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Business roundup | Tech companies spark new life into old funeral home

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New owners of the former Jones & Jones Funeral Home in downtown Wenatchee are, from left, Denton Meier, Korey Korfiatis and Jeff Weber.

Tech companies spark new life into old funeral home

WENATCHEE — Downtown’s vacant and fading funeral home is about to come to life.

Owners of sister tech companies Firefly and Legwork have purchased the 111-year-old building — originally the Conrad Rose mansion, followed by Jones & Jones Funeral Home — and will spend upward of $1.6 million to restore it to its former glory.

Reincarnation of the historic structure at 21 S. Chelan Ave. will include rehabbing the funeral parlor’s chapel, offices, coffin showroom and seven upstairs apartments. And, yes, the rebirth will include repurposing of the embalming room, cremation furnace and basement vaults for cadaver storage.

A little bit creepy? “Definitely no ghosts here,” chuckled new co-owner Denton Meier, in charge of coordinating rehab efforts with business partners Jeff Weber and Korey Korfiatis. “Nobody died here,” Meier emphasized. “It’s the place where remains received attention and care. If it has any vibe, it’s a good vibe.”

The trio bought the 20,000-square-foot building in July for $435,000 after searching for a new location for their two growing tech companies. Vacant for eight years, the former funeral home provides four levels (including a useable basement and attic) to house an open-floor plan of offices for execs and designers, work rooms for technicians and repair folks, computer rooms and storage spaces.

A remodel of the column-fronted building — arguably a blend of Federal, Georgian and colonial architecture — could begin within a month. Owners aim to occupy the building by December 2018, if not sooner.

The building is currently listed on the Wenatchee Register of Historic Places. It was built in 1906 by fruit baron Conrad Rose and bought by Jones & Jones in 1924. Sharp-eyed visitors can spot variations in brick and woodwork amid the additions and improvements made to the building over the last century

The building “came at the right price at the right time,” said Weber, president and CEO of Firefly. “Plus, it has a parking lot, which is really a rare thing in downtown Wenatchee.” When fully reconfigured, the lot could hold from 35 to 40 vehicles — more than enough employees and customers.

Founded in 1992 by Meier, Firefly is primarily an IT support company for small businesses and government agencies across Central Washington. Sister company Legwork provides communications software — texting, email, phones and social media — for the dental industry.

Both businesses currently have offices in the Go USA building at 11 Spokane St. in Wenatchee. Firefly has 4,000 square feet for its 14 employees; Legwork has 5,000 square feet for 20 employees.

To accommodate its growth, Firefly has moved six times since launching a quarter-century ago. Company execs say both it and Legwork have outgrown their office spaces in the Go USA building. “That’s driving us to move and grow again,” said Weber.

Although still in the design stage, plans for the old Conrad Mansion call for Firefly to occupy the main floor — “it needs a local presence and access for walk-in customers,” said Weber — with Legwork on the second floor, where reps can provide online and digital support to their nationwide customer base.

Structurally the building is sound, said Weber, but the high-tech services provided by Firefly and Legwork will require “a complete reworking of electrical, HVAC, some plumbing, a new elevator and the addition of a fiber-optic system.”

He said, “All in all, the interior could be considered a complete redo.”

So far, the new owners seem to be having fun with building’s funeral-home reputation. Weber’s son Caleb, 19, climbed into one of the basement’s cadaver vaults where he stretched out, eyes closed, to have his picture taken. Before he exited, he found at the tube’s far end a stack of death certificates dating back to the 1880s.

Also interesting: the funeral home’s pipe organ, housed in a separate room adjacent to the chapel; slots for boxed ashes near the cremation furnace; racks for stored caskets; alphabetized and dated trays to file cards with details of the dead; a white board retaining some info on who lies in cold storage.

That said, the building has more of a residential than funereal feel, said Weber. “Spend time here, walk through it, and you’ll fall in the love with the place,” he said. “You come to regard it as Conrad Rose’s mansion, not as a funeral home.”

I’ve spent a lot of time in here and I can tell you I’ve never felt nervous or creeped out. It’s such an interesting place. It has so much history. The architecture, the space, the light coming into the rooms. All good,” said Meier.

It’s going to be a good home for us,” he said.

 

Methow Valley Airport receives rehab grant

WINTHROP — The airport used by the North Cascades Smokejumper Base has won a $2.6 million federal grant to rebuild its runway and runway apron.

Announced last month, the grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation for the Methow Valley State Airport will pay to rehab the a 5,049-foot asphalt runway and the adjacent apron where aircraft are parked, refueled and boarded.

The grant is “good news for the Methow Valley and for the North Cascades Smokejumper Base in Winthrop,” said Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-4th District. “The airport facility upgrades should benefit airport users as well as the ability of the NCSB to fulfill its mission of fire prevention.”

No timeline for the work was announced. The airport is about five miles south of Winthrop.

 

Survey: Nurses like Wenatchee Valley Medical Center

WENATCHEE — Wenatchee Valley Medical Center has been named one of the best hospitals for nurses to work for in the state.

The honor comes from Nurse.org, a nursing career website, based on 42,000 reviews from nurses on workplace satisfaction gathered during the past two years. Wenatchee Valley Medical Center earned a rating of four out of five stars.

The anonymous reviews include questions about culture and nurse-to-patient ratios.

Wenatchee Valley Medical Center operates as part of Confluence Health.

 

Local loan fund bought by larger, regional nonprofit

WENATCHEE — A local nonprofit specializing in business loans has been bought by the largest loan fund in Washington and Oregon.

The Wenatchee-based North Central Washington Business Loan fund, founded in 1993 and now with over $7.5 million in loans, was purchased recently by Craft3, a nonprofit loan fund with eight offices around the Northwest and more than $400 million in investments.

The purchase price was not disclosed for the deal, which was finalized Aug. 24.

In its 24 years in business, NCWBLF has helped create more than 700 jobs in Chelan, Douglas and Okanogan counties, and the Colville Reservation.

This deal with Craft3 will significantly increase the scale and scope of financial assistance available for rural communities in North Central Washington,” said Rich Watson, executive director of NCWBLF. “Our own loan fund has been very successful. But to be sustainable for the long-term and increase lending, our community needs access to significantly more capital. This transaction is the best way to accomplish that goal.”

Founded in 1994, Craft3 provides loans to businesses, nonprofits and individuals, including those without access to traditional financing. Typical transactions range from $50,000 to $3 million. In Washington, the organization has offices in Port Angeles, Seattle, Spokane and Walla Walla. In Oregon, the fund has offices in Astoria, Bend and Portland, with a new office coming to Klamath Falls by the end of the year.

Both NCWBLF and Craft3 are nonprofit Community Development Financial Institutions, which provided financial products and assistance for residents and businesses in low-income areas.

For more info, visit craft3.org/north-central-washington.