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El Mercado de Quincy has appeal in store

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Steve Lacy


El Mercado de Quincy has appeal in store

Phil Blackburn isn’t Hispanic. He wasn’t born in Mexico, and he doesn’t speak much Spanish.

But last month the 58-year-old veteran grocer opened one of North Central Washington’s largest grocery stores aimed at the region’s growing Hispanic community.

Make that reopened. Destroyed by fire more than two years ago, the former Quincy Market — now El Mercado de Quincy — has been renamed, redesigned, rebuilt and restocked with a combination of Latino and Anglo brands that, Blackburn says, bring together the best of both worlds.

We’re a complete grocery store where anybody can do all their weekly shopping,” said Blackburn. “But we feature Hispanic foods and brands. After all, Quincy’s more than 60 percent Hispanic.”

In early June, the south-of-the-border emphasis was obvious. Dozens of large, shiny piñatas hung from the ceiling of the 23,000-square-foot store. Boxes of Mexican cookies and candies lined the shelves. A display of candied guava was nearly sold out. The drink aisle featured more Jarritos sodas, a Mexican brand, than Pepsi and Coke.

All good, said Blackburn, but the store’s primary emphasis in on “fresh” — fresh produce, meats, fish and deli, and bakery items mostly from scratch on a daily basis.

Latino families prepare a lot of fresh food at home and often skip the prepackaged and frozen stuff,” said Blackburn. He walked to the piled-high produce department and waved a hand over mounds of mangos, avocados and bins filled with nopales (prickly pear cactus), spiny chayuto squash and stalks of sugar cane.

This summer, El Mercado will compete against roadside fruit and vegetable stands, said Blackburn, “so we try to go to the same sources, the same local farmers and orchardists, so our items are as fresh as possible.”

The grocer pointed to a table stacked with 5-pound sacks of Grant County spuds at 99 cents a bag. “This is what I’m talking about,” he said. “Local source, good price.”

Meat, too, is key to Latino cooking, Blackburn said. So the new store features an expansive meat department — “larger that you would might normally find in a store this size,” he added — that includes specialty offerings such as fajitas (beef, onions, peppers) and some sausages.

Blackburn said he’s been moving all his life — 42 years in the grocery business — toward owning a store like El Mercado. He was raised in Othello, an agricultural community with a large Hispanic population, where he got his start working for Akins Foods.

Later, he went to work for West Coast distributor Associated Grocers, now Unified Grocers, and helped develop their Hispanic product lines.

Just over five years ago, Blackburn purchased both Martin’s Market Place in Cashmere and the Quincy Market and was soon introducing more Mexican brands and Hispanic-aimed products to satisfy needs of the Latino populations in both communities. By 2009, he’d redesigned the interior of the Quincy Market to include aisles of Hispanic offerings.

Then disaster struck. On Nov. 7, 2009, a nighttime fire destroyed the Quincy Market and left nearly two dozen employees without jobs. “It was a tough time,” said Blackburn. “But I knew that, at some point, we’d be back.”

Nearly two years later, Blackburn and business manager David Weber broke ground last autumn on the new Quincy Market, now El Mercado de Quincy. “It was a huge milestone in our lives,” said Blackburn. “Lots of thinking, lots of new ideas in design and display and products that needed to be studied and applied.”

Now, Blackburn said El Mercado is in the forefront of grocery store design in Central Washington — a warehouse look with high, open ceilings, concrete floors, in-aisle displays, dramatic spot lighting and a newly trained crew.

After the fire,” said the grocery owner, “a lot of customers left town to do their shopping. But now we believe we have a good reason for them to return — to buy local goods at a local store and support our local community.”


Disney eats up Crunch Pak snacks

Foodles, the Mickey Mouse-shaped snack tray made by Cashmere-based Crunch Pak, has become the poster child for the Walt Disney Co.’s new push to improve kids diets.

Disney announced June 4 that it plans to advertise only healthier foods on its TV channels, radio station and websites by 2015. That means food and drink manufacturers will have to meet the company’s nutrition criteria for limiting calories and reducing saturated fat, sodium and sugar.

Instead, viewers will see only healthier fare like Foodles — sporting sliced apples, cheese and grapes — on the Disney Channel and Saturday morning programming for kids on Disney-owned ABC television channels. Some food manufacturers are even thinking of tweaking the recipes of some products to meet the new criteria.

The change at Disney follows first lady Michelle Obama’s campaign, along with a push by bunches of nutritionists, to have kids eat less junk, exercise more and lose weight.

Two years ago, Crunch Pak’s Foodles was named one of the top new products at a national convenience store convention. Since then, the Disney-themed snacks have captured a huge slice of the fruit snack market.


Customers give nod to Banner Bank

Banner Bank has ranked highest in customer satisfaction among all banks in the Pacific Northwest, according to a new national study by J.D. Power and Associates.

Banner places at the top of several categories, including banking facilities, account servicing and problem resolution, the 2012 U.S. Retail Banking Satisfaction Study stated.

The study, now in its seventh year, measures customer satisfaction among banks in 11 regions across the U.S. In the Northwest, Umpqua Bank ranked second, with Sterling Savings Bank third.

Banner, based in Walla Walla, has branches in Wenatchee, East Wenatchee and Moses Lake. Sterling has branches in Waterville, Brewster, Oroville, Couee City and Moses Lake.


New videos explain role of EMS crews

A new video campaign to explain the role of emergency medical crews in public safety has been launched by the North Central Emergency Care Council.

Six brief videos focus on the separate parts of the area’s Emergency Medical System, said Rinita Cook, NCECC training coordinator. A longer video covers the larger picture of how EMS works in the community.

The goal of the campaign, said Cook, is to show “the critical role EMS plays in getting the right patient to the right hospital in the right amount of time.”

The videos, produced by Wenatchee’s North 40 Productions, can be seen at youtube.com/emsstories.

For more info, call NCECC at 664-4032.


SCORE seeks volunteers

A local business counseling group needs volunteers with business experience to help new and existing businesses.

The local chapter of SCORE, a nonprofit which counsels small businesses, seeks volunteers who’ll share their expertise and personal experiences with entrepreneurs and owners in Chelan, Douglas, Okanogan and Grant counties.

Contact Gary Nelson at 664-6797 or email 1flyfisher1@gmail.com.


Ruffles over tourism tax

East Wenatchee Mayor Steve Lacy says he’ll urge his City Council to withdraw funding for the Wenatchee Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau if Wenatchee doesn’t honor a long-standing commitment to keep the bureau autonomous and give East Wenatchee equal say in how tourism-promotion money is spent.

We no longer have the same representation, nor does that board (the bureau) enjoy the same type of autonomy,” Lacy said June 7, the day after making similar comments at a meeting of Wenatchee’s Lodging Tax Advisory Committee (LTAC). “I’ve been unhappy with the amount of undue influence being exercised, primarily through the LTAC.”

The Visitors Bureau promotes the Wenatchee Valley as destination to tourists from outside the region to increase hotel stays and associated local spending.

Each city alternates chairmanship of the Visitors Bureau board. But Lacy says the LTAC is undermining his city’s involvement by not including East Wenatchee’s Events Board — its equivalent of the LTAC — in discussions to revamp how promotion money is spent.

Lacy said he favors a return to the relationship the two cities had in the 1990s when the Visitors Bureau was created. At the time, the cities each had an equal voice in tourism-promotion spending, he said.

Lacy said that if Wenatchee fails to involve East Wenatchee in talks about the bureau’s restructuring, he could recommend to his council that the city withdraw the approximately $50,000 it contributes annually to the bureau.

Funding for the Visitors Bureau comes from the portion of cities’ share of hotel/motel room tax that must be dedicated to tourism promotion.

Wenatchee contributes most of the Visitor’s Bureau budget. This year that contribution will total an estimated $275,000 to East Wenatchee’s estimated $35,000 to $40,000, according to the cities’ financial directors. The Port of Chelan County and other sources are smaller contributors.

Each city contributes an equal proportion of the room tax it collects. Both are contributing less this year, after cash-strapped Wenatchee decided to retain more of the room tax to support the Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center.

Wenatchee City councilman Mark Kulaas said the LTAC was formed last year to study how the city’s tourism dollars are being spent and gauge the result. It then makes recommendations to the Wenatchee City Council.

One of the recommendations included obliging the Visitors’ Bureau to devise a business plan that detailed spending and results.

That plan was taking shape when the bureau’s executive director, Roger Clute, retired from the post.

The executive directorship of the Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce is also vacant, following Craig Larsen’s abrupt departure in May.

Suggestions at the LTAC meeting included the possibility of saving money by hiring a single executive to oversee both the chamber and the bureau.

Lacy says this could jeopardize the two cities’ agreement that the bureau be independent.

Chuck Johnson, the East Wenatchee city councilman who currently presides over the Visitors Bureau board, says both cities’ councils need to have more discussion about Visitors Board funding.

Kulaas said that both the chamber and bureau should consider how to coordinate efforts.

Lacy’s says he’s willing to wait and see what comes of talks. “I’m probably not going to insist that a decision be made immediately. That’s not the direction to go,” Lacy said. “But I’m not going to change my views.”

East Wenatchee

Douglas PUD to seek rate hikes by 2013

Douglas County PUD could raise rates by more than 12 percent by 2013 to help pay for improvements to transmission lines and substations and bolster revenues.

The utility staff seeks to increase rates by 6 percent starting July 1, and again by another 6 percent starting Jan. 1, PUD spokeswoman Meaghan Vibbert said June 5.

A 6 percent increase would add about $3 to the average, monthly residential power bill. The utility would still have the cheapest residential billing in the country, based on national rate information collected by the American Public Power Association, Vibbert said.

If approved, the increases would mean four consecutive years of higher rates for Douglas PUD customers. The utility increased rates by 6 percent in 2010 and again last year.

The new pair of increases replace a 7 percent increase that was included in the 2012 budget, but never enacted, to close a $1.2 million deficit in the PUD’s 2010 operations budget.

PUD General Manager Bill Dobbins said at the time that the utility planned to cover that funding gap with savings.

But the persisting economic downturn and the need for borrowing this year changed the plan.

The PUD will issue $26 million to $28 million in bonds this year to pay for transmission and substation improvements driven by East Wenatchee growth and federal requirements to ensure power reliability. It’ll refinance another $47 million to $50 million in existing bonds at a lower interest rate, Vibbert said.

The increased rate revenue would help ensure a strong rating — and lower interest costs — on the bonds issued.

The higher rates would also counteract:

• Inflation.

• Lower earnings on financial investments in the state’s Investment Pool, certificates of deposit and federal treasury notes.

• Depressed springtime market prices for surplus power generated at the PUD’s Wells Dam on the Columbia River.


Cool pool, the Cloud, sign up, and more …

Here’s a quick look at some recent business happenings in North Central Washington.

Slidewaters, the waterpark in Chelan, is now splashier than ever. At its season opener May 26, owner Burke Bordner launched the outfit’s new Lazy River, a 180,000-gallon pool that offers a great place to float (500 feet of “river”) and enjoy the surrounding views. It also has a zero-depth entrance that’s loaded with spray features, making it a good place for families to play all day. See more at slidewaterswaterpark.com

• An easy-to-understand explanation of the Cloud and how to use the darned thing is being offered by Key Methods, the local tech consulting and software design firm. It talks about Cloud benefits (more flexibility, less hardware), concerns (privacy, security) and whether it’s right for you. To see their “Small Business Guide to Cloud Computing,” go to keymethods.net.

• Cashmere just put up a new 50-square-foot welcome sign at the east entrance to town, right near Rusty’s Drive-In. The $6,000 hand-painted sign was made by Terry’s Signs in Wenatchee and paid for with donations from area businesses and the Chamber of Commerce. The sign urges you to “Explore Downtown” and points the way.

Wenatchee’s Tumbleweed Co., 105 Palouse St., has joined up with the YWCA Wenatchee Valley and Women Thrive Worldwide, an international nonprofit, to help earn bucks to empower women. Every time Tumbleweed sells one of their handmade promise rings, they’ll donate $1 from the sale to programs of the YWCA, WTW or other nonprofits. It’s all part of Tumbleweed’s Promise Project, an effort to help support organizations that help empower women. Info: tumbleweedbeadco.com.

Smokeblossom hasn’t yet opened at its new location in Cashmere’s Mission District. But don’t despair. Chef Tim Putnam, creative as ever, is serving five-course patio dinners every Thursday through summer at Martin-Scott Winery in East Wenatchee. The first offering was June 14. Reservations are mandatory (699-8771), and those patio seats will fill up fast. Cost is $40 per person, which includes gratuity and taxes.

Northwest Medstar, the Spokane-based critical care transport service, held an open house June 7 at their new helicopter hangar in Moses Lake. Medstar has had 24-hour operations in Moses Lake for about a year but had shared a hangar with other outfits. The new hangar not only provides a place to park and shine their copter, but also living quarters for the three-person crew (pilot and medical staff). Medstar serves most of Eastern Washington, including Chelan and Douglas counties, with copters and airplanes. “We’re like flying ICUs,” said spokeswoman Tamitha Anderson, referring to intensive care units to describe the company’s technology and training. Info: nwmedstar.org.