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AUGUST 4, 1997

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Photo supplied by Molbak's

Molbak's in 1957 and Molbak's today

Molbak's celebrates 40 years of business and tradition

  NW News staff
   Molbak's will celebrate their 40th anniversary with a three-day celebration August 8, 9, and 10 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. A sampling of events and tasting includes Charles Ramseyer, executive chef at Ray's Boathouse, August 8 from 1 to 3 p.m.; Fran's Chocolate and Sauces, August 9 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; the Stafford Miller String Quartet, August 10 from 2 to 4 p.m. and a seminar on European hand-tied bouquets August 10 from 2 to 3 p.m.
   Other ongoing activities include shows of work by local artists Kay Barnes and Kathleen Woodward, 19th century fine art reproductions and a variety of foods, beverages and snacks.
   For the past 40 years Molbak's has been a Northwest tradition for hundreds of thousands of shoppers and visitors. As Woodinville grew, so did Molbak's, from a small stand on NE 175th to its current retail space. During this growth, Molbak's has remained a family-owned business with Egon Molbak as chairman, Egon's and Laina's daughter Kirsten Molbak as vice chairman and the other three Molbak children on the board of directors. With annual sales in 1996 at about 17 million dollars, Molbak's currently operates the largest single-outlet garden center in the US.
   It never occurred to Laina and Egon Molbak back in 1956 that Molbak's would someday become a premiere horticultural center, or that it would become a household name. They only wanted it to represent integrity and quality.
   In the fall of 1956, a friend of the Molbaks told them about a little greenhouse business in Woodinville for sale. It had four acres of land and five small greenhouses, with a cut-flower business. Laina laughs as she recalls the conversation held when Egon called her at their home in Denmark to discuss the possibilities.
   "He said it was an old place," Laina said, "and I said, 'as long as it has a great big old house.'
   'No,' said Egon. 'It has a little old house on it.'
   "So I said, 'Well, as long as there is a big garden.'
   'No,' said Egon. 'There's no garden.'
   "I finally asked, 'Is there an opportunity for establishing a good business so we can make a living?'
   And Egon said, 'Well, I think there are some possibilities.'"
   With that, the Molbaks set in motion what we know as the Molbak's of today.
   The business began as a wholesale operation selling potted and bedding plants with just Egon, Laina and three employees doing all the work. Laina admits, "I didn't know a petunia from a marigold."
   With Egon's expertise in horticulture, however, the business began to grow. But not without its challenges. In January of 1957, during one of the coldest winters on record, the boiler quit, and the temperature in the greenhouses quickly dropped below freezing. To save their first crop, Egon and Laina raced through the greenhouses building fires in buckets and carrying burning torches.
   In 1966, the Molbaks built a small 700-square foot retail shop as an experiment and began selling retail on a larger scale. By 1983, they had expanded to 10.5 acres with a complete indoor and outdoor garden center including specialty shops for floral design, fine gifts, garden furniture and a Christmas shop. In 1984, the first 50,000-square foot Dutch greenhouse was built on 42 acres, four miles south of Woodinville in the Sammamish Valley. Today, that property contains three greenhouses with a total of 187,000-square feet.
   Currently Molbak's retail location encompasses 15 acres in the heart of Woodinville. Along with its many departments, Molbak's regularly holds events, seminars and special attractions such as Floral Fairyland, a free fairy tale play, and the well-known Poinsettia Festival.
   "Over the years, I have seen the business grow to a point that I hardly would have imagined 40 years ago," said Egon Molbak, chairman. "It is wonderful to be able to see a business grow and change with the needs and desires of our customers."
   The Molbak family and their employees have also proven to be active members in their community, supporting schools, garden clubs, civic groups and nonprofit organizations.
   "This community has been supportive of our business for 40 years," said Egon. "We strongly believe that as a company, and as individuals, we should return that support.