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Originally published Friday, September 16, 2011 at 10:00 PM

Neighborhood of the week

Neighborhood of the week: Maltby, still retro after all these years

Located on a ribbon of road between Highway 9 and Highway 522, Maltby is nevertheless far enough away from everything that visitors can stand in the middle of a field belonging to one of the town's two flower-growing businesses and believe they are in the middle of nowhere.

Special to The Seattle Times

Maltby

Population: 10,830

Distance to downtown Seattle: About 30 miles.

Schools: Maltby is served by the Monroe School District.

Recreation: Maltby Community Park, 20322 Broadway Ave.

Historical fact: Organized in 1903, the First Congregational Church of Maltby was the first place given the honorary designation of "community landmark" by the Snohomish County Historic Preservation Commission. The church would have been placed on the county's Local Register of Historic Places, but a metal roof and vinyl siding had been added in the 1990s.

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With its freshly painted green and white buildings dotted with old-fashioned gas signs, downtown Maltby possesses the charm of a country neighborhood frozen in time.

The surroundings that give Maltby its old-time look and feel are actually from different periods spanning the past 100 years. The buildings are circa 1907-1937. The circular gas signs dotting their exterior date from the 1930s and '40s.

The eclectic Maltby Antiques and Collectibles, established nine years ago, is far younger than its merchandise, which includes 1920s-era hats from the old Frederick & Nelson department store, salmon plugs from the '30s, Archie comics from the '70s and $1 beer cans that span the decades (the beer itself is long gone).

Other than the cars that pack the lot of the old schoolhouse gym — now home of the Maltby Cafe — the only thing that gives the area away as modern day is the coffee-cup-shaped espresso stand at a corner of the lot. Its name: "Back to the '50s Espresso."

Located on a ribbon of road between Highway 9 and Highway 522, Maltby is nevertheless far enough away from everything that visitors can stand in the middle of a field belonging to one of the town's two flower-growing businesses and believe they are in the middle of nowhere.

Devoid of the bustle of Bothell and without Woodinville's wine-sipping weekenders, Maltby is an antidote to the busy modern city, a down-to-earth place where original barns are part of the roadside scenery.

Out in the country

Longtime residents recall that before suburbia crept out to the area during the 1990s, Maltby really was bona fide country — no stoplights, streetlights or bus service, and grass growing in the cracks of the paved but little-traveled main road.

"My father and mother lived in Bothell, and they could not believe we lived in Maltby," recalled Fran Walster, who purchased a house in Maltby with her husband for $17,500 more than 40 years ago.

"Nobody lives in Maltby," Walster's father once told her. "Why would you want to do that?"

During the 1970s and 1980s, the area started to be developed by Ron Nardone, known among locals as "The Mayor of Maltby." Nardone, who grew up in Bothell, followed his Italian immigrant grandfather's advice about land development ("Dirt, boy, buy dirt,") and bought the old town schoolhouse in 1974.

His business ventures — including allowing the old schoolhouse's gym/cafeteria building basement to be transformed by three young women who wanted to try their hand at restauranting (Nardone on the Maltby Cafe: "Everybody said, 'It won't work! Nobody wants to go downstairs to a restaurant in a hole!' ") — has helped transform Maltby into a more populated and well-known community.

The Maltby Cafe in particular has been a huge success, and has been owned by the proprietors since 1988. If you don't know the neighborhood, there's a good chance you've at least heard of its cafe's inch-thick "Maltby toast" or famous plate-sized cinnamon rolls.

Despite some light industrial ventures that have sprung up to the south and the addition of the Echo Falls Golf Club directly east, residents say it still feels removed from the cities nearby.

"It is kind of central, but it doesn't feel like it," said Bob Gillum, a Bothell High School graduate who owns and operates the antiques shop, located on the opposite side of the parking lot from the Maltby Cafe.

Wide price range

Maltby's proximity to larger cities such as Bothell is part of what makes it the area desirable, but prices indicate there is something for most everyone.

The prices of 137 homes sold in the first half of the year in the Maltby area ranged from $139,000 to $2.5 million, with a median price of about $360,000, according to statistics provided by Windermere Real Estate.

For the broader Bothell area, the median value of all homes, not just homes that have recently sold, for July was $306,900, according to the Zillow Home Value Index. That's up 0.3 percent year-over-year, and up 0.7 percent quarter-over-quarter.

The median value of all condos in the Bothell area for July was $179,500, up 0.1 percent year-over-year, and unchanged quarter-over-quarter, according to Seattle-based Zillow.

Maltby is also the only neighborhood in unincorporated Snohomish County to boast a food bank, which Walster and four other women started 19 years ago.

The food bank has expanded from serving 15 families during its first month to 130-150 families per week.

"We depend heavily on this community, and they are very generous," Walster said. "They give us lots of food, they help us collect new toys, coats and things at Christmas, school supplies. I consider them our No. 1 partner. We couldn't make it without them."

No city plans

Despite the population growth of recent years, Maltby has remained a part of unincorporated Snohomish County and seems committed to staying that way.

"Nobody really wants to be a city," Walster said.

Being unincorporated means there are still no streetlights and the nearest bus stop is about three miles away on Highway 9, but sales taxes are lower and road noise almost nonexistent.

The Maltby lifestyle appeals to Gillum, whose passion for antique hunting, fishing and nautical gear snowballed into the 1,500-square-foot store.

He can go fishing after work on weekdays if he wants, Gillum said.

There's a cafe where he can eat in the morning and a pizza joint if he wants an easy dinner at night, and it's all nearly on his doorstep.

"It's peaceful, that's what it is here," Walster said.

Just like the old days.

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