Opportunities abound in the business community of the Snoqualmie Valley, where Down to Earth Flowers and Gifts enjoys its status as the only full-service florist shop in the area, and where Wildflower Wine Shop is poised to capitalize on the huge growth in wineries right here at home.
Yet there are also challenges that every small business owner faces daily. We asked a handful of local businesses, some established, others within their first year or two, what it’s like to do business in the Valley, and what advice they might offer other aspiring business owners. Today, we’ve got the answers from Down to Earth, now in its 17th year in Snoqualmie, and Corners Gift Shop in Snoqualmie, which celebrated its one-year anniversary last October. Come back tomorrow for more, from Pet Place Market, about to celebrate its 10th anniversary in downtown North Bend and Wildflower Wine Shop, about five months away from its one-year mark.
Down to Earth Flowers and Gifts
A staple of historic downtown Snoqualmie, Down to Earth Flowers and Gifts, has been in the Valley for 17 years. Snoqualmie native Alice Friedel in 2014 took the lead on the family business, originally opened by her mother, Maggi Whitaker, in 2000.
While she has been involved with the business for many years, taking on the full-time management of the shop has helped her reconnect with the Valley and the people.
Friedel had been a graphic designer at the Starbucks headquarters in Seattle, and living in Tacoma when she made the move back to Snoqualmie.
“I decided I wanted a different kind of life, slower, less stressful,” she said. “I wouldn’t say running a small business is less stressful, but it’s fun to be around family.”
Her family connection to Snoqualmie goes back into the town’s history. In the 1950s, her grandfather, John Whitaker, was the town doctor.
“Whenever I would go to the store people would say ‘Hey, your grandpa delivered me!’ Now it’s ‘Hey, your mom did my wedding flowers.’”
Down to Earth has “a really busy, daily flower delivery,” said Friedel. “We do weddings, funerals and parties, and we do some corporate clients, we do the flowers for the Snoqualmie Casino, we do lots of elopements and weddings at the Salish Lodge and Treehouse Point. They have been great partners of ours.”
“It seems like it’s growing a lot this year, the business is just busier, especially in the summer with the boardwalk being done and the improvements the city has done, it’s getting a lot busier.”
The company’s customers vary with the time of year, Friedel said. “Tourists, a lot of people coming through and seeing the Falls. On Valentine’s Day we get a lot of men buying flowers, then a lot of people looking for gifts, sending flowers to friends.”
Snoqualmie is well situated, and not just for the tourist attractions. Friedel said “It’s becoming a really exciting place to run a business….It’s very up and coming and it seems like there is a lot more traffic. It’s getting more exciting, especially along the street with nightlife.”
There have been challenges, though.
“It’s one of our goals to offer benefits and we don’t have quite enough full-time employees to do it right now, but coming from my Starbucks background it’s something that I would love to do,” Friedel said. “Minimum wage for King County in January went up to $11, I’m coming in new to the business and we’ve had some lean times and some good times, and so some are above it and some at minimum wage.”
If the minimum wage were to increase again, she said, “it would just take re-adjusting. Sure it would be a challenge, but I’m sure we would adjust.”
Business costs are manageable.
“We pay quarterly sales tax, and the business license,” she said. “My dad has still been doing all the books. We have to renew the business license for the city. The fee is based on how many employees you have.”
Another challenge is in the nature of the business; fresh flowers have a short shelf life.
“A lot of our work is done within two to three days before an event,” she said. “Sometimes I’ll be driving around trying to find a special certain type of flower if it didn’t come.”
What’s ahead for Down to Earth Flowers and Gifts?
“We have a wedding per weekend (in January) and four in February. That is keeping us busy, and we are doing an open house at the Salish, doing a bunch of flowers,” Friedel said. “Valentine’s Day is coming so fast and that is our biggest thing of the year. It’s crazy.”
Corners Gift Shop
Corners Gift shop, located on the corner of S.E. King Street and Railroad Avenue in Snoqualmie, is one of historicdowntown’s newer businesses. Opened in the fall of 2015, the shop, and its owner Peggy Lefley, have seen howrecent improvements to the city have affected the local businesses.
Lefley, a Snoqualmie resident, spoke about how and why she started a business selling home decor, clothing, and artproduced by local artists.
What made you locate your business in Snoqualmie?
“It was by chance,” she said. Her employer was going out of business, she explained and she was trying to decidewhat to do next. “We saw this ‘For Lease’ sign here and I said that would be a great gift shop. It’s a perfect locationand before I knew it, here we were,” she said.
Lefley also looked for possible business space in North Bend and the Snoqualmie Ridge, but decided that the spaceshe first saw in downtown Snoqualmie was perfect for her.
“I just like the charm of this downtown area. I love Snoqualmie, I love the people here. It’s just got a great vibe. Iworked as a visual merchandiser most of my life, it’s like space planning, display, filtering, what it feels like whenyou come into a shop. I was pretty comfortable, as far as what it takes to run the shop.”
What services and products do you sell?
“Home decor, specialty foods, jewelry accessories, clothing, box notes, journals, art, kids’ things,” she said. “Myniche is that gift for a friend or family member, someplace to find something unique. I try to always remember thatthe customers who come in are special to me and I want them to feel special.”
Who are your customers?
“It’s the local people here, they like to buy local, they support us and we appreciate it so much. It’s what gets usthrough the slow times like right now. We are establishing that customer base, from North Bend to Fall City.” Lefleysaid. “I also get the tourists and families with all the events down here. I think it’s an up and coming town, so I wantto be a part of that.”
How would you describe doing business here to another business considering Snoqualmie?
“It’s new for me. It’s one of those things, you have to be patient, you have to be able to roll with things, and change.You have to try to think of things to make people want to come in.”
Also, she said, “There is a lot of stuff that needs to happen before you get started, such as … working out a lease,and all the things the city of Snoqualmie needs to maintain this character. You have to keep that historic feel, so thatwas a different process. It’s an eye opener how expensive all those things behind the scenes are.”
What taxes and fees do you pay as a business?
“Quarterly, state tax, and business license, we work with a company that keeps us all in check with that stuff.”
Have any unexpected challenges come up for your business?
“One of the challenges about a small business is a change in the way you advertise, get the word out to people.That’s been a challenge.”
“For the first six months, I was basically here six days a week and realized real quick that burnout was going to takeits toll on me if I didn’t have some help. I got two fantastic ladies who work with me, Carrie and Teresa. They workpart time and they save me,” she said. “They just have a really great work ethic and they work really well together.”
Because both employees live in the Valley, they are able to avoid most transportation issues, Lefley said.
“The challenge of finding new products and keeping it new and following the trends and getting out there andworking that takes a lot of time,” she said. “I bring local product in here, and I try and rotate it so I feature localartists.”
Lefley is traveling to Las Vegas this week for the Las Vegas Gift Market, a furniture, home decor and gift tradeshow.By going to trade shows to find new items for her store, she keeps her business fresh and alwasy changing.
“I love seasonally changing things up, we move stuff around all the time, we are a seasonal type of shop.”