2007: a good year for Eastsound businesses

By MARGIE DOYLE

Editor

Ray’s Pharmacy

Marlace and Rick Hughes of Ray’s Pharmacy say that they had a great year, with sales in December up three to four percent from last year, as well as a better November. “We had our best month in December, but not the growth that we had last December.” The Hughes’ try to have enough inventory so people don’t have to go off-island. Luckily, all their Christmas orders came in on time.

Their best sellers are seasonal items and toys – “feel-good stuff” in Marlace’s words.

New to the store this year is a photo-kiosk. The couple will attend the gift shows in February to expand their inventory, and plan on more toys.

Eastsound Instrument and Supply

Eastsound Instrument and Supply had a gangbusters summer and Christmas; if only the fall had been as good. Still, owner Jack Becker says his first year in business was, “Better than I expected, though not as well as I’d hoped.” His shop in the new A Street Plaza made “way above what I considered the minimum level to keep the business going,” said Becker. He attributes the shop’s summer success with summer residents buying instruments to keep on-island, rather than hauling them to and from Orcas Island.

Becker was one of several island merchants who reported that the fall of the subprime mortgage market led to a decline in their business. Still, while Becker says his fall business was “disappointingly slow, Christmas was great.” He sold many accessory gifts for musicians, and was “back at the summer level of business and finished the year better than expected.

Future plans include expanding the music book selection with new book suppliers.

Tres Fabu

Nikki Ames of Tres Fabu, says the holiday season was “definitely strong for us – we were up a bit from last year.” Cashmere sweaters and corduroy jeans were “pretty hot,” Ames says. “If I only sold cashmere and cords, I’d do just fine.”

Ames feels that more people shopped locally this year. “They were willing to explore town a little more; and it’s so crazy off-island, like me, they wanted to avoid that.”

On the whole, last year was the store’s second best year ever; 2006 was a banner year, says Ames, and this year “came very close.”

Tres Fabu will celebrate its 10th year at the cottage on North Beach Road next October, and Ames plans to “go greener and leaner” in the near future. She plans to offer more items in natural fibers, and is asking for them from her vendors. She already carries clothing in cotton and bamboo blends and notes that they have a softer, more luxurious feeling.

She’ll look for more products from U.S. and European sources. She also plans to carry less inventory, yet “focus on a nicer product.”

Shinola

Vance Stephens, owner of Shinola jewelry store, saw a bit of a downturn in his store business over the holiday season, and throughout last year in general. His Christmas business was mostly his regular customers – “not so much tourist traffic for sure,” he says, “even as far back as Thanksgiving.”

Stephens has owned Shinola for the past 30 years, yet doesn’t feel he can point to a cyclical trend in business. “It’s hard to draw conclusions, I don’t think I’m indicative of any kind of trend – my business is so idiosyncratic.”

Stephens specializes in gold and gemstones, and doesn’t try to compete in the silver jewelry market. “I like to sell things that I make, so my time is getting more valuable.

“I depend on word of mouth and returning customers and people who walk by my store and see something that interest them.”

Faraways Boutique

Liz Schermerhorn, owner of Faraways, reports on the holiday retail season: “I was really happy – we had a great Christmas season.”

“Cashmere socks were a hit and the sale racks outside the shop always do well,” said Schermerhorn.

“It was wonderful to see everybody who comes home for Christmas. We love our customers,” Schermerhorn says. She started the shop with her mother, Carol McKinstry, who has now moved on to pursue her painting interests.

Pawki’s Pet Store

Deb Hansen, co-owner of Pawki’s, says that the store “had an amazingly busy Christmas season.” In general, the animal pet store, which she and husband Jeff Hansen bought in 2007, “is doing very well; the community is glad we continued it and realizes the importance of it.”

She attributes the store’s continued success to advertising, store events and the “Buy Local” awareness campaign: “It put buying local into people’s consciousness,” said Hansen. She says that although some of Pawki’s items are more expensive than those that customers will find on the mainland, the cost of gas and the ferry makes shopping local more attractive, and “We can be fairly competitive.”

The holiday season’s big sellers at Pawki’s were edible treats – they were easily the biggest item, along with plush animals and hard toys, said Hansen. Buyers purchased both for their own pets and as hostess gifts.

To ease her canine clients over holiday travel or the New Year’s celebrations, Hansen recommends “Rescue Remedy” a calming anti-anxiety herbal concoction.

Hansen plans to introduce promotions in January and February for “the die-hard folks,” as she calls winter residents of the islands.

Smith and Speed Mercantile

Kathleen Smith and Errol Speed had a “pretty good” holiday season, says Speed, adding that their retail business doesn’t depend totally on tourism. “A nice balance” of locals and off-islanders, repeat visitors and website customers keep their business trade consistent, Speed says.

Their big seller this holiday season was the “hori hori” Japanese multipurpose garden tool. Clothes – socks, hats and gloves – and other hand tools were also big seasonal sellers.

Owners Smith and Speed plan to carry blacksmithing tools in the coming year, and to expand their clothing and “alternative” building supply items.

Poppies Fine Yarns

Cheryl Jackson’s first full year at Poppies Fine Yarns saw continuous growth, resulting into expansion into the corner space of her shop on A Street and North Beach Road. “Business picked up significantly,” upon the store’s expansion n November, said Jackson, attributing part of the surge to the Chamber’s “Buy Local” public awareness campaign.

Further adding to her success is the fact that “knitting is huge,” says Jackson. Kids in school are picking up the habit, and several knitting circles have started, and meet in Poppies.

Jackson took over Poppies from her mother and revised it from a fabric and sewing shop to a knitting shop. “I outgrew myself almost from the moment when I got in here,” says Jackson.

Looking forward to classes and a new generation of knitters, Jackson says, “I’m not going to be rich, but I’ll be happy.”

Darvill’s Book Store

Jenny Pederson, owner of Darvill’s Book Store, says that business over the holiday season was good. “It turned out sales were up so overall, we were pleased.”

The children’s book section did very well, which Pederson feels is due to the reaction to all the problems with toy recalls late last year.

Nonfiction titles that sold particularly well were David Halberstam’s “The Coldest Winter,” about the Korean War, “Boom: the Voices of the 60s” by Tom Brokaw, and “Three Cups of Tea” by Greg Mortenson.

Other holiday best-sellers were calendars, CDs, stationery and gift cards. Pederson feels that shoppers were “feeling a slight pinch, so people are looking at gifts with more meaning; and they’re trying to simplify, and books seem to fill that niche.”

Pederson says that sales were up over the year, due in part to the latest Harry Potter book, which sold a whopping 450 copies. She adds, “We worked really hard; I think after all these years it will slow down, but it’s always hard work.”