Island businesses: how they fared in 2008

The results of a recent, albeit unscientific, survey of Orcas businesses conducted by the Sounder yielded better news than might have been expected. When asked how they fared over the holidays and the year in general, some said their numbers were drastically down, while others said business was essentially the same as the previous year. No one said sales were better, although a number of local business owners noticed significantly more island shoppers over the holidays.

Lance Evans, executive director of the Orcas Chamber of Commerce, conducted his own informal survey by email. For those who responded, Evans says it seemed like 2008 was the same or even slightly up over previous years.

Evans speculates this is because a strong sense of the economy’s troubles didn’t set in until towards the end of this year.

It also appeared that visitors to the island weren’t as likely to engage in special activities, like whale watching.

“Based on what I saw from the responses, people held back a bit on extracurricular activities,” said Evans.

Michael Rivkin and Jeffri Coleman, owners of Crow Valley Pottery, had a good year in both their Eastsound and out of town locations.

“Our annual customers were here and basically as supportive as ever. Sales of lower-priced pieces were up, higher-priced pieces were consistent, and middle-priced pieces were down. Our sales were down slightly from 2007. People were looking for more value and more bang for their buck,” said Rivkin.

“With the economy and the weather, it was certainly not the Christmas to remember. But having said that, there was a noticeable and visible increase of islanders shopping. It was more apparent than any other year. It was really, really great to see them,” Rivkin commented.

“We did well, I’m quite pleased,” said Darvill’s Book Store owner Jenny Pederson.

“The weather was the worst part of it. It made it hard for people to get to town and hard for UPS and FedEx to make deliveries, but luckily people were very patient. I noticed that people really made a commitment to shopping locally. It made a difference,” said Pederson.

She said that some of those Orcas shoppers were frequenting her store for the first time. Pederson credits Evans for his efforts to promote shopping on the island.

“We did fine this year,” said Ryan Carpenter, who owns the Deer Harbor Inn and Restaurant with his brother Matt.

“Our holiday season was good and about the same as last year,” Carpenter said.

Although he noted that a few people couldn’t make the annual community Christmas dinner because of road conditions.

Carpenter says about one-third of their business came from locals, which is the same amount as last year.

Heinz Brand, owner of Enzo’s, says, “We’ve been doing quite well. We had about the same business as last year.” Heinz says he noticed more local patrons this year.

“It wasn’t stunning or great, but it was okay for my first year. I was actually doing really well until the stock market tanked,” said Gordeaux’s owner Gordon Koenig.

He says his first two weeks of the December were great, and then it was “squashed when the snow came.”

“Throughout the year my business has been 97 percent local. Which makes me feel really good,” said Koenig.

“I’ve had better years and I’ve had worse years. People were buying what they really wanted, and they weren’t buying frivolously. I sold a lot of glassware and persian rugs this year,” said Kay Miller of Kay’s Antiques.

“My holiday season was down from last year. Because of the snow, I fell and broke my arm so I wasn’t even open for some days. And there were fewer shoppers,” she said.

Kizmit owner Rachael Henderson said, “Business was okay. Some months were down, some were up. December was the worst because of the snow. It’s like Christmas didn’t happen.”

“We saw the economy change in mid-October with the stock market crash and the close of Rosario,” said Doug Marshall, who owns the Office Cupboard with his wife Michele.

“It’s too soon to tell how permanent that will be,” he added. Doug says he thinks there were more local shoppers during the holiday season. “We really appreciate it.”

Due to the snow, Doug’s broken leg, and Michele being sick, the store was closed for a bit in December. Because of that, it’s difficult to determine how well they did for that month.

“I’d say there was a radical drop off in business around October when the economy started hitting the news,” said Orcas Homegrown Market owner Kyle Ater.

“Tourism seemed to stop earlier in the season and it got bleak. And then the weather turned. I’m probably doing a third of the business I should be doing. I’ve reduced staff as much as I can, but I’m probably losing money at this point.”

Ater did notice more island shoppers in December, but he attributes it to the snow and an inability to get off the island. “I have been open every single day regardless of weather, so please shop on island!”

Ron Rebman, who owns the Orcas Village Store with his wife Mary Russell, says they are maintaining their numbers, although the Wednesday before Thanksgiving was a little down. They also did not have to lay anyone off.

Rebman says they receive pretty good support from the island, and he stressed the importance of shopping locally.

“We try to maintain competitive pricing – even with the mainland,” he said.

He and Mary tried to help other island businesses this year by purchasing gift certificates for their employees from restaurants, coffee shops, and stores on Orcas.

“We really thought about taking care of other businesses this year. And our employees really liked the idea too; it’s like cash.”

Marlys Hughes, co-owner of Ray’s Pharmacy with her husband Rick, said “We’re actually doing alright. December was kind of flat, but all in all we’re not doom and gloom like everyone else, I suppose.”

She attributes a slow December to the poor weather and people being more conservative with their money.

She did notice more locals this year. “There has definitely been more local shopping.”

John Trumbull, who owns Rose’s Bakery and Cafe with his wife Joni, said, “I think it’s been a reasonably good year. Things slowed down some in the late fall because of the economic news, but we traditionally slow down then anyway. But we’ve been happy to have this little clearing up of the snow. So we’re going out with a bang this year!” Rose’s will be closed for the month of January, as it has for the past 17 years.

Trumbull says their business has had a primarily local following for many years, and that hasn’t changed this year.

Vance Stephens, owner of Shinola Jewelry, says, “It was pretty much the same as the year before. It was not noticeably down. There was probably less foot traffic, but my receipts were about the same. The holiday season was a little down, but not terribly. The islanders supported me very well. Of course, we had a captive audience with the snow! But I was busy, so I have no complaints.”

“Overall, we did fairly well,” said Tres Fabu! owner Nikki Ames. “We had a great summer, and then normally we wind down any way, but it was a rough fourth quarter. The summer helped us a lot. And I cut down on my inventory and my expenses, so we came out smelling like a rose!”

Ames says 75 percent of her business happens in the summer. Her December numbers were down, but her recent 60 and 75 percent off sales “have been great.” Tres Fabu! will be closed in January and February.

“We did very well over the summer but the winter has been slower,” said Vern’s Bayside owner Belinda Landon. Her holiday season was down, and she’s seen less local diners. Landon thinks it may be due to retired residents who lost money in the stock market.

“That’s the appearance of some of the folks I’ve talked to. They aren’t going out as much.”

Adam Farish, who co-owns the Outlook Inn and Restaurant with his wife Sarah, says they have had a “tremendous year” in both areas of their business. He says their holiday season was steady and is unchanged from last year. Farish estimates that 30 percent of their customers in the restaurant are locals.