South Whidbey merchants enjoy profitable year

"South Whidbey business owners reaped the benefits of the nation’s rising economy and overall consumer confidence in 1999 with increased sales from tourist and local spending.The overall response from local merchants was positive when looking back on 1999.“Business was great -- best year ever,” Sebo’s Do-It Center manager Frank Parra said. Despite a national all-time high in e-commerce this year, Parra and fellow merchants saw little to no damage done to local business sales during the holiday shopping season and throughout the year.Although Christmas sales didn’t overheat the cash registers, they held steady compared to prior years, allowing overall yearly sales to increase significantly.“One of the reasons Christmas sales were flat was online shopping,” Parra said. “A lot of people have home computers and they get exactly what they want and don’t end up buying just anything so they have something.” Parra also added that, unlike other years, there wasn’t the usual rush the week before Christmas.Jim Harwell, owner of Jim’s Hardware in Clinton, saw little change in 1999 business sales despite recent reports of online holiday sales quadrupling that of last year.“I don’t think e-commerce affected sales,” Harwell said. “I don’t think it affects hardware sales.” Harwell added that the online market is geared more toward the sale of books, music, toys and other items -- not hardware.Even so, local toy vendors such as Lind’s in Freeland and Langley had no dent in recent sales due to e-commerce. Ron Lind, owner of Saratoga Enterprises, which handles Langley Hallmark, Lind’s Jewelry as well as Lind’s in Freeland and Langley, saw no major impact from e-commerce.“We had a 10 to12 percent increase in sales,” Lind said. “E-commerce didn’t affect anything and things will continue to be up.”A major player in the increase of business profit is the noticeable population growth on the Island and the continued traffic to tourist hot spots on South Whidbey.“Even though sales were up for December, it wasn’t because of the holiday,” Parra said. “We’re getting a bigger population. I think business will be up for the next year, maybe even the next two to three years.” Fellow hardware store owner Harwell agrees.“I don’t see anything that will slow down future sales,” Harwell said. “I don’t see changes. The economy is up, people are coming to the Island -- and I will be expanding at the beginning of the year.”South Whidbey service stations and convenience stores also enjoyed the heavy flow of visitors to the Island this year despite the extremely rainy start of 1999 which hindered visitor travel.“Business was slightly better than last year,” Clinton Chevron manager Kim Yang said. “I think about a five percent increase.” Yang reported the unusually rainy first few months of the year created a slight decrease in tourist traffic, but nothing significant.“It’s seasonal,” Coupe’s Greenbank Store owner Mary Coupe said. “But I don’t think the weather affected anything.” The Greenbank owner also reported a five percent increase in sales -- a welcome improvement compared to that of recent years. “In 1993, the road was closed for the year,” due to construction, Coupe said. “Then in 1997, a three-mile stretch was closed down. It killed us.” Thanks to minimal construction on Highway 525 this year, Coupe enjoyed increased sales throughout 1999, especially during the summer months.As more and more people begin to call South Whidbey “home” and tourists continue to flock to the Island, merchants are looking forward to the new year as the local economy continues to bring sales increases to South Whidbey businesses. Most Island business owners are confident profit growth will continue well into the new millennium.Island merchants should have little to worry about -- the 1999 Washington State Yearbook reports nearly 12,000 people have made the move to Island County in the past eight years, with more to follow in the coming years. Good news for profits, bad news for locals trying to find a parking spot."

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