One in 10 million

Bellevue woman turns immigration into business success

  • Monday, June 2, 2008 3:45pm
  • News

Svetlana Metodieva stands in her store

Bellevue woman turns immigration into business success

Ten years ago, Svetlana Metodieva won the lottery. Her prize? A green card.

Metodieva is among one of 50,000 yearly winners of the American Green Card Lottery, to which over 10 million applications were submitted last year, according to the USA Green Card Lottery Services. The program, created in 1990 as a way to diversify the American population, gives citizens of countries with low immigration rates (such as smaller European, African and Asian nations) the opportunity to permanently live, work and study in the U.S.

Metodieva, a single mother, realized she had beaten the odds. Working as the general manager of a countrywide movie distribution company in Bulgaria after getting her bachelor degrees in Slavic languages and business management, she quickly left behind her steady job and all her relatives, except for her son, Andre, to pursue the American Dream.

They came to the U.S. with very little money, settling in Bellevue, where they have lived ever since. Her first job was a Togo’s Sandwiches.

She smiles as she reminisces about her early days in America. Living and working here was “so fun and exciting,” Metodieva said, but admits that her financial situation was “very challenging.”

After a year at Togo’s, Metodieva decided to go back to school. She attended Lake Washington Technical College in Kirkland for three years, first getting a certificate in Web design and then an associate degree in computer science. While a full-time student at Lake Washington Tech, she held three full-time jobs.

She worked for the school as a librarian and supporting receptionist in the student service center. She also held positions at the Regal Crossroads 8 Cinema and the Bellevue Galleria 11. It was necessary that she work around the clock in order to financially support her son.

If juggling school and three jobs weren’t hard enough, not to mention taking care of an adolescent boy, Metodieva had to maintain a 3.5 GPA to keep her academic scholarship. The years, she says, were “very difficult” but she succeeded.

Graduating in 2001, Metodieva began working as a sales associate at Exclusively Art, an art boutique in Crossroads Bellevue. She later went to work for Microsoft through a temp agency. She had only been there five or six months when the owner of Exclusively Art offered her an opportunity to buy the business in February 2002.

She jumped at the chance, saying that she had “felt a good atmosphere” in the store during her time as a saleswoman. Although Metodieva still speaks with a thick accent and laughs when she fails to find the English word for what she wishes to express, her confidence is evident.

“I have a feeling about Bellevue customers and what they want,” she states.

But finding the money to purchase the store proved to be difficult.

“Banks didn’t give out loans for retail businesses after 9/11,” she recalls.

She searched for four months. She went to so many banks that she cannot even begin to recall them all, but could just not find a lender.

Then, she caught a break.

“The owner trusted me, so he financed me,” she recalls.

Within two years, she had paid him back.

Her son proved successful as well. During his time at Newport High School, he won first in state and fourth in the nation for his work in graphic design, thanks to the help of Tom Danielsen, a teacher at Sammamish High who is well-versed in that field.

After much searching, Andre decided to attend California College of Arts in San Francisco, a school with an accredited graphic design program. After submitting his portfolio and placement test, college officials placed him as a second-semester sophomore.

He financed his own way through school by interning with Nike and Adobe and now owns his own graphic design company in New York City. His work is featured on MTV.

As for her store, Metodieva says, “business is going well.” Although the economy is not projected to go up anytime soon, she isn’t complaining. “Everywhere is a little slow right now,” she admits, but she has faith in her store.

The store is brimming with lavish original paintings, prints and photos, with boxes of sale items spilling out onto the storefront.

John Ebner’s impressionistic watercolor pieces are displayed. Metodieva calls him “the most popular artist in the Northwest,” or as his biography states, “the area’s most collected artist,” who’s been painting local scenes for the past 35 years.

Ebner’s work once sold at Martin Lawrence Galleries in Bellevue Square. Now, Exclusively Art is one of the few stores in the area to carry his work.

The already-crowded shelves of Exclusively Art also are sprinkled with funky home décor and collectibles. Handmade jewelry is at the cash register, ready to catch someone’s eye. On one wall, rows upon rows of frame samples are crowded together. After all, her store motto is “Where Framing is an Art.”

Metodieva says that her large collection of art, good prices, and custom framing service makes for loyal customers. Her profits allow her to visit her homeland of Bulgaria frequently.

After first moving here, she didn’t go back for five years, but now that she is financially able, she visits more often, as does Andre.

While she enjoys both Bulgaria and America, she grins as she says; “I like America more.”

Leah Gohring is a junior at the University of Washington, majoring in journalism and minoring in history. She is an intern for the Reporter and enjoys writing local feature stories. She has lived in the Crossroads neighborhood for 16 years and has worked downtown for four. In her free time, she enjoys sipping lattes with friends, running the Lake Hills Greenbelt, good movies and Italian food.

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