Slowdown affects downtown stores

Joanne Craige makes change for Elizabeth Franklin, left, for a special order book, while customer Charlotte Bergschneider, center, waits in line. - Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times
Joanne Craige makes change for Elizabeth Franklin, left, for a special order book, while customer Charlotte Bergschneider, center, waits in line.
— image credit: Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times

Times are tough for downtown Oak Harbor’s historic business district.

In a stark sign of today’s tough times, at least a half dozen storefronts will likely be empty by the time Holland Happening parade-goers march down Pioneer Way this spring.

The Feather Duster, a consignment studio that offered unique fine furnishings and home accessories, closed its doors March 28— the first of several business to leave town.

Giovanni and Mary Jo Strain bought the shop in August 2007. At first business was good, but at the end, customers weren’t buying like they used to.

“We’re doing hardly any sales at all,” Giovanni said just before the closure. “People are just frozen.”

Giovanni doesn’t know what he’ll do for work after The Feather Duster, but said he’ll be looking for a job.

Several blocks east on Pioneer Way, other businesses’ sales are struggling.

Diane Sullivan, owner of Wind and Tide Bookshop, agrees that it’s a slow time.

In addition to the rough economy, the longtime shop owner said the December snowstorm and street closure for the Pioneer Way waterline replacement last year contributed to slumping sales.

Former Shady Lady, Mickey Williams, still keeps shop in Harborside Village. Shady Ladies was a popular longtime antique store run by several women, who now operate their own separate businesses. The retail scene has changed a lot in Williams’ 22 years of downtown business experience, she said, attributing her continued success to regular clients and a sensible business model.

“We’ve got to cut back in some areas to make room for other expenses,” she said of her strategy.

Stamping Pad, another shop in Harborside Village, will soon close its doors, not because of the economy, but because owner Salla Wagner and her family are moving to Hawaii.

Wagner hoped to sell the business, but so far no one has offered to buy, despite “pretty consistent” sales.

Across the street, Rosalind Daily prepares to shutter her shop. Also a former Shady Lady, Daily branched out 12 years ago to open Fancy Pants. Her husband’s health, not the economy, is behind the closing, she said, adding that business was still humming along because of a solid base of faithful customers. The couple plan to move to Tucson, Ariz. in October.

Storefront 810 remains empty two months after Bob’s Cabinet Creations moved out. Owner Bob Crouch decided to move to Mount Vernon and work for someone else, Kristi Jensen, owner of Harborside Village, said.

Island Cafe left in January for a spot on Highway 20 across from Kmart.

Two vacant and four soon-to-be empty storefronts dot Pioneer Way, but Jensen said there’s competition among entrepreneurs looking to rent.

Downtown store owners aren’t imagining the drop in consumer spending. A comparison of Oak Harbor’s first quarter tax revenue for 2007 to 2009, shows a dip in shopper’s ability — or willingness — to spend. This year’s first quarter tax revenues brought in $55,405 less than 2007 and $57,182 less than in 2008.

“Sales tax receipts are tracking at slightly less than 7 percent below our 2007 receipts,” Doug Merriman, city finance director, said.

Oak Harbor consumers are also spending less on gas, as is seen in this year’s first quarter gas tax revenues, which is $14,569 less than two years ago and $9,836 below last year’s mark.

Despite the downturn, a handful of store owners credit the economic slowdown to their recent success.

Bruce King, owner of King’s Card Shop, likens himself to the Pioneer Way “Godfather.”

“It’ll be 20 years in April and I’m having the best year I’ve ever had,” King said.

The only explanation King had for his rising sales is that cash-strapped folks are spending more on hobbies and less on big-ticket items like big screen TVs, cars and overseas vacations.

Popsies, in its third year of business, is continuing its upward trend, reports owner Kay Coolidge.

“We’re hanging in there,” she said. “Each year we’ve done better than the year before.”

Coolidge suspects that the continued success stems from palatable prices.

“This is not a high-end commodity,” she said of the sweet shop’s plentiful popcorn, ice cream and tasty treats in stock.

Laura Apgar, who owns Paint Your World with her husband, Ron, said this year’s sales are on target with last year’s numbers. The studio allows customers to paint their own pottery or create fused glass artwork.

“It’s still an affordable escape,” Apgar said.

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