare a to-go order during the soft-opening of their cafe Leaf & Ladle, Thursday, July 18, 2013, at 1113 N. State st. The cafe offers a variety of options, including gluten-free and vegetarian dishes.

DANIEL PICKARD — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

When it comes to small business retail, Whatcom County is still in a growth mode.

Through the first half of 2013, I've counted 64 brick-and-mortar storefront openings, just about on pace to match last year's total of 131.

The first half of 2013 has already surpassed the entire year of 2010, which had 55 openings.

There is no official count to business openings and closings in Whatcom County; I want to make clear that these tallies are based on what I've seen as well as announcements through press releases or on social media.

Many of the 2013 business openings I've noticed are family start-ups in the restaurant/café category, but we've also had a few significant national chain openings, including BevMo and Guitar Center. Whatcom County will have a couple of big openings next month: Both WinCo and Semiahmoo Resort are planning Thursday, Aug. 15, openings.

One of the businesses getting going in Bellingham is Leaf & Ladle, which had a soft opening last week at 1113 N. State St., near the Herald Building. Linda Melim and her daughter, Morgan Gaunt, plan to have regular business hours this week, being open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Melim said she really wanted to work with her daughter to get a restaurant going in downtown Bellingham. For seven years Melim managed Honey Moon, the mead, wine and cider establishment nearby in the alley at 1053 N. State St. She expects her soup, salad and sandwich shop to cater to the workers in the area during the week. In a few weeks they plan to also be open on the weekend.

Through the first half of 2013 I've counted 23 storefront closures, which is on pace to be the lowest total I've counted since 2007. Last year I counted 61 business closures in Whatcom County. The peak year since the recession hit was in 2009, when I counted 89 closures.

RETAIL SALES UP IN WHATCOM COUNTY

Whatcom County continued to steadily grow its retail sales numbers in the first quarter of 2013.

This area tallied $757.1 million in taxable retail sales in the first three months of this year, a 5.7 percent increase compared to the first quarter of 2012.

Retail trade, which focuses on sales at stores, totaled $373.6 million in the first quarter, up 8.1 percent compared to the same period in the previous year.

Real estate related categories did well in Whatcom County early in 2013, including furniture (up 18.3 percent year over year) and building materials (up 11.2 percent). Clothing sales (up 15 percent) and big-box store sales (up 9.7 percent) also were strong.

With a 36.7 percent increase in the retail trade category, Sumas had the biggest year-over-year jump among local communities. It was followed by Blaine (up 18.2 percent), Nooksack (up 8.7 percent), Bellingham (up 7.8 percent) and Ferndale (up 4.3 percent). Lynden (down 1.6 percent) and Everson (down 4.1 percent) posted declines.

OTHER TIDBITS

• Last week the Skagit Valley Herald reported that a Hobby Lobby craft store is moving into the former Joe's Sporting Goods building in Mount Vernon.

• At a Port of Bellingham meeting last week, Redden Marine talked about potentially expanding on the corner of Roeder Avenue and Bellwether Way. The company supplies marine products and is a commercial fishing gear distributor. The Bellingham company is outgrowing its current space, so it is working with the port to get proposals from developers for a new multi-use facility on that property. Along with more space for the company, the plan is to have a building that will have other retail, office and residential uses.

During his presentation, Todd Rawls of Redden said the company workforce has grown from 73 in 2009 to 110 last month. In Bellingham, the workforce has increased from 29 to 56 in the same period. The company and port will be accepting proposals through the end of September. Construction of a new building isn't expected to begin until September 2014.

• The Assistance League of Bellingham is moving its thrift store to 2815 Meridian St., near the Meridian Haggen. The new space will be bigger, have more free parking and be on one level, said Kathy Robbins, vice president of communications for the agency. The plan is to be in the new space by the end of October.

Retail Tip Sheet runs each Sunday.

Reach Business Editor Dave Gallagher at 360-715-2269 or dave.gallagher@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Business blog at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/business or follow him on Twitter at @bhamheraldbiz.

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