Scott Swoboda gives Snohomish the business

SNOHOMISH — Scott Swoboda isn’t the kind of guy who blows his own horn, but a couple of his endeavors in Snohomish are getting attention.

First is the Washington Public Market and Wine Cellars of Washington. The public market fills all 25,000

square feet of the former 1890s Emporium Building and sits across Second Street from Wine Cellars of Washington in the former Heritage Square Building, which has 20,000 square feet of space. A quarter of that is set aside upstairs for wine tasting booths and a cafe furnished with matching heavy dark bars and hand-built tables and chairs from the Bramble Co., an Indonesian manufacturer.

Swoboda is lining up 25 wineries and 180 market vendors to participate in the venture. Wine merchants and vendors with perishable products will sell their wares in the Heritage Square building. As of early August, Swoboda said he had about half of the wineries and vendors lined up. The official opening is scheduled for Oct. 15 and 16.

For the regular wine tastings, vendors will pay Swoboda a flat fee of $250 per weekend for use of the facility. Each wine taster will pay a $5 cover charge. Swoboda will then return the voucher money to the vendors.

“There’s almost no one who would do that,” he said. With up to 5,000 visitors on weekends, Swoboda expects he’ll have enough income to cover his overhead. “That’s all I care about.”

The closest comparable food and wine venture to Swoboda’s is Urban Enoteca in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood. Vendors there sign a five-year, triple-net lease and must cover their own utilities and advertising, said Swoboda. His vendors get their own coolers at their furnished bars and locked storage downstairs between events.

Both buildings have been extensively remodeled and updated and feature high-speed Wi-fi. Outside, the parking lots have been repaved and feature power and water connections for outdoor vendors. They offer a lot of curb appeal.

Swoboda had been leasing both buildings from Art Poier since 1981. The 1890s Emporium building was originally the showroom for Poier’s auto dealership and the Heritage Square building sits on what used to be Poier’s used car lot. He bought both buildings a couple of years ago.

What Swoboda’s offering his hometown is a new attraction for shoppers who already walk from one downtown business to the next. With the public market and wine cellars, “the downtown community can feed off both facilities,” he said.

“It’s employing a lot of people,” Swoboda said of the venture and its many vendors. “It explodes Snohomish on the map.” In five years, “this will be a winery town.”

For a guy who’s “always been into renovating,” Swoboda’s bigger project sits in the heart of downtown in the form of the old Snohomish Eagles Hall.

“I like cleaning the town up,” he said.

Over the last 30 years, Swoboda bought and restored many downtown Snohomish buildings that now house the Oxford Saloon, the Snohomish Bakery, Victoria Village, Pizza Palace and the Triangle Building across from City Hall.

Even though he had proven his success as an entrepreneur, Swoboda said it still took years of negotiations with Eagles aerie members before they agreed to sell him their old hall in 2005. All the while, it kept deteriorating because the Eagles couldn’t afford to make repairs as members aged and passed on.

“It’s a major undertaking,” he said.

Despite the daunting challenge facing him when he started, Swoboda is keeping his vow to renovate a Snohomish icon that’s on the National Historic Register. He just didn’t know how much the challenge would cost.

“I knew it was going to be expensive,” he said.

When asked how much he’s spent on the restoration, Swoboda would only say he’s spent “seven figures” of his own money so far, but he’s well on his way to bringing the old hall back to its original magnificence while giving it a new purpose.

“The Eagles building was the focal point of Snohomish, Everett and Monroe until the 1940s,” he said. “This is an exact restoration.”

To pay for the work, Swoboda said he sold properties he owned in Hawaii on Maui.

It’s more than just a rehab, though. Swoboda has been faithful to the hall’s old details and character while he brings everything up to current building codes.

He removed the false front to reveal additional entrances. He gutted most of the interior to fit modern plumbing, wiring and fire sprinklers. He added a loading ramp and deck with Brazilian ironwood for the basement entry, which now has a parklike setting and stair access to First Street. With the roof replaced, he was able to reinstall skylights above the stairs and will add a stained-glass grid. He untied the foundation from the sinking sidewalk that was pulling down the hall’s northwest corner. He’s fixing everything that broke while reusing everything he can. He’s adding kitchens and bathrooms and handicapped accessibility. He had to find a tile setter with the skills to match the intricate pattern the white hexagonal tiles and dark grout created when they were set outside the front entries in 1905.

And that work just scratches the surface.

The spacious ballroom upstairs has one of the last remaining sprung dance floors west of the Mississippi River, Swoboda said during a tour of the hall. His daughter and her friends spent hours painstakingly pulling carpet and tacks from the riser surrounding the dance floor, which also uncovered the original stage. The ballroom has new sheet rock in its coved ceiling and a new $200,000 ventilation system so guests can remain comfortable without having to open the windows. The floors will be sanded and refinished.

So far, replacing the hall’s roof has been Swoboda’s single biggest expense. It had five layers of material — a new roof roughly every 20 years.

Like the Eagles Hall had originally, Swoboda is setting up three storefronts. Look for a high-end coffee shop, a retail space and a turnkey wine bar-restaurant connected by a common hallway. The upstairs ballroom will be available for events and will have its own catering kitchen. In the basement, where Eagles members used to meet, Swoboda plans a factory-direct display store for the Bramble Co. furniture that he’s using at Wine Cellars of Washington.

He even fixed up and leased a small brick building across the street — a gas station that was later the B. Thurston real estate agency — to use as the leasing office for the Eagles Hall.

Why would Swoboda go to all this trouble and effort — he even blew out his back in the work — to save an old building?

Swoboda, 55, grew up in the shadow of the Eagles Hall when his parents were selling antiques in their general store in what’s now Mardini’s restaurant. The hall drew a constant stream of guests from Snohmish and its neighboring cities, he said. He remembers walking through the hall when he was 8 years old, when it was already showing its age.

That’s when he vowed, “I’m going to restore this someday.”

Swoboda says he’s “never been a speculator.” Even in bad economies, he said he’s done well because he’s learned how to find good values.

But the Eagles Hall is in a different league from Washington Public Market and Wine Cellars of Washington. Swoboda’s work on the Eagles Hall represents something of a tribute to all the civic leaders he watched while growing up in Snohomish — especially Everett Olson, for whom the Snohomish Boys & Girls Club is named.

Was Olson a mentor? “Oh, God yeah,” Swoboda said of the man who gave him his first paid job.

He said Willis Tucker, Snohomish Tribune publisher and the county’s first executive, was another of his mentors.

“Willis had a big effect on my life since childhood,” Swoboda said.

Washington Public Market, Wine Cellars of Washington and the resurrected Eagles Hall might have the same positive effect on Snohomish. At least, that’s what Swoboda hopes.

“I think the public market will draw the locals here,” he said. “It’s going to be a big community spot and it’s going to draw people from Monroe, Sultan, Everett and Marysville.”

As for the work Swoboda’s putting into the Eagles Hall, “I hope other merchants follow suit,” he said.

Bankrupt Inventory Liquidators

As if Swoboda doesn’t have enough on his plate, he again became the owner of Designers’ Warehouse on Oct. 1, 2010. It’s now known as Bankrupt Inventory Liquidators and opened on Dec. 26.

Swoboda sold Designers’ Warehouse in 2004 and bought it from Cascade Bank when the loan went into default. He said he bought the business to preserve his investment in the buildings, which cover 105,000 square feet at the east end of Hewitt Avenue in downtown Everett.

The store sells quality furniture Swoboda gets from distressed distributors and bankrupt stores. What’s on the display floor is what’s for sale. There are no special orders, he said.

While Cascade Bank Chief Executive Officer Carol Nelson took a lot of heat for her bank’s acquisition by Opus Bank of California, Swoboda defended her.

“Carol Nelson is a good person,” he said. “She’s saving jobs.”

On the Web

To learn more about Wine Cellars of Washington and Washington Public Market and opportunities for vendors, go to www.winecellarsofwa.com.

Kurt Batdorf: 425-339-3102, kbatdorf@scbj.com.

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