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‘Island time’ discourages Whidbey shoppers

LANGLEY — It was 11:10 a.m. on a chilly, crystal-clear Sunday morning in Langley and Donny and Marie Perez, after a nice breakfast at Mike’s Place, were ready to shop.

But since many businesses were closed — despite store-front signs stating, “Open every day 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.” — the Portland, Ore. couple was disappointed.

Time for Plan B.

“We heard that Coupeville’s nice, so we’re headed up there,” Donny Perez said. “Maybe that town will be open by the time we get there.”

Farther down First Street, Freeland’s Linda Jedlicka was showing relatives from Houston the spectacular view from Boy and Dog Park. She also wondered why more stores weren’t open.

“We had a lovely breakfast at the Braeburn Restaurant. Langley is always on the stop when I have visitors, but why businesses are closed during the holiday break doesn’t seem to make sense,” Jedlicka noted.

Ever since the current recession struck in September 2008, South Whidbey merchants have expressed worries for the future of their individual enterprises.

Langley has been hard hit. In meetings public and private, and in Langley’s Internet chat room, business owners have searched for the best ways to stay economically viable through tough times. Some have suggested staying open longer to attract more shoppers, but the concept hasn’t been widely accepted.

That was the case Sunday, on one of the busiest shopping weekends of the year.

At the corner of First Street and Anthes Avenue, Stephen Bangs of Seattle was on his cell phone trying to reach the owner of Lowry-James Rare Books.

“I got a gift certificate for my son and I thought the owner would be here today,” Bangs explained. “Her sign says they open at 10 a.m. on Sundays, but no one is here.”

Looking around at the streets full of tourists window-shopping, Bangs said he made the trip especially so his son could pick out a book.

“It seems it’s hard to complain about the business climate if you don’t operate with consistent hours,” he said.

Across the street at the new Brackenwood Gallery, a hand-drawn sign said the shop was closed for the weekend.

Of course, not everyone was shut down or starting later on the weekend after Christmas.

At MUSEO on First Street, Kari Gunderson said business had been steady since November.

“We have an annual gift show, with art priced from $20 to $200,” she said. “Coupled with the wonderful landscapes of Tony Turpin on our walls, we’ve done well. There’s been a steady flow of people coming through.”

Over on Second Street, Laurel Davis of the Wine Shop felt that staying open later has helped.

“This is our second year and business has been great, better than last year, particularly as there isn’t much for visitors to do after 5 p.m.,” she said.

Davis’ business, specializing in Washington-only vintages, is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day but Tuesday.

At the Celtic Viking on First Street, owner Goldie Christensen and her daughter, Ruby Jones, said they are thankful for loyal customers.

“Our repair and custom work has stayed consistent,” Jones said. “The lower-priced items moved fast and we’ve had lots of traffic; people stopping by and actually buying.”

But her mother said that she’s seen a severe drop in the sale of more expensive merchandise.

“The high-end stuff isn’t moving,” Christensen said. “But in general, we’ve been lucky; I know a lot of shop owners have been hit hard by the recession. We just started a new Web site and that’s helping, too.”

By 11:30 a.m., cars lined the streets, doors were finally unlocked and folks bundled against the cold popped inside to shop.

The Perez family, though, were on their way north.

“The weather today is perfect — we have some Christmas money to spend — but no one’s open,” Donny Perez noted.

Good customer service saved the day for the Bangs, however.

“Later that afternoon, Ms. Lowry-Gregor called to let us know she had been late opening her shop but would be in soon,” Bangs said on Monday. “We went back to the shop around 1 p.m. and my son spent over an hour choosing a fine print from the hundreds in stock there, with frequent expert advice from the proprietor.”

He added that his family has visited the town regularly for more than 20 years, and value its distinctive character.

“This year we did most of our Christmas shopping at retail businesses in Langley,” he said. “We realize our support isn't going to be enough by itself, but we hope to make a small difference.”

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