Lodging tax revenues are up; sales tax down in September, but not bad year-to-date

Friday Harbor's sales tax revenue in September was $68,792 less than in September 2007, according to figures from the town treasurer's office.

Tax revenues are received from the state two months after they are generated. That means, the town's year-end total will reflect revenues generated from November 2007 to October 2008.

September's revenue of $113,538.18 — generated that month and received in November — was the second best September ever, albeit a distant second: the town received $182,330.09 in September 2007.

Year-to-date, the town has collected $956,646 in sales tax revenue, down from $1,039,281 the same period in 2007. The town is expected to have its second-best year ever, finishing behind 2007's year-end total of $1,124,856.

Sales tax is an indicator, but not solid proof, of how local merchants are doing. Included in sales tax are big-ticket items like yacht sales and construction. Likewise, lodging tax revenues can be affected by lodging rates as much as by number of guests.

Lodging tax revenues in September were up — a record $25,554.82, compared to $23,810.61 in September 2007. Year-to-date, the town has had its second-best year, collecting $129,905.39, slightly lower than last year's $132,144.85.

"You can talk to somebody who had their best September, and you can talk to some who said it was their worst," Chamber of Commerce director Debbie Pigman said. "What I've heard is that people were not buying big priced items — in some cases, they were buying more items, but lower-priced items."

Nancy Hanson, owner of The Toy Box and president of the Chamber of Commerce, said September was "a little down" at her store, but her year-to-date figures are parallel with 2007.

"After Labor Day, everybody went home and started hunkering down and figuring out how to survive the winter," she said. "We did have lots of visitors and our figures are not horribly down. November was slightly up from last year, October was slightly down, September was down more than a tad."

She advises local merchants to not panic and to "keep a level head" about the current economy.

"Remember, this is only temporary. If we continue our 'Shop Local' campaign and if people shop on the island instead of in the big block stores, we'll be OK. The economy is rough on all of us, but we have a wonderful community, a supportive community, and if we all hang together, we'll be OK."

Laura Saccio, who with her husband Adam owns Bird Rock Hotel and the Earthbox Motel & Spa, said business was down at one location and up at the other, so it's "a wash." Her two locations have about 12 employees, and she expects her workforce will be stable during winter season.

"People are still traveling but they're looking for value. That's what the trade publications are saying nationally," she said. "People are still traveling but spending less on the add ons. They're looking for more bang for their buck, for things they can do without spending a lot of money."

Her advice to businesses: Stay visible. "Don't cut back on advertising, that's for sure."

— An islander writes: "My wife and I have just returned home from a wonderful day of Christmas shopping in Friday Harbor. Frankly, we do a lot of shopping online, as well as on the mainland, so we were in for a very pleasant surprise." Read Chamber Chatter CLICK HERE.

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