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Foot traffic is brisk; lodging tax revenues up 23 percent in town, 6.8 percent in county
The local economy may be down, but it's not out. In fact, there's some sign of economic improvement this summer compared to the last, particularly in the tourism sector.
San Juan County's share of lodging tax receipts were up 6.8 percent through the end of April, and up 23 percent in the town, compared with the first four months of 2009. Deborah Hopkins, director of the San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau, cautions against putting too much stock in monthly lodging tax figures, noting that hotels, motels and inns are allowed to report earnings on a monthly, quarterly or an annual basis.
Vernadel Peterson, director of the San Juan Island Chamber of Commerce, said that the number of people dropping by the chamber office in search of "things to do" has been on the rise since the tourism season shifted into high gear.
"The economy is still tough for a lot of businesses out there," Peterson said. "But we are seeing more people coming into our office asking about what there is to do on the island."
(Among recent celebrity visitors to the island: actor Tom Hanks and family, and Eagles frontman Glenn Frey).
The upturn in number of island visitors is good news for Leilani Dyer, owner and operator of Dream Beads. At the age of 24, Dyer, a first-time business owner, is making the most of the uptick in foot traffic in and out of the chamber office. Dream Beads, located next to the chamber, at 135 Spring St., opened at the end of May and business has been brisk, Dyer said.
"Things are going well," she said. "We've had a lot of community support and that's been really helpful. Being next to the chamber is great because people have to walk right by the shop."
Few know beads like Dyer does. From the age of 13, Dyer, a 2004 Friday Harbor High School graduate, worked at the former Garuda & I. She found employment at a bead shop in Anacortes after Garuda & I closed and made the daily commute for nearly a year.
Open seven days a week, Dream Beads is finding success as a full-service bead shop.
"We have everything you need for making and putting together jewelry," she said. "And we have classes too."
Dream Beads isn't the only new face on the scene.
Acanthus Fine Antiques and Decorative Arts, at 460 Argyle Ave., opened July 3. Jenny Prescott, owner of the historic home in which the business is located, said the response to the home's newly-completed renovation, the mix of classic and vintage antiques the shop offers, as well as its newer lines of furniture and decorations, has been "wonderful." Having space available behind the house for customer parking has been helpful as well, she said.
"It might take a while," she said of getting the enterprise off the ground. "But I'm in it for the long haul."
Named for a Mediterranean plant whose flowing leaves have inspired sculptors, carvers and architects since Greco-Roman times, Acanthus is open Thursday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and by appointment.
Prescott said the historic home has proven to be a "perfect venue" to showcase decorative arts, furniture and antiques.
While some businesses are new, others are banking on transformation to stay afloat.
At 175 First St. in Friday Harbor, Rumor Mill restaurant opened in early July after an extensive remodel of the space formerly occupied by Pazzo Vivo. Owned and operated by long-time restaurateurs Oren and Peggy Combs, formerly of Front Street Alehouse, the interior design of Rumor Mill is "industrial modern with a nostalgia twist" and features a 12-foot glass slide garage door that swings open to give diners the ambiance of sitting outside.
Meanwhile, Jim Carroll of Windermere Real Estate said negotiations are in the works and a new tenant may soon be moving into the former location of the Alehouse and San Juan Brewing Company.
Transformation is under way outside town limits as well.
The former home of Site Elements, 933 Cattle Point Road, is still in the hands of the Foss family, but has reemerged as Cattle Point Rock and Topsoil. Owners Skip and Mildred Foss will operate the business as "strictly" a supply company offering landscape materials, such as sand, aggregates, stone, pavers and yard products.
According to Mildred Foss, a hardscape contractor for nearly 30 years, the decision to launch a new enterprise on the footprint of Site Elements, a retail nursery and landscape supply business, was a "no brainer" after the economic downturn forced daughter Deven, owner of Site Elements, to shut down that company.
Cattle Point Rock and Topsoil is open Monday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., and makes deliveries after 3 p.m.
PERMITS ISSUED BY SAN JUAN COUNTY
("Other" includes decks, remodel, garage, small additions.)
LAND USE (29 categories)
— Source: San Juan County Community Development and Planning Department