This article originally appeared in the November 2015 issue of 425 Business.
When developers were gobbling up land, planners and businesspeople preserved Woodinville’s farms and wineries
When David Cho went looking for a site to open his second high-end liquor retail store, Woodinville beckoned.
Not only does the Eastside town have an established and still-growing alcohol-based tourism industry, it also is full of educated residents who appreciate and expect the kind of sophisticated environment he felt his shop would offer.
Cho, whose Proper & Ernest store has been open on Northeast 175th Street since April, feels his business is fitting right in. “People say this store is like a Disneyland for adults,” he said.
Cho’s 1,700-square-foot store sells 2,500 types of spirits, 800 varieties of wines, and 300 varieties of beer. That Proper & Ernest hosts tastings and exists in an upscale environment sets the store apart from competitors, he said.
“Woodinville’s educated demographic, as well as its distance from big box stores and malls, is what attracted me,” Cho said.
A few minutes away by car sits 21 Acres, a showcase of sustainable living and agriculture. When you’re standing in the middle of the farm, urban development seems far away. Cranes at the under-construction Woodin Creek Village apartments may loom in the distance, but Woodinville’s rural quality is palpable.
The fact that agricultural land still exists in Woodinville is no accident. In 1979, King County voters passed an arts and open space bond to create the Farmland Preservation Program. The bond money was used to purchase development rights on agricultural land that was zoned commercial. In addition, King County created several zones called Agricultural Production Districts. About 1,400 Woodinville-area acres fall in to that category.
“Agriculture is alive in Woodinville and doing well,” said Thomas Quigley, president of Olympic Nursery. “Each year, more and more restaurants want their own little farm, or to buy from one specific farm. Each year, there is more and more demand for organically grown produce.”
The 21 Acres farm showcases Woodinville’s agricultural strengths. It is a community-based, organic farmstead with a market that sells a wide range of products from small, local farms. It offers tours and showcases the agricultural history of the area. The market is housed in an environmentally friendly building complete with solar panels and composting toilets. Cooking classes are offered on-site for both youths and adults.
“21 Acres preserves the economic vitality of the farms,” said Brenda Vanderloop, 21 Acres’ spokesperson. “This valley is unique to our community. The farmland is very tied to our economic success. At 21 Acres, we have that like-minded mission.”
Though 21 Acres doesn’t focus on attracting tourists, tourists sometimes focus on the farm.
“Just last week, we had a couple from Arizona in our market,” Vanderloop said. “They were staying at Willows (Lodge). They read an article about our apple sourdough bread, and someone at the front desk told them how to get to our market.”
The farm also has amenities for regional travelers, Vanderloop said. “Here, they can visit a winery or distillery and then come here and take some cooking classes and a farm tour.”
The wine industry draws an estimated 800,000 visitors to Woodinville each year, according to the Woodinville Wine Country association.
“Tourism is definitely an economic driver in Woodinville,” said Sandra Lee, director of Woodinville Wine Country. “But when you think about Woodinville and the economics of Woodinville, it’s a full circle.”
Lee sees the value of Woodinville’s agricultural sector, and says agricultural tourism is a natural extension of the wine tourism industry. There are sustainable organic farms, cooking classes, bike rentals, and lavender farms to entertain visitors when they aren’t tasting wines.
“This is not just a place for the over-21 crowd,” Lee said. “Molbak’s and the farmers market are the center of downtown.”
On summer Saturdays, the downtown area features a farmer’s market where shoppers can purchase locally grown vegetables, flowers, and hand-made products. And Molbak’s Garden and Home is one of downtown’s anchor stores. All this exists on the developing Eastside — in the shadow of chain restaurants and retail stores.
“Though we have become known as a wine destination, it’s important that we stay true to our roots,” Lee said. “Our roots are based in agriculture. It’s the economic engine of our community, and 21 Acres and Molbak’s show that.”
Quigley agrees. The agrarian ethos draws wineries to the area, he said. Chateau Ste. Michelle, built in 1976, seeded the region’s winery cluster.
“It wouldn’t even be here if it hadn’t been in such a beautiful, agricultural location to begin with,” Quigley said. “We could so easily lose that if we don’t pay attention to preserving the agricultural land.”
As with many developing cities on the Eastside, balance is the trick. Residential growth in the downtown district is gaining steam. An upscale, 600-plus apartment community across the street from City Hall will open soon.
“The increased downtown population will bring more consumer demand that will attract more retail and entertainment assets to the area,” said Dave Witt, executive director of the Woodinville Chamber of Commerce.
While tourism is the fastest-growing economic segment in town, Woodinville’s economy still is diverse. Precor, a major manufacturer of exercise equipment, highlights the city’s light-manufacturing industry. The Warehouse and West Valley districts are home to many other businesses outside the tourism sector, Witt said.
But as tourism becomes increasingly lucrative, there is a need for commercial growth to accommodate the visitors.
“A new Hampton Inn is under construction,” Witt said. “There is a need for more hotels, an event center, and restaurants.”
Woodinville’s draw also is used by other Eastside cities. The wineries send many visitors to hotels in neighboring towns, Witt said. In addition, those other towns are promoting Woodinville to fill even more hotel rooms. Keeping those tourists in town is Woodinville’s end goal.