French bakery, market, boutique coming to Woodinville

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Vineyard one
LeeAnn Belarde will open The French Bakery and The Market at the Vineyard July 4. Staff photo/Deborah Stone
Starting one small business is challenging enough in this economy. LeeAnn Belarde, however, is getting ready to open three businesses on a five-acre parcel of land off of Woodinville-Redmond Road.

The Vineyard, “A New Destination in the Heart of Woodinville Wine Country,” is a multi-faceted venue that contains The Market at the Vineyard, The French Bakery at the Vineyard and The Boutique at the Vineyard.

The project has been almost three years in the making and the Woodinville woman is thrilled that her dream is finally becoming reality.

“I’ve wanted to create a culinary destination promoting Washington agriculture and viticulture for quite a while,” says Belarde. “Initially, I was looking for a building, not property, but then a friend of mind found this piece of land. When I saw it, I just knew. It’s a very versatile property and it’s really special with great views of Mt. Rainier and lots of natural vegetation. I was able to see the potential. I could see through the neglect that it was a beautiful treasure.”

Belarde’s father, John J. Belarde, helped her get the ball rolling and she began researching the property’s potential.

The local woman, who has years of experience in sales, event coordination and facility management, has ran several businesses in the past, mainly bakeries.

Vineyard two
Anticipation for the opening of The Vineyard has been building. Staff photo/Deborah Stone
She and her former husband, a Frenchman, owned and operated The French Pastry Place on Mercer Island, The French Confection and Belle Pastry in Bellevue and The French Oven in Anchorage, Alaska.


“I know a thing or two about running a bakery,” Belarde says with a smile.

The French Bakery at the Vineyard will feature a complete array of traditional French baked goods, cheeses, Caffé D’arte coffee, artisanal teas, freshly squeezed orange juice, European chocolates and a variety of picnic goodies.

It will be open seven days a week and although currently there isn’t any indoor seating in the establishment, customers are welcome to munch on their purchases al fresco, on the nearby patio.

“Everything is freshly baked,” comments Belarde. “It’s baked daily using the best ingredients. We don’t skimp on anything. This is true French baking.”

As for The Market at the Vineyard, Belarde describes it as an outdoor marketplace that will offer locally sourced produce, flowers, honey, specialty olive oils, homemade sauces and a variety of artwork, including jewelry, yard art, glass and more.

“It’s a place for local vendors to sell their goods,” explains Belarde. “Right now, it will be open weekends only.”

And then there’s The Boutique at the Vineyard, a doll-size shop that will specialize in selling Washington wines and microbrews, along with an assortment of wine-oriented accessories and handcrafted chocolates.

Belarde plans to hold different events at The Vineyard, including culinary classes, Native American cultural activities and live music.

“I’m really excited about making this place into a venue for people to come and enjoy the outdoors, eat good food, buy local and even learn a thing or two if they want,” she adds. “It’ll be a place that offers a number of experiences.”

The Vineyard will also be available to rent for special occasions, such as weddings and reunions. Anticipation for the opening of The Vineyard has been building in the community, with most of the interest generated by the bakery.

As it stands, both The French Bakery and The Market will officially open July 4th, and The Boutique is slated for later on in the summer.

“It’s been crazy getting it all ready,” admits Belarde. “There’s just been so much to do and there still is so much more, but it will eventually come together. It’s an incredibly exciting time for me to finally see my dream come true.”

Local vendors are still needed for The Market at the Vineyard. If interested, call LeeAnn Belarde at: (206) 992-4099.

2012 Duvall SandBlast Festival of the Arts — Let the Music Muse You!

  • Written by Robin Akkerman
new formated muse imageGerry Kollman is much more than the musical director for the 2012 SandBlast Festival of the Arts.

Gerry is a renaissance man.  Few know that Gerry is an engineer who has seriously elected to challenge himself to discover the right side of his brain, allowing for a wonderful merging of his analytical and musical talents, bringing a uniquely blended musical awareness and theatrical energy to the valley.

Gerry has been involved with the SandBlast festivals since 2001 and has assumed many roles to support the festival including music director, musician and impresario.  Gerry, a dedicated guitar and mandolin player, considers himself more of a singer than an instrumentalist.

Gerry maintains personal and professional relationships with the significant musicians in the valley, and along with assistant musical director Cheree Harder, has carefully arranged the quality and presentation of this year’s performers.

“The Snoqualmie Valley is rich with artists of all kinds, and SandBlast is an opportunity to make art together, ”said Gerry.   This year’s festival offers talent from all ages and genres from reggae to classic rock, blues to country roots.

Let the music muse you at McCormick Park in Duvall, during the festival hours of Saturday, July 21, noon to 9 p.m. and Sunday, July 22, noon To 6 p.m.

Saturday, July 21, performances:

• noon -12:20 p.m. opening by Peter Ali;

• 12:20 - 1:10 p.m.; Marc Bristol & Okie Doke;

• 1:30 - 2:20 p.m. Cool Water Duo (Brooke Pennock and Wendy McDowell);

• 2:40 - 3:30 p.m.  Budget Funeral Band;

• 3:50 - 4:40 p.m. BOWI;

• 5 - 6 p.m.  Noisy Neighbors

• 7 - 9 p.m. Cascade Community Theater

Sunday, July 22 performances:

noon - 12:50 p.m. That’s Cashed

• 1:10 - 2 p.m. Felonious Monk

• 2:20 - 3:10 p.m. Rick Ravenscroft Trio

• 3:30 - 4:20 p.m. Susan Burke Band

• 4:40 - 5:30 p.m. Kate Phillips and Americana Soul

• 5:40 - 6 p.m. closing by Peter Ali, a Native American flutist who will also play between performances.

Free family fun for all!  In addition to the musical element, the festival features artisan exhibits for display and sale and specialty food vendors.

The main event is the annual interactive sand sculpture directed by Kali Bradford, master sand sculptor.

SandBlast Festival of the Arts is brought to you by many local sponsors: the Duvall Foundation for the Arts and the City of Duvall.

For more information. contact Duvall Foundation for the Arts at or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The Duvall Foundation for the Arts promotes creativity, diversity, and cultural awareness by supporting the arts and arts education in the lower Snoqualmie valley. (Festival musicians and times subject to change.)

Outdoor learning opportunities abound at Woodin

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Woodin two courtesy
Courtesy photo
If you haven’t been to Woodin Elementary in a while, make it a point to stop by and take a look at the school.

Actually, take a walk around the outside of the place because that’s where some unique and exciting things are happening.

The site is blooming with gardens, from beds chock- full of edibles to an area devoted specifically to plants that attract butterflies.

And then there’s the outdoor classroom, an additional learning space for teachers and students, as well as a gathering area for parents before and after school.

Soon, student-constructed totems and cedar fence boards made on Northwest Coastal art day will be installed on the property, along with a large scale painted map of the state of Washington, created by one of the fourth grade classes.

And in the future, there’ll be more gardens, each with a different theme.

“We’re going to have a Native Northwest one,” explains parent volunteer Angela Johnson. “It’ll contain edibles that the Northwest Native Americans ate, such as huckleberries. There’s also going to be a colonial garden with corn, beans and squash, and then we’re going to have a cultural garden in honor of the Hispanic holiday, Dia de los Muertos.  It will be full of marigolds, the symbolic flower of this celebration.”

Johnson notes that 26 percent of the student body at Woodin is Hispanic. The local woman, whose two children go to the school, has been at the helm of these outdoor projects, contributing hundreds of hours over the past few years to bring them to fruition.

She says, “My mission is to create gardens that are curriculum-related and artistic outdoor areas that give kids a place to rest, learn and enjoy being out in nature.”

Realizing that she would need to get community support for her ideas, Johnson began connecting with various organizations and companies that offer grants for environmental, educational and cultural purposes.

The first grant she received came from the East Lake Washington District of Garden Clubs, who gave $650 for the creation of an edible garden. Next came a $5,000 “Toolbox for Education” grant from Lowe’s Home Improvement, which went toward the construction of the outdoor classroom space that was completed last summer.

Several Woodin fathers constructed the tables and benches and a group of moms and kids dug trees out and spread ground cover.

Mack Ohnemus, a past Woodin student, who is now at Leota Junior High, built planter boxes around the space for his Eagle Scout project.

The butterfly garden was created with additional grant funds from the East Lake Washington District of Garden Clubs and the Woodinville Garden Club added a special dish rock, which holds water for the butterflies.

And then there’s a grant from Annie’s Naturals, which is being used for a summer sunflower growing contest.

“Think of all the learning that can take place with measuring, journaling and also the social connections whereby students need to develop a care plan for the seeds/plants with their current set of classmates to ensure maximum growth over the summer,” explains Johnson.

Materials for the additional three theme gardens, which will be completed next year, are courtesy of a $2,000 Yes to Carrots grant.

“We could never do any of this without grants,” notes Johnson. “What’s funny is that I had never written a grant before I started doing all of this. After doing the first one, I realized that it’s not that hard. You just follow the instructions. I like to write so it came pretty easy to me, but I didn’t know whether we’d be able to get any money. I was so happy when I got that first one. It made me want to apply for more and then the ideas have just kept rolling in.”

According to Woodin principal, Jill Crivello, Johnson is an excellent resource for the entire school community. She says, “When it comes to securing grants for outdoor educational spaces, Angela is a ‘money-making machine.’ She is all about providing environmental educational opportunities for our students and we sing her praises every day!”

The local woman, who grew up in Minnesota and spent summers on her grandfather’s farm, feels that it is important to instill an appreciation and respect for the environment in young children.

She says, “I want them to have a close relationship with nature. Nature is good and we must make sure to take care of it. We must be responsible caretakers. I also want them to understand where their food comes from and to show them how easy it is to grow your own food.”

Many of the students and teachers at Woodin refer to Johnson as the “Nature Lady” or “Garden Teacher.” She is a familiar presence at the school, where she spends upwards of 15 hours a week volunteering in a variety of capacities, but the gardens are her passion.

“Gardening provides a wonderful, hands-on learning experience,” comments Johnson. “And, there’s so much you can do to tie it to the curriculum. The first graders, for example, have a plant unit in the fall, so they come out to the gardens and learn about the parts of a plant. They see the roots, stems and petals, and they touch and feel them with their hands.”

Second graders study the life cycle of the butterfly and use the butterfly garden as an observation site. In third, fourth and fifth grades, there’s an emphasis on Native Americans.

“The theme gardens will be ideal for them,” adds Johnson.

Sixth graders took part in a plant sale fundraiser that the school had this past year. They planted the seeds, tended the plants as they grew and then subsequently sold them.

Librarian Stephanie Dunnewind created an entire research project for the sixth grade classes to engage in during the process.

Johnson stresses that she is not a one-woman operation. Her partner in crime is parent Dorothy Higashi. “She’s good with schematics and tools,” says Johnson. “My strengths are ideas and writing. We make a great team.”

She adds, “But, none of this would happen without all of the other people who put in the time and effort to help make things happen around here, from the kids and their parents to the teachers and staff. And then there is the community, which has been very supportive. It really does take a village.”

Johnson’s grant writing days are far from over. She believes such funding is necessary in order to continue to enhance Woodin’s learning environment.

She remarks, “I want people to know that even a Title I school can be fantastic and really big things can happen here even when the PTA is not the most lucrative in the district. This is a good school. We can be proud of this school.”

Local toy company aims for innovation and novelty

  • Written by Deborah Stone
PlayVisions CEO
Play Visions CEO Mark Chernick. Courtesy photo.
Mark Chernick never expected to be the CEO of a toy company.

The local man graduated college with a degree in biology and went to work in the real estate industry.

He established his own business and then years later, sold it.

While at a friend’s house one day discussing possible new opportunities, he happened to glance at his friend’s four-year-old daughter, who was playing with stickers on the floor nearby. It was at that moment that the idea for Play Visions was born.

“Life has strange twists,” comments Chernick. “I never thought I would be where I am today. Things just happened because I was open to the opportunity.”

Founded in 1990 by Chernick and two of his high school classmates, Webb Nelson (president) and Jay Keron (CFO), Toy Visions is a Woodinville-based innovative impulse novelty toy company that manufactures over 300 products. Ideas for the items come from a variety of sources, notes Chernick.

He says, “They can come from pictures in a magazine, something in the news, in a store, all over the place, basically. And we’re constantly creating new items, which is why we are one of the leading developers of impulse novelty and trend products.”

In 2005, Play Visions acquired the company Cascade Toy, a well-known brand of top quality plush toys. The acquisition gave Play Visions the opportunity to innovate and take a run-of-the-mill plush item and make it unique.

“Zibbies,” for example, are cute plush animals, with a twist. They each have trademarked Hyperflex hair, a stretchy material that expands to 10 times its original size and returns back to its original form.

The company continued to grow and in 2007, it acquired Club Earth, a world-renowned brand of proprietary novelty toys.

According to Chernick, Club Earth’s nature and animal-themed products have been a perfect fit for the zoo, aquarium and museum business where the company has had a strong presence for many years.

He comments, “These are toys that are aimed at consumers who are environmentally conscious,” and adds as an aside, “My biology degree came in handy when we were developing products for Sea World and needed to write some descriptions. I had it all in my head.”

Play Visions’ products are distributed all over the country.

In addition to major retailers, zoos, museums and aquariums, its novelty items can be found in theme parks.

“We develop numerous products under licensed characters like Gumby and Homer Simpson,” says Chernick, “and have other licensed products under different brands such as LEGO, Hershey and Rubik.”

The local man attributes the company’s growth to innovation, commenting, “We’re in a trend industry and we’re always looking for new products and exploring new technologies and new materials. Right now, for instance, we are in the process of developing 50 or so new items, which will take from four to six months to bring to market.”

He adds, “We strive to be creative and design toys that are not seen anywhere else in the impulse novelty world. It’s about innovation, not imitation.”

“Real Estate is like Hay Fever, They are Both Seasonal”.

  • Written by Submitted by WILL BRUCE, Designated Broker/Owner

Real estate sales move in predictable cycles. Spring and early summer see a decided uptick in sales activity.  People like to get settled before school starts Come autumn, sales slow down. Real estate sales follow this seasonal pattern.

Warmth returns to the market. We are in the sales season.  Beyond that we see an increase in buyer demand.  Why? Many buyers find bargains with short sales and bank-owned properties.  These “distressed “properties tend to sell for less than normal residential re-sales.   They sell at discount.  Buyers get bargains. How much discount?

The percentage discount of foreclosures over the last three years has remained pretty constant between 28 and 29 percent.The percentage discounton a short sale has increased pretty dramatically. It’s gone from 18 percent in 2009 to a 23 percent discount. So anyone buying a short sale is getting a real steal. Taken together with record low interest rates, many buyers have come out of rentals and become homeowners. They see rents on the increase.

With tax deductions, it becomes more economical to own than rent.

What about home prices?  What direction? Will increased demand equate to an increase in home prices? Price is determined by supply and demand.

Nationally, demand has strengthened, showing a 10 percent increase over the same month last year.  The supply of homes for sale is down 20.6 percent from the same time last year.

Because supply is down and demand is up, many believe prices should begin to increase as we finish out 2012. We join with that optimism, but for two reasons we caution our Woodinville sellers from pricing their properties too high.

First, look for more homes on the market in the next six months. New supplies will come from bank foreclosures coming on at discounted prices and sellers who’ve wanted to sell over the last couple of years but were waiting for the market to rebound.  The compass may swing back to a buyer’s market.

Second, the appraiser from the buyer’s lender may think the seller’s strong purchase price too high. The buyer can’t get a loan and this kills the sale. We’re seeing an increasing gap between pending sales and the number that actually close.  Appraisal has become the bugaboo.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to convince appraisers that the market justifies spiked prices. Sellers must be careful not to price too high just because they see multiple offers.

In summary, the real estate market enjoys its busy season.   Beyond that we see a national and regional rebound.

Beyond the normal seasonal cycle, we also see the climate shifting generally to produce a stronger more active real estate market. Bargains can be had with the distressed properties.  Inventory is down, demand up.

Prices will feel upward pressure, but prudent sellers will curb steep price increases because of new inventory on the way and appraiser caution that can kill transactions.  It’s the sales season.  Things are heating up.