by Michaela Mulligan
Driving north on I-5 from Seattle, take exit 183 to drive down a long hill packed with cars of every shape and size, each one trying to slow down for the numerous traffic lights along the road. Reach the base of the hill to find businesses and strip malls lined across the busy road with cars turning off the road to explore the businesses further. Take a left to venture further into the city to find numerous residents with Starbucks cups in their hands and raincoats covering their heads from the on-again, off-again rain. Businesses begin to cluster together more as the traffic slows down to drive through Main Street, stopping to let other residents cross the street. Finally, there is a sign greeting visitors to the city of Mill Creek, Washington.
Incorporated as a city on August 30, 1983, Mill Creek is located in south Snohomish County, south of the city of Everett. In 2013 the population was 18,828, a 63 percent rise in population since 2000. While there are many shopping and business areas in Mill Creek, the Mill Creek Town Center draws the most business and visitors. According to the Mill Creek Town Center website, the Town Center is comprised of over 80 businesses such as retail stores, boutiques, restaurants and services; a mix of small businesses and larger company stores.
One of these small businesses, Paddywack, has been in the Town Center for ten years and specializes in pet food, toys, accessories, supplies and gifts. Family-owned, Paddywack is an independent single location store that is run by Adam and Shane Somerville, who have nearly 30 years of combined experience in natural pet food.
“People appreciate the sense of community and convenience they get from coming to Town Center and knowing they can get great groceries at Central Market, a delicious meal or snack at any number of the restaurants here, books and gifts at U Bookstore or Pier 1, along with food and other supplies for their pets,” Shane Somerville said.
She likes having a business in the Town Center because it brings people to Paddywack who wouldn’t normally visit the store if they weren’t around other businesses. “From a personal standpoint we like the connections we have made with our business neighbors and all of our customers who make Town Center a regular part of their day, week or month and thus become friends by visiting the store often – sometimes daily on their walks around MCTC,” Shane Somerville said.
Many of the businesses the Mill Creek Town Center and other business centers belong to the Mill Creek Business Association, often referred to as the MCBA. According to their website, businesses pay a small fee to become a member of the association and in return are provided with networking opportunities. Monthly luncheons provide small business owners the opportunity to hear from professional-level speakers such as Sleep Country USA founder Sunny Kobe Cook. The Mill Creek Festival held in mid-July is organized by the MCBA and brings approximately 20,000 people to the Mill Creek Town Center every year. This event allows local businesses to reach out to consumers who don’t usually shop in Mill Creek.
For residents of Mill Creek, the festival shows off what they like most about Mill Creek: a community centered in the Town Center. Heidi Stedman lives close to Mill Creek and visits the Town Center often to do her grocery shopping or to meet friends. “It is hard to pick one part of the Town Center as my favorite because the thing I love most about the Town Center is the diversity it offers. I love that there are so many different types of places all in a small area. From restaurants and grocery stores to bookstores and places to shop for home goods. I could park in one place and walk everywhere I would need to within the Town Center,” Stedman said.
The Town Center has provided an area where friends can meet or small businesses can network with each other to broaden their reach.“There wasn’t really a space for people of the Mill Creek community to come together before the Town Center was developed. It’s been a great addition where people of all ages can come and hang out and get their errands done. Almost every time I have visited the Town Center, I have seen a familiar face from the community,” Stedman said.
Businesses and consumers both appreciate the amenities provided in the Town Center as well as the connections and friendships they make. Without the Town Center there is no connection between the resident who shops or works there and the visitor who decides to take the exit off I-5 to explore an unknown area.