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Originally published April 10, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified April 10, 2009 at 6:20 AM

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Retail Report

Bella Cupcake Couture brainchild of WaMu employee

In this economy, it can't hurt to have a Plan B, as Washington Mutual marketing manager Carrie Middlemiss is learning.

Seattle Times business reporters

In this economy, it can't hurt to have a Plan B, as Washington Mutual marketing manager Carrie Middlemiss is learning.

Last year, the 18-year bank employee struck upon the idea of starting a company that sells decorative cupcake wrappers to hide the crinkly, almost transparent paper they're baked in.

"Why should the frosting have all the limelight?" Middlemiss figured.

She spent hours learning about cupcakes — including which are her favorites — and talking to shop owners all over the country.

In the midst of Middlemiss' research last fall, WaMu was taken over by JPMorgan Chase, and she learned that her last day at the bank will be in June.

She kicked the cupcake concept into high gear, put together a strategy and asked for advice from local women-owned businesses like Crave, BabyLegs, Bramble Berry and LifeStyled.

Bella Cupcake Couture was born.

The largest chunk of her $5,000 investment so far went to a designer, who worked with Middlemiss to create designs that are called Lu Lu (damask), Hannah (floral) and Olivia (swirl); and each comes in six color combinations for a total of 18 different looks.

Why the names? "To me, it's kind of like these [cupcake events] are their own little fashion shows, and they're their own little models."

That mind for marketing helped Middlemiss sell her first wrappers on the mid-March day when she picked them up from the printer, to the boutique Curtsy Bella near University Village.

New York Cupcakes in Bellevue also bought some, and the wrappers are sold online at www.bellacupcakecouture.com.They cost $14 for a dozen or $52 for 50.

Middlemiss envisions the wrappers, which are printed with soy inks on recycled paper, at weddings, bridal and baby showers and as birthday gifts, housewarming gifts and "a little treat for yourself."

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She has a list of boutiques and cupcake shops that she plans to pitch to, most in Seattle but some in other parts of the country.

Middlemiss' research included visiting cupcake shops on a vacation to Austin, Texas, last year, where she found one of her three favorite flavors, a peanut-butter-and-jelly delight at a cupcake shop called Polkadots.

Her other favorites are salted caramel and red velvet.

Middlemiss credits her husband, Ben, who owns a landscaping business, with inspiring her to strike out on her own.

She looks forward to working from home, where she can spend more time with her Yorkie Maltese, Baxter.

"Every year we have a birthday party for him, and we always have pupcakes," she said.

Pupcakes?

"Three Dog Bakery sells them."

— Melissa Allison

Tidbits

Speaking of cupcakes, Vérité Coffee and Cupcake Royale is opening a fourth location this summer on Capitol Hill, said owner Jody Hall. It'll be in a new space at 1111 E. Pike St., on the first floor of a building designed by well-known architect Tom Kundig. The shop's interior is being designed by Roy McMakin, who created the big red ampersand called "Love & Loss" at Olympic Sculpture Park. — MA

Ross Dress for Less has signed a lease for 25,692 square feet of space previously occupied by Longs Drugs at Rainier Square Plaza in South Seattle. Opening is set for July. California-based Ross joins Safeway and Hollywood Video at the shopping center near Rainier Avenue South and South Charleston Street. — AM

Watson Furniture Group of Poulsbo said it has resumed operations at Magna Design in Lynnwood. Magna, an office-furniture maker, shut down operations in March after it was put up for sale. Watson subsequently purchased it and expects it to return to full capacity by May. — AM

Dante's shoe store in the Admiral District of West Seattle has closed. A sign on the front door directs store-credit holders to its Olympia location. — AM

Carmilia's, The Finerie and Clutch will be among the participants at an April 30 spring-fashion event called "Style '09: Look Good, Feel Good, Do Good" in Seattle. Proceeds go to the Northwest Hope & Healing Fund at Swedish Medical Center, to help breast-cancer patients. Other participants include Coastal Surf Boutique, Canopy Blue, Nuvo Moda, Oslo's, Asher Anson, lululemon athletica, and Kick It Boots and Stompwear. Tickets can be purchased online at nwhopeandhealing.org. — AM

Made in Washington, which has been selling local artisan food and gifts since 1984, is offering customers a 25 percent discount for purchases made on their birthdays as part of its yearlong 25th-birthday celebration. — AM

Retail Report appears Fridays. Melissa Allison covers the food and beverage industry. She can be reached at 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com. Amy Martinez covers goods, services and online retail. She can be reached at 206-464-2923 or amartinez@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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Retail Report is a look at the trends, issues and people who makeup the dynamic and versatile retail sector throughout the Puget Sound region. Every Friday with Melissa Allison and Amy Martinez. Send tips or comments to mallison@seattletimes.com or amartinez@seattletimes.com.

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