A longtime Bellingham businessman known to many as "The Australian" has decided to retire.
Ian Rumford is closing Northwest Auto & Electric later this month after nearly 40 years in business. The last day of business is Friday, July 25; a retirement party for those close customers and business associates is scheduled for 1-4 p.m. Sunday, July 27 at the shop on 2031 Grant St. Customers also can swing by this week; Rumford is currently selling equipment and other inventory. (Time and date of party is updated from the original post).
Rumford emigrated from Australia to Canada and then to Whatcom County after meeting his future wife, Liz, on a freighter boat in 1966. Liz Rumford, who was raised in Whatcom County, was traveling between England and Canada when she met Ian.
When Ian opened Northwest Auto & Electric in Bellingham in the mid-1970s, he decided to focus on the electrical issues in vehicles, usually working on the side of the road. At that time Bellingham was a small community focused on logging and fishing, so he typically got calls to track down logging trucks and other equipment that broke down in the forests.
"I like the mental challenges of this job, trying to find solutions," Rumford said.
Liz Rumford said they wanted to stay in Whatcom County, but during those days jobs were scarce.
"When you grew up in Whatcom County and graduated, many people left to find jobs somewhere else," she said.
At the time he opened his business, Bellingham wasn't home to many Australians; for years Ian only knew one other Bellingham resident from that country. For many residents, he became the go-to person not just for cars but for answers to questions about life Down Under.
"I've enjoyed the stories I've swapped with customers over the years," he said.
The company started on Humboldt Street in the mid-1970s, moving for a time to Iowa Street. The current location near Bellingham High School was basically an empty field before they built the 5,500-foot facility for it in 1998.
The repair shop also became known for its jade tree; when Rumford first started growing the plant it fit in a coffee cup. He figured it wouldn't last six months. Around 37 years later, it dominates the office area. He learned from some of his customers that growing a jade tree is considered good luck, and it served him well in a business that can have its ups and downs.
Once the business has closed, the building is expected to become home to a fitness center, Rumford said.
BELLIS FAIR UPDATE
The major remodel of Bellis Fair may have taken place last year, but there is still plenty going on in terms of tenant movement:
-- Lane Bryant is now open at its new spot in the Target wing, in the former Kitchen Collection space. Kitchen Collection is going into the former Picture Perfect space, with remodeling still underway. Picture Perfect is now on the corner of the wing, next to GAP.
-- Chipotle and Buffalo Wild Wings continue to do tenant improvements in the former movie theater space. No official opening dates yet, but both are expected to open later this year.
-- Designer Show Warehouse is expected to start its tenant improvement work in the former movie theater spot by November and is aiming for a February opening.
-- Construction continues in the food court for Big Orange, a Canadian bubble tea/sandwich shop, while construction is expected to start soon for Villa Italian Kitchen.
-- A new liquor license application was filed for Milano's restaurant at 9990 Mount Baker Highway. The new applicant is David Reera.
-- The Electric Beet Juice Co. has signed a lease to go into the Bellingham Public Market on Cornwall Ave. According to its Facebook page, the company will be selling a variety of healthy smoothies and juice drinks.
-- The annual downtown Bellingham Sidewalk Sale is July 25-26 in the downtown core. Participating businesses will put merchandise on the sidewalks, and this year restaurants with patios also are participating. More than 20 businesses will be involved in the event.
-- Forte Chocolates, which recently opened a shop in Fairhaven, is hosting a design contest through July 31. Children from kindergarten through high school are eligible to create a chocolate wrapper design for the limited edition Forte Chocolates milk chocolate bar. The company will donate $1 of every bar sold to the school of the winning child. For details, visit the company's Facebook page.