By Betty Freeman
Special to the Record
Langley formed Whidbey Island’s first Chamber of Commerce more than 40 years ago and has since become a model on how to seamlessly combine business and tourism.
The Chamber’s mission since its 1976 inception has been to support local businesses and to attract more visitors to the Village by the Sea. Langley’s independent business owners understood the need to attract both locals and tourists to keep their businesses thriving year round and they were at the forefront of marketing Langley and Whidbey Island.
“It started as a businessman’s association that eventually morphed into the Chamber,” said Josh Hauser, owner of Moonraker Books since 1972 and an original chamber member.
“When we started out, we mostly advertised in newspapers,” he said. “Now, communicating to potential visitors has become much more diversified. I’m impressed with how active the Chamber is in pursuing avenues of bringing in business that aren’t always apparent to everyone.”
For example, the Chamber has partnered with the Victoria Clipper, which now makes Langley a day-trip destination twice a year — four weekends during the holidays and during the spring whale-watching season. The Clipper partnership resulted in more than 3,000 visitors during Langley’s 2017-18 off-season.
Inge Morascini, executive director of the Langley Chamber of Commerce, says the chamber works to support local events as well as develop more reasons to visit Langley by partnering with non-profits, corporate travel departments and event planners.
“Those relationships bring more visitors and extend Langley’s notoriety,” she said.
Tourism has always been the keystone of business in Langley.
About 10,000 visitors per year drop by the Langley Chamber of Commerce Visitors Center, which offers literature and a staff knowledgeable about all things Whidbey. In the little yellow building on Anthes Avenue, which recently underwent a makeover, visitors find out where to shop, eat, play and stay on Whidbey.
Another 250,000 search the website, VisitLangley.com, find lodging and to explore what Langley has to offer.
Many people ask the Chamber staff for advice when contemplating moving to the island or when considering opening a business. Others come to plan weddings or other special gatherings.
“We also get some unique requests at the Visitors Center, such as an emergency need for an officiant last summer when a couple being married realized that each thought the other had made the booking,” Morascini said. “Days like that make you feel very useful.”
Jacki Stewart and Tom Felvey, owners of Country Cottage B&B, said the Chamber quickly became a major part of the marketing efforts. “Joining the Chamber Board was an even better way to meet others who feel Langley is a special community,” Stewart said.
The Chamber is also behind the scenes of Mystery Weekend, which attracted more than 2,500 people to Langley in late February to boost visitation during seasonal doldrums. In 2018, Mystery Weekend celebrated its 34th year, making it the longest-running Mystery Weekend in the country.
Loretta Martin, past Chamber of Commerce executive director, writes the mystery each year, involving a cast of more than two dozen characters, a complicated plot and many local businesses where wannabe detectives go to collect clues.
“It’s thrilling to see the characters I invent come to life,” Martin said. “It’s the highlight of my year.”
Lilly Van Gerbig, owner of Fair Trade Outfitters in Langley, played Lilly Landtree for Mystery Weekend 2018.
“I had an amazing time getting to know the other characters, and as a shop owner, I also enjoyed the people coming into the shop, clamoring for clues,” she said.
Van Gerbig is generous in her praise for the friendliness and support of other Chamber members.
“If I don’t have the clothing a customer wants, I can cheerfully recommend In The Country or The Star Store, because I know I can depend on them to do the same for me,” she said.
The close knit feeling of the business community and “that atmosphere makes the job of marketing Langley and the local businesses a pleasure,” Morascini said.
Rob Schouten, owner of Rob Schouten Gallery, joined the Langley Chamber as soon as he moved his gallery to First Street from Greenbank Farm last spring.
“One of the biggest attractions to us in moving here was the amount of support and promotion the Chamber gives to the arts community,” Schouten said. “Between the Chamber and Langley Main Street Association, there’s always something creative going on to attract people to town.”
The Langley Chamber of Commerce promotes member sales, events and business successes, as well as general interest events in the community with a weekly e-newsletter. It also uses social media, including targeted Facebook advertising.
A second newsletter, Friends of Langley, is also mailed monthly to past and prospective visitors.
“Staying in touch is very important,” Morascini said. “Brand recognition and brand awareness plays a large part in decision-making, and we want Langley to be top-of-mind when the idea of “getting away” comes up.”
Morascini encourages people to sign up for the newsletter, check out the website and drop by the Visitors Center.
“We always have something interesting going on,” she said.