At the end of January, 14 storefronts stood empty along the three blocks of Main Street that pass through the downtown.
Residents were dismayed as favorite businesses such as Mills Music and consignment store Cinderella’s Closet went dark, and many wondered if there was any hope for the flagging commercial district. So dramatic was the downturn that the Monroe Monitor did a three-part series on the issue, exploring why the businesses closed and what challenges existed for the district.
But spring seems to have brought new growth to Main Street as surely as it has to the gardens that line it.
Since the publication of that series, eight of those storefronts have new occupants that have either recently opened or are opening soon.
Here is an overview of the newest tenants of Main.
E-Man Data Recovery
119 W. Main
At 13, Emanuel Popa spent $100 that he’d saved over the course of four years in his poor hometown in Romania, and bought a broken computer.
It was all he could afford, but his father fixed TVs and radios, and so Popa thought he could fix the broken motherboard and screen of the computer. It took him a month, but he did it. Then he fixed computers for some neighbors.
At 18, he opened his own computer repair place in Romania. Shortly after that he moved to London, where he met a Snohomish girl online. At 23, he moved to be with her and they married.
Today, he is one of the foremost data recovery specialists in the region, with a business in Snohomish, two drop-off locations in Seattle, and now a second business in the old location of M&M Antiques.
He is especially skilled at recovering data from computers with water damage, and did a lot of work for New Yorkers stricken by Hurricane Ivan.
He may never top the recovery job he did for a woman who lost a laptop off a boat in the Puget Sound. Popa, also a SCUBA diver, found the laptop on the ocean floor. But by then, an enormous starfish had laid claim to it, and refused to budge. Eventually, he had to bring it to the surface, starfish and all, whereupon the giant creature finally released its hold.
Popa retrieved all the data on the hard drive.
In the radically remodeled building, he sells computer parts and accessories in one part of the building and does repairs in the other part of the first floor, with a second floor space used for ultra-delicate operations requiring him to wear surgical scrubs in a dust-free environment.
While renovating the building on the corner of Main and Blakeley Streets, contractors uncovered a decades-old mural on the exterior wall. Popa hoped to cut it free, seal and mount it on the outer wall, but the work was painted on narrow boards and wouldn’t have survived the excision. So Popa had it sealed and closed it back up, including with it a time capsule containing artifacts from 2013.
Popa envisions a long tenure on Main Street; he plans for the capsule to be reopened in 50 years by his daughter.
116 W. Main
In a narrow space just next door to the Sky River Bakery, banks of computers are ensconced in carrels, and in a small office in back, a single accountant is at work.
SOS Bookkeeping is the second location of a business that has flourished in Lynnwood in the last several years.
The founder, Sarah Sanchez, speaks Spanish and the vast majority of her clients are Spanish speakers.
But the banks of computers are not for clients, but for future students. SOS stands for School of Success, and the business is soon to offer classes in such topics as Quickbooks.
Kung Fu Kwoon
115 1/2 W. Main
On the same block, the South African Bois family has lined the walls of a large open room with the ancient weapons associated with the various Chinese martial arts known collectively as kung fu.
All three members of the family are involved with the business, including instructor Jacque, meditation instructor Sue Lin and son Kenji, who assists.
The business opened about a month ago, and is slowly building a clientele, said Bois last week.
Beginning in June, the business will expand to offer meditation classes, as well.
The Bois family is also very committed to the community, and recently joined the Chamber of Commerce.
111 W. Main
Helen and Robin Clark, a couple from Asheville, North Carolina, has opened an eclectic and colorful collectible, curio and gift shop on West Main.
The Clarks are no strangers to economic revitalization. Asheville, said Robin, a gregarious retiree, once had a downtown far sleepier than Monroe’s. But business people pulled together to beautify and recharge the district.
It started with one good pizza place, he said, and went from there, with new businesses following each other into an increasingly successful downtown until it became a top tourist destination in the state.
Tourists wandering Main will find a lot to charm them in Gumby’s; the store boasts such eclectic offerings as necklace pendants comprised of tiny, cork-stoppered glass jugs, paper products made of elephant “poo,” hand-bound journals, candles made to look like corks that are meant to be set atop wine bottles, handbags made in Nepal, and much more.
115 E. Main, Monroe
In the building still adorned with the old Monroe Monitor sign, which was occupied by that business for nearly a century, a new business is soon to replace the antique store that occupied it briefly in the two years since the Monitor decamped for a second-floor space a block east.
Coming, according to Annique Bennett, director of the Monroe Chamber of Commerce, is a screen printing business owned by a police officer
116 E. Main
One block up across the street, the door mirroring the one that holds Don’s Barbershop remains locked, as it has since the Chopping Block tavern closed.
But contractors are hard at work inside, remodeling it, expanding the stage, and preparing it to open under new ownership as The Paradise.
That should bring back memories for long-time residents; it was The Paradise until the mid 1970s. Its new owner has roots much longer than that. It is Don Sofie himself, the barber next door whose family has owned the barbershop for more than 40 years, and who practices in a building used as a barbershop for more than a century.
“You remember a couple years ago I was worried that the building was going to sell and I didn’t know who my landlord was going to be?” said the soft-spoken Sofie. “Well, I’m the landlord now.”
He bought the building, and although he’s never run a bar or restaurant before in his life, he is excited to start.
The nightclub will open in June, he said.
Furniture, Camp Building
108 W. Main
The historic Camp Building that held Spokemotion Cycles for many years has been empty since the bicycle shop closed in 2011.
But a glimpse through the windows reveals a showroom stocked with a wide array of furniture.
The owner wasn’t available last week, but neighbors report that it is planned as a refurbished and antique furniture store, and that the owner hopes to open soon.
Music store, Mills Music building
124 E. Main, Monroe
Local music store chain Mills Music closed its Monroe location last year, a choice, owners reported in a letter posted in the windows, driven by slow business during the economic downturn.
But according to Monroe Chamber of Commerce Director Annique Bennett, a new owner is preparing to open another music store in that location, possibly with recording studio space, as well.