San Juan businesses see profits fall amid high gas prices, bad weather

Chef-owner Laurie Paul of Market Chef counts change for Daniel and Maxine Konhauser of San Francisco. The Konhausers did not stay the night and were only in town for one day. - James Krall
Chef-owner Laurie Paul of Market Chef counts change for Daniel and Maxine Konhauser of San Francisco. The Konhausers did not stay the night and were only in town for one day.
— image credit: James Krall

Some Friday Harbor business owners say tourist traffic is down compared to June 2007. And they say they are feeling the financial pinch.

Irene Herring of San Juan Coffee Co. blames gas prices and ferry fares. She is getting around the loss of tourist money by shipping orders through her Web site.

“Our Web site saves us from depending on people walking through the door,” Herring said.

“I had employees lined up, but the amount of people coming doesn’t require more than me,” Herring said, standing behind the counter of the store alone.

“People (are) spending decent amounts, but (there are) not as many of them (as in the past).”

Herring said another reason businesses are feeling the pinch: More islanders trying to start their own businesses.

“There’s more and more retail stores and more and more coffee shops. I mean, how many coffee shops can you have in a mile radius,” she asked. “You can only cut that big pie into so many slices.”

She added, “Unless you have a really novel idea, something we really need, duplicating business (is) not the answer. And the weather isn’t helping; people around here are calling it ‘Juneuary.’ ”

Wendy Beckler of the Mystical Mermaid said, “May was better than last year, but June fell flat on its face.”

Beckler said the media has a huge play in the tourism industry and that weather forecasts especially can take their toll.

“If people in Seattle are saying, ‘It’s looking nasty up in Friday Harbor,’ then even if it’s a nice day, nobody’s going to come.”

Beckler said the Mystical Mermaid is losing business because of the lack of foot traffic. “Ferry workers are directing everybody up East Street, so we’re losing customers.”

Overall, Beckler wasn’t happy with the results June has yielded so far. “It’s starting to make me nervous,” she said.

Another business owner, who asked to remain anonymous, suggested that the upcoming election is playing a role in the slow tourist trade.

“I noticed this back in 2004, too,” she said. “People know change is coming and want to be ready for it.”

Still, businesses are optimistic. Businesses in town don’t even acknowledge tourist season until it “really happens,” as Herring put it — until the Fourth of July weekend.

Perhaps June’s weather will be the worst of it for this year’s tourist season. Already, Friday Harbor has had a large number of tourists from Canada, the Seattle area, Washington and Texas.

“If you ask what we’ve seen the most of these last two weeks, the answer will definitely be ‘Texans,’ ” Beckler said.

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