The Bellingham Business Journal released its 2013 Readers’ Choice Awards on Feb. 11. Several hundred Bellingham Business Journal readers selected 15 local businesses from a variety of categories, said Evan Marczynski, a Western Washington University graduate and reporter for the Bellingham Business Journal. They have been putting out this list for the last four or five years as a fun way to connect with readers, he said. They do not keep detailed winners from past years, he said.
Below are four of this year’s award recipients.
Best free Wi-Fi: The Black Drop
Nestled between the looming brick buildings of Champion Street sits The Black Drop Coffee House. The Black Drop was voted best location for free Wi-Fi by readers of the Bellingham Business Journal.
Its windows nearly covered by posters for punk bands and local events, the Black Drop seems a natural location for college students. Its regular customers range from students to local business people to city employees, said Scot Casey, who co-owns the Black Drop with Stephanie Oppellar.
Casey has worked at the Back Drop for four years. During this time, he was given the opportunity to become an owner, he said.
“We offer incredible coffee and a really good atmosphere for people to sit and drink,” Casey said.
The Black Drop was named best coffee by Cascadia Weekly 2012, and Casey the best barista.
Casey thinks the Black Drop was voted best place for free Wi-Fi due to their friendly atmosphere and nearly unrestricted Internet access, he said.
“I think one of the core things the Black Drop stands for is an open forum, “ he said. “It’s a place for people to freely communicate ideas and participate in discussions, whether that’s in print media, in person or online.”
The Black Drop also sponsors an annual event called “Save Our City,” a zombie-themed water balloon fight, Casey said. A date has not been announced for this year’s event, but previous events have taken place in May, according to the Black Drop’s website.
In coming years, Casey plans on expanding the Black Drop by adding more seating and another bar, he said.
Despite awards, zombies and expansions, the Black Drop’s mission has not changed.
“Coffee is our passion,” Casey said. “We are very intense about our coffee and our customers’ experience.”
Best place for an after-work drink: Boundary Bay Brewery
With its large stone front, poster-covered walls and the aroma of hops, it’s no surprise that Bellingham Business Journal readers voted Boundary Bay Brewery the best place for an after-work drink.
Operations manager Casey Diggs attributed Boundary Bay’s success to their involvement with the Bellingham community.
“We give a lot to the community, and it really comes back to us tenfold,” Diggs said. “We help out nonprofits and in return they have their birthdays and company parties here.”
Diggs has worked at Boundary Bay for about nine years. He started there as a dishwasher at age 17, he said.
“I really like the community and the family feel we have here, “ he said. “We have 100 employees but everybody knows each others’ names, and we all go out for beers with one another.”
Every New Year’s Eve, Boundary Bay employees drop a keg from the brewery’s roof as their version of the famous ball drop. While lowering the keg one year, Diggs ended up tying a knot in the pulley system. Not only did he miss the countdown, but had to enlist the help of a police officer to untie the knot. The 200 attendees of the brewery’s New Year’s party were watching Diggs the entire time, he said.
“It’s the kind of thing you can look back and laugh at,” Diggs said.
Best customer service: Village Books
The drab brick exterior hides the vibrant treasure trove of books and trinkets within Fairhaven’s Village Books. Though the store contains exactly what its customers are looking for, it is the laughter coming from the register that sets Village Books apart as the best customer service in Bellingham, as voted by readers of the Bellingham Business Journal.
Paul Hanson is Village Books’ community outreach director.
“We always strive to give great customer service,” Hanson said. “But to actually be voted for that and acknowledged for that actually brings tears to our eyes.”
Village Books is also frequently named the best bookstore annually by The Bellingham Herald, Hanson said.
Since Hanson moved up here a year and a half ago, he has dedicated himself to the store’s mission of “Building a community one book at a time,” he said.
This has involved keeping Village Books on the cutting edge of the ever-changing book business, he said.
“If you had come to us 15 years ago and asked us our vision for the future, we wouldn’t have known that in five years we’d have the espresso book machine,” Hanson said. “We wouldn’t have know that we’d sell e-books online or that we’d have a huge web presence.”
The enthusiasm and teamwork of all the employees helps fulfill Village Books’ mission, Hanson said.
Every Christmas the employees get a gift for the store’s owners, Chuck and Dee Robinson, Hanson said. This has ranged from charity donations to “Calendar Girls”-style pictures of the employees.
No matter what time of year it is, employees enjoy their work at Village Books, Hanson said.
“It doesn’t feel like work,” Hanson said. “Everyday I get up and come to a place I love. I often spend seven days a week here and don’t mind it.”
Best place for a latte: Café Adagio
Dianna Del Giorgio moved to Bellingham seven years ago to open a café. She and her husband, Luke, are now the proud owners of Café Adagio, voted best place for a latte by Bellingham Business Journal readers.
“When we moved to Bellingham we didn’t know anybody,” Del Giorgio said. “Our customers are family — we don’t have any other family in the area.”
The bustling café sits on Railroad Avenue in downtown Bellingham.
Del Giorgio was thrilled to hear that the business she had started when she was 21 years old had received such an honor, she said.
“We don’t push for a lot of publicity — we actually do nothing for advertising,” Del Giorgio said. ”We rely entirely on word of mouth.”
The café’s customers make the hard work of running a business all worth it for Del Giorgio.
“We really love our customers, they are so much fun,” she said. “There are so many characters we’ve gotten to know over the years.”
Though the polished tables of the café are often full of regulars, Del Giorgio has no plans to expand the business, she said.
“We just want to keep doing what we’re doing,” Del Giorgio said. “We want to keep the consistency up and really focus on what we’re doing in downtown Bellingham.”
For a complete list of the 2013 Readers’ Choice winners, visit the Bellingham Business Journal’s website. Interested readers can vote for their favorite local businesses every January, either online or with ballots found in the journal’s print edition.