Photo by Kira Erickson/Whidbey News Group
Annalise Litchard, a barista at Rock Island Coffee, prepares a latte for a customer. The Oak Harbor coffee shop is closing on Halloween. Staff will be relocating to Sunshine Drip in Coupeville, Rock Island’s sister store.

Photo by Kira Erickson/Whidbey News Group Annalise Litchard, a barista at Rock Island Coffee, prepares a latte for a customer. The Oak Harbor coffee shop is closing on Halloween. Staff will be relocating to Sunshine Drip in Coupeville, Rock Island’s sister store.

Pandemic blamed for spate of business closures

Yet new stores continue to open despite challenges.

Some of the last espresso shots were pulled and the final customers were served during the concluding days of Rock Island Coffee, one of several Whidbey businesses that has had to close its doors permanently.

The Oak Harbor coffee shop will be closing on Halloween. Staff will be relocated to its sister store, the Sunshine Drip, a popular coffee shop in Coupeville.

The Coupeville location is one of the places on the island weathering the pandemic storm.

For business owners who struggled to stay open during the warmest months of the year, they now have much at stake with the approaching holiday season, which could either make or break their livelihood.

“This is a scary time for us,” said Vickie Chambers, executive director of the Coupeville Historic Waterfront Association.

Inge Morascini, executive director for the Langley Chamber of Commerce, agreed that the holidays will be an important test of survival for many small businesses.

“We will absolutely be dependent on our local customers this season more so than ever,” she said.

The last seven months have brought several changes to Whidbey Island, but some of the most painful were the permanent closures of beloved businesses, both independently owned and branches of larger corporations.

Local officials funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal CARES Act funding to local businesses for COVID-related expenses, but in some cases, it wasn’t enough. The newest wave of the county’s CARES money allocated nearly $150,000 in economic assistance.

While the Washington Post reported that real-time information about small business closures is scarce, a recent and widely reported study by Yelp found that 80,000 small businesses were permanently shuttered between March 1 and July 25 alone, reflecting an accelerated rate. The hardest hit businesses were restaurants.

Yet the news isn’t all grim. Other businesses on Whidbey are thriving, and new businesses have sprung up across the island.

The following is most likely not an exhaustive list of businesses that have closed, opened or relocated:

Oak Harbor

Big box store Office Max and the Oak Harbor branch of Banner Bank have announced their closures.

The Oak Harbor Tavern also closed its doors, although its owner has said he wants to open in a new location.

Art gallery Whidbey Made also closed, and Uniquely Put Boutique is in the process of shutting down.

New businesses are coming to a much-anticipated strip mall off State Highway 20 at the south end of town. A Starbucks and Grocery Outlet Bargain Market are located in newly constructed building.

The Grocery Outlet is scheduled to open Nov. 5, according to the owners.

According to Vicki Graham, executive director of the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce, Mod Pizza will be coming in January.

There are rumors that Wingstop might also join the lineup, although this remains unconfirmed by the restaurant chain.

The newly named Mill at the Kasteel — formerly called Rustic House — has opened in the castle-like building near Auld Holland Inn.

Pacific Northwest Vibe Market recently opened in the Loft next door to the Whidbey Island Bagel Factory.

Graham said there are a few other businesses that are currently looking to make the move to Oak Harbor, although nothing is definite yet.

Coupeville

Coupeville has been an exception to the closures that have plagued the rest of Whidbey.

Chambers said that while some businesses closed in the spring due to owners retiring or moving, nothing in town has closed as a result of the pandemic and every storefront in the historic district remains filled.

A new business, Madrona Blossom, has moved into what was a women’s clothing store, and Vail Wine Shop and Tasting Room has expanded into the former custom framing store.

The Lower Loft Eatery closed. Renovations are now being done on the building, Chambers explained, so the restaurant would have had to close regardless of the pandemic.

Greenbank & Freeland

In Freeland, the owners of Molka Xete in Greenbank made the decision to close their Mexican restaurant and open a frozen yogurt and bubble tea shop, the Beary Scoop.

Charmer’s Bistro in Freeland closed its doors this summer. Its owner is now preparing meals at the Eagles Club in Freeland.

Langley

The Village by the Sea has seen the shuffling of several businesses.

Foamy Wader, a handmade jewelry store, has “dropped anchor” at a new location in the Langley Village, at 221 Second St., No. 14. It was previously located on First Street. A new business, Laso Foods, moved into its old location.

Sprinklz, a South End ice cream staple, is making the move to a location on First Street that was previously occupied by Chocolate Flower Farm.

Since closing in March, Chocolate Flower Farm has moved operations to its new farm store at 5040 Saratoga Road.

Sprinklz sectioned off a portion of its old location, making room for the Blue Peony, a handmade fabric products store.

Half Moon Yoga Studio has closed. Artworks Gallery, previously located at the Greenbank Farm, moved in to take its place.

Whidbey Art Escape, L Studio Modern and Simply Nails all closed shop. No one has stepped in to fill the empty storefronts yet, but Morascini said many businesses expressed an interest in moving to Langley.

Simply Nails has moved to Bayview Corner, taking the place of Farmer and the Vine, which also closed recently.

Anthes Ferments has closed on Second Street, and its owners are now operating South End Kitchen, take-out meal services from South Whidbey Tilth.

In its place, Langley Kitchen is gearing up to open soon.

The new restaurant will be offering “fresh baked goods, house-made soups and hand-tossed salads.”

Portico Latin Bistro was sold to new owners who have big plans for the restaurant as a spot offering “eclectic comfort food” starting in the New Year.

Clinton

Like Langley, there has been an instance of a business relocating. Island Drug moved from Ken’s Korner to the old Wells Fargo building near the ferry terminal.

In Ken’s Korner, South Island Smoke, a shop for vaping products, glassware and jewelry, has opened next to the Clinton Sprinklz store.

Heritage Bank will be closing its Clinton branch in January.

Photo by Kira Erickson/Whidbey News-Times
Rock Island Coffee is one of several businesses that closed recently. With the holiday season approaching, much is at stake for Whidbey’s remaining small businesses.

Photo by Kira Erickson/Whidbey News-Times Rock Island Coffee is one of several businesses that closed recently. With the holiday season approaching, much is at stake for Whidbey’s remaining small businesses.

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