Matt Tabor, managing director of the Lake Stevens Chamber of Commerce, has lived in this city — the fifth-largest in Snohomish County — for three years. When the next census data materializes, Tabor predicts the town will land even higher on the population roster.

Tabor’s wife grew up in the region, and he’s now come to truly appreciate the neighborhood-centric and small-town mentality of his scenic home. Easy access to nearly any essential service one could need proves a notable perk for residents here, too.

Throughout the pandemic, Tabor said, Lake Stevens has been fortunate to lose a lot fewer businesses than many regions, with only a couple closing permanently. “(Businesses) are hurting but not dying,” he said, and he credits that to a “smalltown feeling that we need to support our locals.”

The school district is the biggest employer in Lake Stevens, while chain retailers like Target, Safeway, Haggen Northwest Fresh, and nearby Walmart (in Marysville) employ many residents, too. Prepandemic, a remarkably high percentage of the population left town on a daily basis for work, with the largest percent traveling to Boeing, located only 15 miles away. Others commute to tech-industry careers at companies like Microsoft. “We’ve been called a bedroom community,” Tabor said, “which isn’t totally wrong.”

In the past 10 to 15 years, the population here has swelled. In 2018, the count was listed at close to 31,800 residents, with the daytime population totaling more than 22,400. At the same time, there were only 10,976 households in the city, meaning every household had one person on average leaving the city each day.

Tabor said that, due to annexation, new builds, and population increases (particularly an influx of residents from Seattle proper), Lake Stevens numbers are expected to land closer to 40,000 when the new census comes out. “There have been at least two annexations since 2018, mostly of residential areas,” he explained, “and quite a bit of new residential construction.”

The region is home to many second-and third-generation families — some whose children leave for university or jobs but then boomerang back home as adults. A fair amount of Navy housing can be found within the neighborhoods of Lake Stevens; most families have members stationed at the Everett Naval Station, but there are some installations in Marysville, too.

Lake Stevens currently includes three main areas of retail. Tabor said the city is working to help retail/commercial space keep up, but there is only so much land.

New areas for retail and commercial space are forthcoming in the South Lake Stevens/Cavalero Hill area along 20th Street Southeast, including the much-anticipated Costco projected to open by late fall 2021. A revitalization plan also is in effect in downtown Lake Stevens, along Main Street off the northeast corner of the lake.

In this area, visitors find small grocery stores, coffee shops, and the popular gathering spot Lake Stevens Brewing Company. This zone also is home to open stretches like North Cove Park and a brand-new civic building called The Mill on Lake Stevens, a publicly-owned gathering space that can be rented for weddings and meetings. The name pays homage to an old sawmill that once stood there, honoring the town’s lumber-centric past. Beautiful artwork adorns the site, inside and out.

Plans to relocate the library and Lake Stevens Historical Museum will open up more space for retail downtown. Another phase of the revitalization plan will help make a connection between the retail core and lake. (Previously, you couldn’t see the body of water from Main Street, yet that land has already been resculpted to strengthen the view and lake connection.)

The third retail zone, Frontier Village, can be found in the area where Highways 9 and 204 intersect, consisting of several strip malls and commercial buildings. Here, visitors will find the two main grocery stores; shops like Michaels and Ace Hardware; plus restaurants and fast-food eateries mixed in with physical therapists, dentists, and other medical storefronts.

So, what else do Lake Stevens residents appreciate about their home? For starters: access to the town’s namesake lake and its sandy beaches, stunning views of the Cascades, plus hiking trails and copious outdoor activities. Residents enjoy hopping on the 29-mile-long Centennial Trail, which stretches from Snohomish to north of Arlington, and exploring paths that wind through 15.6-acre Eagle Ridge Park, named for the eagles’ nest next to Lundeen Parkway.

When rush hour is in full effect, Tabor admits the commute to Everett, Seattle, Bothell, and beyond can take a bit longer from Lake Stevens, since most commuters use the connector of a two-lane, elevated, trestle bridge that spans the wetlands. Yet all travel time considered, “The quality of life makes it worthwhile,” Tabor said. “I think Lake Stevens is doing a good job at maintaining a small-town feel.”