How appropriate that Teresa Taylor’s company ties directly to Independence Day. She grew up surrounded by woman who instilled self-reliance in her, with a strong entrepreneurial bent. Mother. Stepmother. Grandmother. Great-Grandmother.
These influencers surfaced as she recounted with Business Pulse recently about the many business-related hats she wears today:
- A project manager with the Lummi Indian Business Council’s (LIBC) Department of Economic Development.
- A 2015-elected city councilwoman in Ferndale.
- And her entrepreneurial fireworks venture – Washington Fireworks (retail) and Northwest Pyro (wholesale).
The two companies are co-owned with Steve Oliver, who now runs the wholesale distribution side. Teresa Taylor’s passion for the business evolved from her experiences in operating a renowned fireworks stand for her grandmother, the late Betty Hamerly, known far and wide as “Bargain Betty.” Betty held court for about 40 years at her stand on Haxton Way, a 2-minute drive from Slater Road on the Lummi Nation reservation through what is known as Fireworks City in late June-early July.
Taylor, who hung out at Bargain Betty’s from the age of 5, stepped into the breach as the ‘90s turned into the 2000s when her grandmother became disabled by flagging health. Teresa learned the industry inside-out, and helped keep business bustling as it had been since the early ‘60s.
After Betty passed away in 2003, at age 87, Teresa managed the business five years until some family legal issues developed and Bargain Betty’s property fell to her son. That led Taylor and Oliver to plunge into the fireworks industry.
“My grandmother had encouraged me to learn the wholesale side of the fireworks business,” she said. “I learned how to order directly from manufacturers, and cut out the middle man.”
Taylor and Oliver purchased 7.5 acres of field across the road slightly north of Bargain Betty’s, nearly hidden by tall roadside weeds. There, they set up a retail store, the Washington Fireworks Superstore – which she now operates – and the wholesale distributorship. During 2010 the business got a running start the first year by setting up satellite wholesale distribution outlets with six contracted tribal accounts – Lummi, Swinomish, Tulalip, Puyallup, Muckleshoot, and Yakima.
The businesses have burgeoned to include many more wholesale accounts to retailers across the state, both on and off of reservations, and in faraway locations around the U.S. “We’ve done business from New York to South Carolina to Alabama to Hawaii,” Taylor said. “We’ve shipped up the Mississippi River from Louisiana ports. I’ve been to Buffalo, Missouri dealing with fireworks (laugh).
“My philosophy was always ‘go big or go home.’”
And, after mowing the roadside weeds for clear exposure from the road, the retail store grew exponentially. Her supply of imported fireworks the first year amounted to 26 delivery truckloads – 30 containers, each holding about $35,000 of inventory investment as shipped directly from the manufacturer.
Taylor fondly recalled the experiences with her maternal side of the family. “My great-grandmother Edith (Lane) Jones owned Portage Island and sold it to Whatcom County. Edith and Vic Jones owned and donated the Stommish grounds where she helped start the annual Lummi Stommish Water Festival, a celebration honoring veterans returning home. She knew the value of hard work.”
Her Grandma Betty built on that value with both her business and her lifelong involvement with social services. “Betty worked for the United Indians of All Tribes in Seattle, and worked with both the homeless and foster children,” Taylor said. “The family – all of us – also worked in the seasonal fishery, operated by generations of aunties and uncles.”
Taylor’s mother Arloa, an Army veteran, met and married a man in the military, and Teresa and her brother were born in Chicago when both her parents were stationed at Fort Sheridan. The family eventually moved back to this area when Teresa was a child, and they lived in the former Burger Shack on the Stommish Grounds, courtesy of her great-grandmother, until the Taylor family could settle into a home.
Her mother broadcast news and held other positions with KVOS-TV when it operated in Bellingham. Her father, Tony, and his wife of 28 years, Pat, own and for many years operated the Waterfront Seafood & Bar in Bellingham.
On her path to her present stations in the world of business and economics, Teresa graduated from Bellingham High School (’86), and over the years attended two community colleges and Western Washington University with a concentration on accounting.
After college Teresa started working for the LIBC on the Self-Governance Demonstration Project. “That took me all over the U.S. educating tribes about self-governance, and dealing with the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and Indian Health Service to retain some of the tribes’ federal money that was not going to them,” Taylor said.
“We wanted our own full dollar. And it worked – the Self-Governance Act passed and became permanent legislation in 1993. Today over 350 of the 566 federally-recognized tribes operate with self-governance. We started with seven.”
Teresa has worked for the LIBC in positions such as the executive assistant to the CEO/CFO, the chairman’s assistant, and facilities manager. She also worked as manager of public relations for the Ferndale smelter Alcoa Intalco Works.
In recent years Teresa rejoined the LIBC on its economic development team, working on such high priorities as the projected vision for a marina development at Gooseberry Point with boating facilities, dining, and more. “We’re blowing the dust off of this. We’ve worked on it with the world’s best engineers and architects,” she said
Another favorite vision of hers is the Work Force Training & Education Project. “That’s building economic opportunities for our great-great-grandchildren,” she said. “Like mine did for me.”
Last year Taylor decided she could serve a broader good within her community by running for public office. She earned a seat on the Ferndale City Council, where she now can deal in fireworks of a whole different nature…