Business

Retailers thrive in 2000 sales boom

"Steve Holibonich and Shawn Barrett place an armoire on the showroom floor at Murphy's Furniture, restocking the store after a post-holiday sale.Matt Johnson / staff photoWhen clocks and watches flipped over to 01 on Jan. 1, some South Whidbey retailers were sad to see 2000 go.Local business owners were not left out of a nationwide economic boom during the past year. Although an abbreviated ferry schedule addled by construction on the Mukilteo dock seemed to promise poor holiday business, 2000 finished even better than it started, with many local retailers reporting strong sales.Both islanders and tourists did big buying business on the Southend this year, driving sales receipts -- and sales tax receipts -- to the highest levels ever. In Langley, City Hall made $252,600 in sales tax revenue off more than $30 million in sales. The total was the highest ever for the city, even though construction starts were down within the city limits in 2000. At Wednesday night's city council meeting, city clerk/treasurer Debbie Mahler said retail sales must have hit an all-time high to send so much sales tax money to the city.Sales tax (receipts) was considerably higher this year, Mahler said.Businesses appealing specifically to South Whidbey residents had some of the best sales marks this year. In Freeland, Webb's Department Store kept many shoppers on the island when they decided it was time to augment their wardrobes. The business moved in July from its location behind the former Island Bakery in Freeland to a nearby space in the Main Street Mall. Store owner Pat Webb said the move gave Webb's the greatest visibility it has had since she opened the doors in 1996.We just had more people coming in, she said.That held true through the Christmas shopping season, in spite of widespread fears that consumers might keep a tighter grip on their wallets than in previous years. Webb said the store was a popular place to do holiday shopping, especially since the modified Clinton ferry schedule made shopping on the mainland less convenient.For us, this was a really good Christmas, she said.Up the street, Radio Shack did a booming December business in the year's most popular electronic devices. Store manager Danny Horton said he was worried in early December that local consumers might not buy new DVD players, digital satellite dishes, and stereo systems. It was a concern to us, he said.But shoppers surprised him, not only during the Christmas season, but all year long. Horton said his store exceeded all of its monthly and annual sales goals in 2000.It has been better than in past years, he said.In Langley, at least one business was not only holiday- and ferry-proof, but Internet resistant as well. Josh Hauser said her Moonraker Books did great business, in spite of competition from mainland book giants Barnes and Noble and Borders, and from Internet bookseller Amazon.com. Whether they were looking for the new Henry Sibley bird book or Harry Potter, Hauser said islanders were more inclined to buy locally than in other years.I have been more than gratified by the people who were shopping with me, Hauser said.She said her store kept much of the local book-buying business on the island by offering discounts to regular book purchasers, and by giving customers a high level of service. The strategy worked all year long, she said.The ferry effect even seemed to benefit businesses that rely heavily on off-island shoppers. Janie Pulsifer, bookkeeper for the Langley Artists Co-op, said art sales at the business jumped 37 percent in November from figures the previous year, even though the ferries started an abbreviated weekend schedule that month. Sales stayed up in December, peaking at 30 percent higher than in December 1999. For all of 2000, the gallery's sales were 16 percent higher than 1999.Retailers are considering the coming sales year with some skepticism. Pat Webb said she wonders if sales can continue to grow.Are people going to keep coming in? she asked.She did not have an answer, yet. "

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