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Business owners taking real estate investment full circle: from tenant to landlord and back again.

Two downtown Wenatchee businesses owners who purchased their buildings several years ago are prepared to go back to being tenants.

Paula and Bob Shelton, owners of Paula's Bridal Boutique and Tuxedos at 7 N. Wenatchee Ave., sold their 6,000-square-foot building in June after owning it for five years. They also have put the business, which Paula Shelton started 15 years ago, on the market, their retirement timeline being moved up thanks to the unexpectedly quick sale of their building. They are now researching motorhomes and bass fishing locales so they'll be ready if the business sells. But they said they are fully prepared to continue operating the business in leased space until that happens.

Mary Signorelli, who has owned Wood & Things for the past 21-and-a-half years, is not yet making such specific retirement plans, though that is the dream eventually, she said. She put her building at 250 N. Wenatchee Avenue up for sale Oct. 1. If the building sells, she said she hopes to be able to work out a lease agreement with the new owner. If not, she will move the business.

The sale of the building, she said, will give her more options and an opportunity to step back from some of her commitments.

The Shehons and Signorelli said the decision to sell their properties now is one that has more to do with personal agendas, but admit that escalating property values and the local economy contribute to the timing.

"The feds dropped the interest-rates, downtown is healthy as it's never been before and it's been good year for us so far," Signorelli said. "I decided to see if the real estate would sell. I don't have a timeline. If it doesn't sell, that's OK."

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The Sheltons said they had a similar outlook when they put their building on the block in February after a casual conversation that started something like, "I wonder how much our building is worth?"

"The real estate broker came back with a figure and we said, 'If we can get that, then OK.'" Bob Shelton said. "We were talking that if it sold in three or four years, we could retire. We never expected it would take only three months."

They had purchased the building from Jim Mathews in 2002 for $290,000. They sold the building for $650,000, according to county records.

"Once it sold, we got excited," Paula Shelton said. "Bob wants to go fishing."

But, she said, they did some soul searching before moving forward with putting the business up for sale.

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"It's been fun. I love working with the brides," she said. "I would do it again. I never thought it would be this big. I love it."

And though she will miss the customers, the thought of wiggling her toes in the sand was too good to pass up.

"We hadn't planned on retiring this soon. It's a big decision," she said.

If all the pieces fall together as expected and the business sells, the Sheltons have penciled out several years of travel plans, with destinations such as Europe and the Bahamas, spending some time with grandchildren in Wisconsin and a good dose of bass fishing.

They aren't cutting ties to the Valley, though, since they continue to own and operate the Christmas tree farm in Cashmere, which was started by Shelton's family in 1955. They bought it from his dad in 1990.

Despite the three-month turnaround on Sheltons' building, Signorelli said she isn't counting on a quick sale. It is promising, though, that she has had several inquiries about her building and her business in the past two years.

"I want to leave my options open," Signorelli said. "Maybe I'll be here another 21 years and they'll be wheeling me around. If we knew the future, we'd know what to prepare for. But no one does, and that's probably for the best."

If the property does sell, she has considered several options.

"I have entertained the idea of leasing space here. Or I could go someplace else. I would entertain the idea of selling the business, too, but I don't have any immediate plans for that. Selling the building gives me more flexibility."

The Sheltons and Signorelli agree that buying their own buildings was a good move in the long run.

Signorelli owned the business for six years before she purchased the building in 1992. Wood and Things started in its current location in 1975 by a different owner. Signorelli moved the business to the Liberty Theater building on South Mission in 1986. Faced with rent increases in 1992, she decided the time had come to buy her a building for her business and it turned out the original space was available.

"I purchased it from two attorneys who were amenable to the sale. Actually, I leased for one year with an option to buy. Buying it was a no brainer. It usually makes sense to own rather than rent.

That way you can fix your rent."

The 1930s building started as a Packard auto dealer ship and later housed all sorts of businesses. When she purchased the building, she remodeled the interior, including adding energy efficient windows, and signed up to put the building on the historic register, the first commercial building in the city to do so. The move required her to preserve the building's original look outside in return for locking in her property tax rates for the next 10 years.

Bob Shelton said that aside from the investment potential, another good thing about owning the property is you can do anything you want to do including putting up and taking down walls.

Not that they weren't able to do that before.

"Jim Mathews was a good landlord," Paula Shelton said. "We worked well with him. We didn't mind being renters."

The decision to buy was a big one, though.

"It's the idea of that big debt staring at you. But real estate always pays off," she said. "We have purchased several houses over the years and have always done well."

Bob Shelton said he would recommend any business owner buy their own building.

"The market goes up and down, but the property will always be there and you always come out ahead," he said.
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Author:McDaniels, Nevonne
Publication:Wenatchee Business Journal
Geographic Code:1U9WA
Date:Oct 1, 2007
Words:1048
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