South Whidbey stores ready for small business boon

Gennie Martin is gearing up for a busy shopping season in her new Langley store

Gennie Martin knows she opened her store, It’s Raining Art & Supplies in Langley, at a challenging time — just after the summer and a couple of months before the winter holidays.

An artist, poet and optimist, Martin is buzzing to see people in her Anthes Avenue store in the coming weeks as the shopping season ramps up toward Christmas. Langley has a host of events planned to drum up interest and lure visitors to town, with the tree lighting today coinciding with American Express’ well-publicized event, Small Business Saturday.

The daylong event, set for the Saturday after Thanksgiving, is a publicity push by the card company to get consumers to support their friends’ and neighbors’ businesses. It is a different tack from Black Friday sales at franchises and major retailers.

Instead of shopping online or heading to the mall, Small Business Saturday is a call to stay local, stay small, and give the mom-and-pop shops a chance.

“I think it is really important,” said Michaleen McGarry, executive director of the Langley Chamber of Commerce. “In the end, it’s our local clientele that are going to make or break a business. I think it’s important that we support each other.”

Later she added: “Since I moved here, I try to go to as many places as I can. I rarely go off island at this point.”

Martin is hoping to catch the eyes of carolers and parade-goers in Langley. Her store is an all-services art shop. She has supplies — brushes, pencils, pens, knives, clay, charcoal, oil, acrylic, paper, canvas — and displayed works from first-time and lesser-known artists. On display now are several pieces from Barbara Melrose, who works in Clinton, in acrylic and charcoal.

The September opening of her store was a return to the Village by the Sea. She owned and operated a consignment store on First Street, next to the Dog House Tavern, in 1976. She still has a clipping from a Record article then about her store, which specifically reported on her “doll hospital” where she repaired old, tattered and damaged dolls.

Shop on South Whidbey, and the odds are good that you are spending at a small business. Ron Nelson, executive director of the Island County Economic Development Center, said in an email that in the 2012 U.S. Census, an economic census of businesses in Island County was conducted and found there were 1,365 businesses with less than 20 employees, a total employment of 4,774 among those companies, and a payroll of $136,000,000.

Island County leaders in government and in commerce have touted the economic benefit to spending money inside the county. It’s not as likely to move outside the county for investments in other areas if the company only has one location in Clinton, Langley, or Freeland.

“We need to support our own community,” McGarry said. “If we can, the concept of the shoulder season doesn’t have to exist.”

That spirit of supporting one another’s businesses is old hat for Martin. She remembered opening up her former store in the 1970s around the same time as the LaRue sisters, Denise and Michele, and having them pop into each other’s stores to buy one item so at least one sale was made that day.

Times have changed in Langley and on South Whidbey, she said. That’s what made now an opportune time for her to turn some time and attention away from her work as an artist and poet to open a shop to supply other creatives on the island.

It’s Raining Art & Supplies is a bit like some of Martin’s collages, a mixture of interests, media and styles. In addition to the art and supplies, she has fashion umbrellas that can be painted, “wearable art” from a leather worker in Seattle, children’s books and coloring canvases, hand-painted eggs, vintage papers from 16th century Japan, old book pages from published works of the 1800s, a pair of porcelain masks from the 1980s, and a host of other items big and small.

Martin is planning a gallery show during the Dec. 5 Langley Holiday Shop and Stroll when stores stay open until 7 p.m.