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Downtown growth lags behind surging Snoqualmie Ridge

When Cask & Keg owners Brian and Janna Mattson decided to open up a wine shop on Railroad Avenue in Snoqualmie last fall, the Mattson's were finally realizing a dream that had been in the back of Janna's mind for a long time.

"She had a passion for wine and the Valley had a need," Brian said.

Nine months later, they reluctantly put up a "For lease" sign on the front door.

"Sales have been really spotty," Brian said. "There's no consistency to it."

For that reason, Brian said he and Janna would like to open up a smaller location in Snoqualmie with more affordable leasing fees.

"This is where we want to be," Brian said. "We would love to find a way to make it work."

This is not the only business along Railroad Avenue that has been struggling.

The U-do-it scrapbook store is looking to sell its lease and The Falls Pharmacy is planning on sharing its space with the Flying Frog Curiosity Shop, which will be vacating its current spot on King Street at Railroad Avenue in early August to make way for the undisclosed plans of the building's new owner.

Dance All Night dance studio, which shared the building with Flying Frog, has already relocated to a studio in North Bend.

While some businesses in the downtown area are struggling, the city as a whole is showing signs of positive growth. That is due in large part to Snoqualmie Ridge.

Of the 36 active business licenses that the city of Snoqualmie has approved for 2006 so far, 25 of them - about two-thirds - have been on Snoqualmie Ridge, according to city documents.

The city currently has 229 business licenses for commercial space with a physical address listed in Snoqualmie.

"The overall growth rate is good," said Snoqualmie finance officer Harry Oestreich. "It allows the business community to look at Snoqualmie as viable and a place to do business and it shows we are growing."

Oestreich said that since the year is about half over, he expects there will be at least 12 additional licenses given to ne businesses before the end of the year.

That is an increase over last year, which had a total of 48 licenses, 37 of which were for businesses on Snoqualmie Ridge.

"I really think [on Snoqualmie Ridge] there's a positive movement we're seeing," said City Council Member Kathi Prewitt. "Downtown is a little bit harder because we need to do some work."

Snoqualmie Ridge is not restricted by flood plains [as is much of the historical downtown area] and there is more commercial space available in which to develop, Oestreich said.

A newly built Taco Del Mar opened two weeks ago on Snoqualmie Ridge. Its owner, Kim Hammer, said that building downtown was not an option for her because of space issues. So far, business has been going well, she said.

The Snoqualmie Ridge business park also brings people to the development.

The Kimball Creek Village retail center is expected to contribute to Snoqualmie Ridge business traffic once it is completed this winter. It will feature 31,388 square feet of space that will house restaurants, retail outlets and offices.

The recently-approved Economic Development Branding and Marketing Plan (also known as the Roger Brooks plan) is designed to revitalize Snoqualmie. Much of the focus in is on the downtown historical district.

Though the plan was approved as a whole, Prewitt emphasized that each step still needs council approval before moving forward.

"We need to really come up with strategies that would enhance development in the downtown area without losing the character that we already have there," Prewitt said. "I think the Roger Brooks plan is the first phase of strategy. It doesn't answer everything, but it's a start."

The City Council just began acting on the first of many suggestions of the plan developed by Brooks of Destination Development.

The city is looking to hire a business recruitment specialist whose job it would be to recruit businesses for all areas of Snoqualmie and identify sections of the city that need assistance with economic development, business retention and tourism, as well as providing assistance in developing plans.

Prewitt noted that to get people to come (and spend money) in Snoqualmie, the city needs to attract tourists who visit Snoqualmie Falls. It also needs to produce clear signage that promotes the city as a tourist stop.

Even simple things such as beautification, public restrooms and infrastructures will help the economy, she added.

"It concerns me [that some businesses have failed] because I would hate for any neighbor to struggle like that, but not every business is going to be successful and that's the unfortunate part," Prewitt said.

Not all downtown business owners have felt pressure recently, though.

The Snoqualmie Falls Candy Factory, owned by Wes Sorstokke and his wife Sharon, has been located on Railroad for the past nine years.

Though business has been steady, Sorstokke said, "In the last three years, we've seen an upturn." Sorstokke said he attributes multiple offerings as one feature that has kept his business in the black.

"I don't feel pressured," he said. "I have in the past, but we make a living and it's enjoyable."

For Snoqualmie Brewery and Taproom manager Tim Tooker, who opened the pub and eatery in April of this year, business has exceeded the owners' expectations and met his, he said.

"I find it an absolute joy to be in this area," he said. Tooker said that a few key points for a successful business is to provide consistency in quality, hours and service.

Anita Westeren, owner of the scrapbook store, said that restaurants tend to do well in the historical district. Opening up her retail craft store more than two-and-one-half years ago, she said that, "As far as retail goes, it's hard ... There is nothing here [in the downtown area] to draw people in."

She plans to lease another space in North Bend once her lease is sold.

"I have good customers, but not enough of them," she added.

Affordable space and space availability seem to be other big issues that businesses in the historical district have to address, said Brian, who also suggested that downtown businesses don't receive the same support that Snoqualmie Ridge businesses do.

The City Council is putting its energy into Snoqualmie Ridge, said Brian.

"I know where their interests are, it's obvious," he said.

Even when the Roger Brooks plan was suggested, both Westeren and Brian said that the plan seems so far off that it will scarcely be of benefit to them now.

"It's a hard transitional period," Prewitt said. "It's kind of a real hard place to be in, but we have such a good, laid-out plan that you just want to have accomplished. But you can't do it all at once. The city is working right now to address those concerns."

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