Seattle-based Bamboo Hardwoods sells 50 styles of bamboo flooring at five showrooms here, including a downtown design center near Pike Street and Ninth Avenue. The company forecasts $5 million in annual sales this year.

Share story

In 1990, Douglas Lewis returned from Maui with a container of bamboo poles he had cut by hand and floated down an irrigation canal.

A college freshman back then, Lewis wanted to start a fencing company that used a sustainable source of wood fiber, only there was a slight chicken-and-egg dilemma.

“Originally, there was no market,” he recalls. “There was no product.”

If he built it, would they come?

Most Read Stories

Save over 90% on select subscriptions.

Today, nearly two decades later, Seattle-based Bamboo Hardwoods sells 50 styles of bamboo flooring at five showrooms here, including a downtown design center near Pike Street and Ninth Avenue. The company forecasts $5 million in annual sales this year.

Bamboo flooring has gained traction in the green building movement as a highly renewable source material. A grass, bamboo matures in roughly five to six years and grows back when cut.

“Homeowners are buying it, and people are using it for condos and town homes,” says Lisa DiMartino, marketing vice president of the Seattle-based Environmental Home Center, which sells green interior finishes and building materials, bamboo products among them.

“It’s definitely a popular material and it’s becoming much more well-known,” DiMartino says. (She admits, herself, to buying a bamboo bathrobe for her husband.)

For Lewis, his trip to Hawaii eventually led him to move to Vietnam in 1992. He spent four years there building a modern factory that could produce finished bamboo products and managed more than 200 employees, mostly skilled bamboo craftsmen.

Lewis owns 10 percent of Bamboo Hardwoods Vietnam, which makes pre-fabricated housing for the Hawaii market.

His Seattle company continues to manufacture its bamboo floors in Asia, but now uses computer-controlled routers to make custom-built furniture at a distribution center in the Sodo district.

The bulk of his business continues to be bamboo flooring, although the company sells everything from garden furniture and cabinetry to tatami mats.

Bamboo flooring is too nascent to be tracked in the marketplace, although Hardwood Review’s northern editor, Dan Meyer, says he’s heard bamboo flooring now makes up anywhere from 4 to 6 percent of the domestic market.

Meyer says the range is high. “But it’s making inroads in the U.S. market,” he says. “They do tons of marketing. It makes it look like a bigger part of the sector than it really is.”

Bamboo Hardwoods is making inroads, however small. The company opened three stores here last year, with longer-term plans to open up sites in other metropolitan markets.

“This is less of a chicken-and-egg issue,” Lewis says. “Bamboo is already understood as a material so it makes it easier to do things.”

— Monica Soto Ouchi

Tidbits

Espresso Vivace announced this week it will relocate its Denny Way store on Capitol Hill to Brix, a mixed-use condominium project at Broadway East and East Mercer Street expected to be completed next year. Vivace’s current location is to be bought by Sound Transit to make way for a light-rail station. The coffee chain also has a sidewalk bar on Broadway and a location near REI downtown. MA

The store formerly known as G.I. Joe’s is opening stores in Bellevue and Kirkland in April, in the two locations once occupied by Larry’s Markets. The six-store upscale grocery chain was carved up last fall in bankruptcy court. The Oregon chain announced this week that it is dropping the G.I. — MSO

A sake shop and tasting bar called Sake Nomi is tentatively scheduled to open in late April in Pioneer Square. It will carry more than 150 brands of sake, including some never before available in Washington. The vision of owners Johnnie and Taiko Stroud is to create a casual “sake museum” that will include sake education seminars, food-pairing events and tastings with visiting Japanese brewers. — MA

Upscale retailer Nordstrom plans to open its second full-line store in Nevada — this one at the Summerlin Centre in Las Vegas. The store opens in fall 2009. — MSO

Some farm animals caught a break this month when Wolfgang Puck and Burger King announced more humane buying practices.

Well-known Chef Wolfgang Puck said last week that his restaurants, catering and other companies will stop buying foie gras altogether and will buy only cage-free hens, crate-free pork and veal, certified sustainable seafood and chicken and turkey meat from farms that comply progressive animal-welfare standards.

Burger King told The New York Times this week its goal for the next few months is to have 2 percent of its eggs come from cage-free hens and 10 percent of its pork come from farms that allow sows to move around in pens. The fast-food chain said the percentages would rise as more farmers shift to those methods and more competitively priced supplies become available. — MA

Retail Report appears Fridays. Melissa Allison covers the food and beverage industry. She can be reached at 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com. Monica Soto Ouchi covers goods, services and online retail. She can be reached at 206-515-5632 or msoto@seattletimes.com.