Editorial: Boat builder still needed

If Nichols Brothers Boat Builders of Freeland is indeed finished, it is a great economic and cultural loss for Whidbey Island.

The company’s 250 employees came from all parts of the island and for more than 40 years produced some of the finest high-speed catamarans, fishing and work boats on the water. You can find Nichols boats all over the world, ferrying passengers between various points in California, carrying tourists up the Columbia and Yukon rivers and around the South Seas, cozying up to Alaskan glaciers, catching fish off the coast of Alaska, hauling cargo up and down the West Coast, and even fighting fires in Seattle.

Exactly how the company hit the financial rocks isn’t clear at this point, but last Friday all the employees were called together to be told the boatyard was being closed, apparently for good. This is a blow to Whidbey Island businesses as the Nichols payroll has kept many small stores and restaurants afloat through the years. The pain will be particularly evident next payday when 250 living-wage checks will not be there. The “trickle down” impact will be enormous.

Many Nichols employees will be leaving for other places, impacting the schools and housing markets, and leaving the island an emptier place. For years Whidbey Island has been going through the gentrification process, with moneyed people moving in to enjoy the lifestyle from expensive view homes. Nichols Brothers workers were blue collar, lively, folksy, hard-working family people who gave South Whidbey, particularly, a more vibrant community.

The company has survived rough seas in the past thanks to community support. Perhaps it can still get back on its feet. Let’s hope so, because Whidbey Island will never be the same without Nichols Brothers Boat Builders.

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