Oak Harbor teacher selling T-shirts to support Whidbey businesses

An Oak Harbor printing business has found a way to help support fellow small businesses of Whidbey by selling over $17,000 of T-shirts.

Nearly a month ago, Eric Peterson was grappling with the governor’s order to close nonessential businesses, which included Ashley’s Design and Letterman Jackets.

The high school teacher acknowledged several other businesses that were also deemed nonessential were dealing with the same thing, and he wanted to find a way to provide revenue for the owners who otherwise wouldn’t receive any during the mandated closures.

“I wanted to help these guys out,” Peterson said. “It kills me, what’s going on with some of these businesses.”

The taekwondo business above his workplace was one of the first businesses he reached out to. Word spread fast and before he knew it, several salons, barber shops and fitness facilities, among many other businesses, joined the initiative come to be known now as #WhidbeyStrong.

The idea to print T-shirts in support of local businesses was originally created in St. Louis and Peterson asked the creator’s permission to adopt a similar campaign for Whidbey.

Since the launch of #WhidbeyStrong, Peterson has helped raise $17,140 for 113 businesses, as of Friday morning.

He explained it is completely free for businesses to become part of #WhidbeyStrong. Each shirt is priced at $20. Half of that cost goes towards materials, printing expenses and wages for his employees and the other half goes back to the Whidbey businesses, meaning over 1,700 T-shirts have been pre-ordered and will be ready to print once the governor gives the okay for Ashley’s Design and Letterman Jackets to open again.

Businesses need only send a logo to Peterson and choose a color for their shirt. The only requirement is that #WhidbeyStrong must be visible somewhere on the T-shirt.

Every Saturday, he and his son have been running the numbers and writing checks to the businesses so they have some sort of weekly cash flow.

“I’m heartbroken for these people,” Peterson said. “I know it’s not a lot of money, but it’s fulfilling to send out money to businesses.”

Some businesses have been sharing the campaign on their social media accounts and including incentives, such as discounts, for ordering a T-shirt in support.

Peterson said many island locals have been purchasing t-shirts, but orders have also come in from all over the U.S. They have also come from Army, Air Force and Navy installations.

“I’m really humbled by the community and everyone who has rallied around it,” Peterson said.

While the majority of the businesses are located in North and Central Whidbey, he welcomes South Whidbey businesses to join the effort.

The campaign still has one week left to meet its $20,000 goal, with the possibility of being extended if the governor orders an extension on non-essential business closures.