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Business roundup: Windermere volunteers all smiles as home takes shape

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Windermere volunteers all smiles as home takes shape

Agents from Wenatchee’s Windermere Real Estate have gone from helping sell houses to helping build them.

On June 20, a dozen Windermere agents donned sweat pants and T-shirts to paint hundreds of feet of trim — doors, windows and moulding for floors and ceilings — in a volunteer push to help complete a Habitat for Humanity home on Frances Court in south Wenatchee.

The effort was part of Windermere’s Community Service Day, an annual event in which the company’s agents in eight western states contribute time and energy to help complete a community project.

Last year, Windermere’s crew helped “spruce up the Bruce,” said agent and project organizer Sharon Ventrello, by giving the Bruce Hotel’s rec room a new coat of paint, new computer and new Xbox system. The Bruce is a nonprofit offering transitional housing.

This year’s Habitat for Humanity project marks 30 years of Community Day participation for the local Windermere office. Between brush strokes Friday, local agents figured that added up to around 1,500 volunteer hours over the last three decades.

The community supports our business, and this is one way we give back to support our community,” said Windermere broker Russ Andrews. “We figure that if we have a strong community, we’ll have a strong business — and that’s good for everyone.”

Windermere volunteers worked Friday on a Habitat for Humanity home in a six-home project near Mission View Elementary School. So far, three of the 1,300-square-foot homes have been built, mostly with discounted or donated materials and volunteer labor.


Prices up, listing down in May’s housing market

The local housing market in May contained mixed signals as prices soared and listings shrank, at least when compared to the mini-boom of last year’s market recovery.

In fact, a person’s take on whether the Wenatchee market in May thrived or dived probably depended on where they stood in the home-buying equation:

If they were the seller: They can relax a bit. Since May 2013, average home prices have climbed 8 percent to $251,654, while the median price jumped 7 percent to $222,000. The number of homes sold year-to-date have decreased 4 percent to 299 from 313, but total dollar volume is up 3 percent to $75.2 million.

If they were the buyer: They need to stay alert. Competition remains stiff for homes priced $300,000 and below, and the number of homes on the market (down 15 percent from last year) doesn’t help matters any. Interest rates remain low, say brokers, and credit has loosened a bit. Special financing programs are available for low-income and first-time buyers, too.

If they were a broker: They need to keep juggling. Selling, listing, financing need constant attention like never before, say a few close sources. Low inventory means primo properties are selling nearly as fast as they’re listed. And buyers’ interest for those $700,000-dream homes is on an upswing, although closing a deal on a Big One still remains a tough task.

Pacific Appraisal Associates, a Wenatchee appraisal and consulting firm, provided May’s market numbers on Tuesday. The Wenatchee Market includes Wenatchee, East Wenatchee, Malaga, Orondo and Rock Island.


Nick McLean has new home market analysis

The Nick McLean Real Estate Group has begun its own monthly, quarterly and annual examination of the local residential market. It’s called “The McLean Report” and is available online at sellingwenatchee.com. (Click on Blog to find the report.)

McLean’s report for May is loaded with analysis and details. A few tidbits:

In May, the highest-priced home selling in the Wenatchee market was a 2,965-square-foot log home with three bedrooms, 2.5 baths and 236 feet of Columbia River waterfront. Price: $762,900.

The average number of “days on market” (year-to-date) for a home prior to closing was 113.

The ratio of sold price to listing price stood at about 98 percent, which indicated that buyers weren’t haggling much over the asking price. This shows that buyers are feeling more confident that homes are priced right, said the report, and that the market will appreciate.


Black Diamond to sponsor half-marathon

Wenatchee’s Black Diamond Sports Therapy sprinted past all competition this month to grab naming rights to one of the area’s most popular running events.

What’s now called the Black Diamond Sports Therapy River Run — a four-year-old half-marathon with 10K and 5K runs — is expected to attract about 500 runners and walkers when it’s held Sept. 20 in Wenatchee. The event is organized by RunWenatchee, the local sports marketing group.

We’re really excited to be part of this growing race,” said Black Diamond owner Mark Stockman. “September is an ideal time for running in the Wenatchee Valley.”

But what’s “naming rights” really mean for Black Diamond?

According to Run Wenatchee, Black Diamond has forked out $3,000 for the naming honor and, in return, receives all kinds of exposure to a prime group of possible customers.

Black Diamond will see its name on press releases, posters, online advertising, River Run’s website, social media, race gear (bibs and T-shirts) and in lots of local media,

This is a one-year deal with Black Diamond, says RunWenatchee’s Stephen Maher, but this type of sponsorship is becoming increasingly popular with local businesses. It’s an alternative to traditional marketing, he said, that puts a business’ name right where it can get the most notice.

East Wenatchee

Old gas station needs work, says planning commission

Public plaza? Meeting space? Visitor center?

The city’s planning commission liked all those ideas last month when they gave a thumbs-up to recommending redevelopment of an old Texaco station on a corner near downtown.

Called the Gateway Project, upgrades to the messy corner property — dubbed “an eyesore” by some planning commission members — would involve the lot’s purchase, redesign into a public space and construction.

We’ve had long discussions on improving the old downtown,” said Lori Barnett, the city’s community development director, “and we can all pretty much agree that this property is the linchpin in designing a welcoming entryway to the city.”

The recommendation faces City Council approval, but won’t be on the agenda until next month, said Barnett. The city has earmarked $391,000 for the property’s purchase and initial development costs, but so far no cost estimates for the total project are available.

Redevelopment of the property — 20,500 square feet with three structures — fits into the city’s slowly evolving plan to revitalize the downtown, a two-block stretch of 1930s-era buildings that’s struggled in recent years as businesses have closed or relocated.

City planners envision the corner lot — redesigned into a public space — as linking a rejuvenated downtown, still in the dream stage, with the Pipeline Bridge and Apple Capital Recreation Loop Trail.


Lots of interest, but no buyers yet for Red Lion Hotel

No takers yet for the Wenatchee Red Lion Hotel, which has been up for sale since last November.

But company spokeswoman Pam Scott said last month that potential buyers have shown lots of interest in the 149-room hotel on 3.5 acres near one of Wenatchee’s busiest intersections. Asking price: $4.5 million.

It’s a great property with great business and a long history of serving the Wenatchee area,” said Scott. “But so far, no one’s bought it.”

The subject arose mid-June when the Spokane-based Red Lion company announced the sale of two more of its older, larger hotels — in Kennewick and Twin Falls, Idaho — to franchisees. Earlier this year, the company sold its properties in Yakima and Kelso-Longview, also to franchisees.

The franchisees will own the property and buildings but retain the corporate Red Lion name. As part of the purchase, they’ve agreed to update guest rooms, spiff up exteriors and make improvements to landscaping and parking lots.

Last November, Red Lion put six older properties on the market. Four sold fairly quickly, and two — Wenatchee and Pocatello, Idaho — are still up for grabs. The sales are part of Red Lion’s new growth strategy to trim away under-performing hotels in small cities and focus instead on franchise properties in larger metro areas.

Red Lion now owns 53 hotels across the Northwest with a total around 12,000 rooms.


State places moth traps in region’s vineyards

Watch out, all you grape moths.

State bug specialists began last month to place hundreds of moth traps in commercial and backyard vineyards across North Central Washington. It’s part of a statewide program for early detection of four destructive species.

The goal is to protect Washington’s grape industry by preventing the establishment of these invasive moths,” said Mike Klaus, entomologist for the state Department of Agriculture.

So far, none of the moths have been found in any of the state’s 13 major wine-growing areas, he said, but since 2009 some California vineyards have suffered losses due to one or more species of the moths. As a result, a few California counties have been under quarantine.

Washington will place about 4,000 traps in wine-growing areas from San Juan County to Okanogan County to help find evidence of four destructive moths: the European grapevine moth, the European grape berry moth, the grape tortrix and the grapevine tortrix.

The state will also resume a limited survey for grape phylloxera, an aphid-like pest that attacks grape roots, which has caused limited damage in state vineyards since 2002.

For more info on the trapping project, call 800-443-6684.


State gathering comments on data center air pollution

The state Department of Ecology will gather public comment this month on draft permits protecting air quality from diesel generators and cooling towers at two Microsoft data centers here.

Questions and comments will be accepted until July 29 on Microsoft’s proposed Oxford Data Center (37 generators, 32 cooling towers) and upgrades to the existing Columbia Data Center (37 generators, 12 cooling towers).

A public hearing on the Oxford center will also be held on July 24 at the Quincy Community Center, 115 F St. SW. Doors open at 5 p.m. with the formal comment period starting at 6:30 p.m.

Backup generators for power and cooling towers to limit overheating can release particles at high enough pollution levels to cause health problems, said an Ecology news release.

Microsoft has proposed installing advanced equipment and improvements to reduce air pollutants beyond federal clean air requirements, the Ecology press release said.

Comments and questions on both projects should be sent to Beth Mort at beth.mort@ecy.wa.gov. Draft permits can be reviewed online at ecy.wa.gov/programs/air/quincydatacenter/ or in person at the Quincy City Hall, 104 B St. SW, or Quincy Library, 208 Central Ave. S.


Freytag named Produce Man of the Year

Tony Freytag, Crunch Pak’s director of sales and marketing, earned his industry’s top award Wednesday for “convincing consumers to crave a product they don’t even know they want.”

Freytag is the 2014 Produce Man of the Year, as designated by The Packer, the newspaper and website for the latest news on the fresh fruit and veggie industry. They’ve been reporting about cukes, zukes, apples and lots of other crunchies since 1893.

That quote about “convincing consumers to crave …” came from Packer editor Greg Johnson, who introduced Freytag at a big wingding in Chicago, and who praised Freytag as an innovator, collaborator and mentor.

Johnson quoted Freytag as saying folks thought he was crazy to concentrate on sliced apples. But “with the help of a couple of similar minded innovators,” said Johnson, “they worked out the technology for apple slices that wouldn’t turn brown, and then started marketing it.”

One of Freytag’s marketing innovations, said Johnson, was to link up with Disney and its subsidiary Marvel Comics. Pretty soon, Crunch Pak’s packs of apples, cheese and pretzels sported the likes of Mickey Mouse, Spider-Man and Captain America. “That’s as good a strategy as any to get sliced apples into the diet of kids across the country,” Johnson said.

Cashmere-based Crunch Pak produces more than 1 billion apple slices a year for its 43 snack products, which have been served behind-the-scenes at the Academy Awards and Super Bowl games and advertised in neon above Times Square in New York City.


Postal inspectors warn of email virus

A malicious virus hidden in bogus emails about package deliveries and postal charges could infect computers and steal personal info, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service warned last month.

Postal inspectors advised: Don’t open them.

The emails claim to be from the Postal Service and contain fraudulent information about an attempted or intercepted package delivery or online postal charges, said an agency press release.

The emails instruct readers to click on a link, open an attachment or print a label.

Like most viruses sent by email, clicking on a link or opening the attachment will activate a virus that can steal information, such as your user name, password and financial information,” said the news release.

Postal inspectors advise deleting the messages without taking further action.

The Postal Inspection Service is working hard to resolve the issue and shut down the malicious program,” the press release said.

To report a problem or get more information, call 800-275-8777 or email spam@uspis.gov.


Ice factory to open in time for summer

Here’s a company that’s chillin’ out so we can party hearty.

Lynden Ice, a food-grade producer of packaged party and beverage ice, announced Monday it will open here a new freezing, crushing and bagging operation to serve customers in eastern Washington.

The new plant, set to open in mid-July, will employ nine to 12 workers to produce 210 tons of ice daily. That will surpass production of 110 tons daily at the company’s main plant in Lynden.

Lynden Ice currently serves about 300 customers in eastern Washington and northeastern Oregon and another 500 in western Washington. With increased production in Quincy, the company expects to boost its customer base in eastern Washington to 350 in the next 12 months and 600 in the next five years, according to company spokesman Darrell Honcoop.

Lynden Ice will install its plant in space leased from Columbia Colstor, which is located on Port of Quincy property.

Soap Lake

Facelift for lakeside RV resort

One of the region’s favorite camping resorts has been reborn with a new name, new amenities and, say the new owners, a fresh new attitude that emphasizes families and fun.

Smokiam RV Resort & Campground, formerly the Soap Lake RV Resort on the lake’s north shore, sprung to life July 1 under ownership of Alanna and Brad Ellis. The Issaquah couple are a former banker (Alanna) and lawyer (Brad) who’ve been searching for a business opportunity that meshes with their love of travel, camping, hiking and other outdoorsy activities.

We thought an RV resort would fit perfectly,” said Alanna. “We’re avid campers ourselves — love the RV lifestyle — and know what campers and RVers expect in a camping resort.”

Originally opened in 1975, the 20-acre resort has been closed for most of the last two years after a long struggle “with a faded image and declining business,” said Alanna. “We hope to put a fresh face on it and add some new energy.”

The resort boasts 900 feet of lakefront, 85 RV spaces with full hookups, 45 campsites with water and electricity, kids’ playground, basketball court and a lodge-clubhouse with outdoor pool, hot tub, sauna and steam room. A basic “grab-and-go” food service (coffee, pastries, some packaged foods) will also be open this summer, with a full-service bar and grill planned for the future.

The Ellises will also be replacing three nightly-rental “cabins,” actually time-worn mobile homes, with modern log cabins — 600 square feet, full kitchens, master bedrooms and upstairs bunk rooms. “They look like single-family homes,” said Alanna, “just cuter and more compact.”

Other new features now ready or coming soon: “Big rig” premium RV sites, a splash pad waterpark, a tepee village (yes, you’ll be able to rent one of 20 Indian dwellings for the night), new swim dock and boat launch, watercraft rentals (paddleboards, canoes, kayaks), remodeled restrooms and showers and a spiffed-up fitness center.

We studied the market and found that other RV parks in the area do pretty well,” said Alanna. “We know we can offer visitors a good experience here.”

Details: Smokiam RV Resort & Campground, 22818 Highway 17 N., Soap Lake. For info, call (509) 246-0413.


Some residents now eligible for rural housing funding

Wenatchee and East Wenatchee have been added to a list of rural areas now eligible for federal home loans for low- and middle-income residents.

The two cities were designated eligible in June as part of changes to the Agricultural Act of 2014, or the Farm Bill, and adjustments to maps marking income and property eligibility across the nation.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development office maintains the maps to note property eligibility for loan programs that fund or assist financing of home purchases, construction and repairs.

For more information or to prequalify for these programs, call 663-4019 or visit the USDA Rural Development office at 301 Yakima St., Suite 317, Wenatchee. Info is also available online at eligibility.sc.egov.usda.gov.

East Wenatchee

Condotta honored by business group

Rep. Cary Condotta received a top honor last month from a national business group for his support of small business during the last two state legislative sessions.

The East Wenatchee Republican received the Guardian of Small Business Award from the National Federation of Independent Business for his voting record during the 2013 and 2014 sessions.

Patrick Connor, NFIB state director, praised Condotta for his commitment to protecting and supporting small business in the state.

As a small-business owner for over 30 years, Rep. Condotta not only understands the challenges facing employers, but what can be done to address them in the legislature,” said Connor. “He is a strong supporter of sound policies that will lead to job creation and improve our state’s business climate.”

To qualify for the award, state lawmakers must score at least 80 percent on the group’s key votes over a two-year period. Condotta scored 100 percent.


New owner spoons up small changes for Caffé Mela

Same baristas, same atmosphere, same in-house roasted beans.

But Caffé Mela’s new owner Kyle Hendrickson says new ideas for the downtown coffee shop are percolating, too. “My main goal is to not screw anything up,” he laughed. “But this is Mela 2.0, so there’ll be a few changes — mostly incremental at first.”

Hendrickson, chief financial officer for Foreman Orchards, is the public face of a local partnership that in April bought Caffé Mela from founders Darren and Emily Reynolds, who opened the restaurant in 2006 and quickly shaped it into a popular social hub for Wenatchee’s commercial core.

Over the years, the 4,500-square-foot restaurant expanded offerings to include breakfast, lunch and dinner menus, live music by headliner bands, monthly art exhibitions, short plays, readings and other performances. The cafe also introduced some of downtown Wenatchee’s first sidewalk seating.

I come here almost every day and probably have been one of Mela’s best customers,” said Hendrickson. “I’ve seen it evolve into an important place for customers to socialize, network and do business. When I heard it was for sale, I immediately looked into the possibility of buying it.”

Hendrickson has split the original operation into two companies — Caffé Mela LLC (the restaurant) and Mela Gourmet Coffee Roasters (a coffee wholesaler) — and named longtime Mela employees to head-up each branch.

Seven-year employee Brian Bailey will run the roasting operation (in May, he roasted 2,400 pounds of green coffee beans), with outside sales handled by Darren Reynolds, who’ll continue to work with the company. Chaz McClaine, an award-winning barista and seven-year Mela employee, will oversee the coffee shop and its seven staffers.

Said Hendrickson, “I’ve practically no restaurant experience, so it’s important to have these guys as hands-on managers of all these different aspects. I can crunch the numbers, but they’ll be running the different operations.”

Tweaks to the business will start with expansion of food and drink offerings, said Hendrickson. Breakfast sliders (ham, sausage, egg on a small bun) have already been introduced and a couple of new omelettes are on the way. Sit-down lunches and weekend brunches are possibilities. And, on the roaster side, a new bean and additional coffee blends are in the works.

Other changes could bring a re-configured outdoor seating area and a remodel of the cafe’s upstairs into meeting and banquet rooms. An earlier opening each morning is being considered. Square Productions, a company run by Darren Reynolds, will continue to schedule live music for Mela’s indoor stage.

We’re trying to make sure all changes are positive changes,” said Hendrickson. “Our team has tons of experience and lots of good ideas. We’re hoping to continue tradition but add a few nice touches along the way.”


Wenatchee cruises with fourth lowest auto insurance rate in Washington

Now we can stop whining about high auto insurance rates. Turns out Wenatchee has the fourth-lowest rate in the state.

An online company called ValuePenguin recently went through stacks of facts and figures to find that Wenatchee drivers pay, on average, about $586 a year for auto insurance.

That’s 18.8 percent below the statewide average.

Wenatchee is without a doubt one of the cheapest places to insure a vehicle in Washington,” according to ValuePenguin.

Other cities with really low annual rates: Walla Walla ($569), Bellingham ($574), Pullman ($583) and Ellensburg ($588). Only a few dollars separate rates in various cities.

So who pays the most for auto insurance? Residents of Lakewood pay $907 a year, followed by Tukwila ($876), Federal Way ($869), University Place ($862) and Auburn (also $862).

ValuePenguin surveyed 54 cities around the state for a sample of insurance rates based on a 30-year-old single male driving a Toyota Camry about 15,000 miles a year. He’s got good credit and no accidents. They got quotes from five national companies to determine the average rates.

ValuePenguin.com researches financial topics — such as insurance, credit cards, mortgage rates — to determine where consumers will find the best value for their money.


Vacation rental company now offers concierge services

One of Lake Chelan’s top vacation rental companies has acquired the area’s only concierge service, execs from both businesses announced last month.

Sage Rentals, which specializes in short- and long-term vacation rentals, bought Chelan Concierge in March and, over the last two months, has merged the companies’ services and marketing efforts.

Chelan Concierge will provide Sage clients with complimentary concierge services, including restaurant recommendations and reservations, tickets to area attractions, arrangement of limo services and directions to wineries and tasting rooms.

The companies will continue to provide rental management, housekeeping and maintenance to local homeowners.

Sage Rentals is owned by Adam Rynd, who also owns Coldwell Banker Lake Chelan Properties. Chelan Concierge was owned by Cass and Weny Hania.


Charter switching to all-digital network

The area’s primary cable TV and Internet company will upgraded last month to an all-digital network that meant changes for some customers.

Charter Communications flipped the switch June 10 to provide 200 high-definition (HD) channels, better picture quality and twice-as-fast Internet speed, company spokesman Jack Hardy said.

Some customers needed to add Charter-issued set-top boxes to receive the new all-digital services.

The change eliminated old analog signals from the Charter system, said Hardy, which means homes plug into the new all-digital network through a set-top box on each TV.

About 90 percent of Charter customers already have one such digital device hooked up to one of their TVs, the company said in a press release. Depending on their programming package, customers can receive additional digital boxes at no cost for one, two or five years. After the introductory period, the box will cost $6.99 per month for each TV.

Charter sent notices to alert customers to the transition. The set-top boxes are available through direct shipment or at the Charter store, 145 Easy St.

For more info, call 888-438-2427 or visit charter.com/digitalnow.