Interesting story in the Bellngham Herald

Here is to a fabulous year for 2010 and beyond…small business is what makes Bellingham tic so it would be great if the small business could continue to see success…

Cautious optimism from Whatcom County business owners heading into new year

With about two years of increased company closures locally, the business climate is looking tough for 2010, but there is some cautious optimism seen by local counseling experts.According to records kept by The Bellingham Herald, 89 brick-and-mortar businesses closed by the end of December, up from 83 in 2008 and 35 in 2007.There were significantly fewer restaurant closures in 2009 compared to the previous year, but a significant increase in the number of other retailers, particularly ones that have been around more than five years. Tom Dorr, director at the Center for Economic Vitality, said that trend fits what he’s been seeing in the economy.PHILIP A. DWYER | THE BELLINGHAM HERALD – The Markets grocery store manager Jim Vanrijswijck welcomes customer Sheila Seelye of Custer after opening the store for the first day of business Wednesday morning, May 13, 2009, in Birch Bay Square, one of several new businesses in Whatcom County.” CLO-BIRCH BAY SQUARE


“Restaurants are usually the first to close at the beginning of a recession, because the first thing people do is stop going out to eat,” Dorr said. “I’ve also felt the Bellingham area has been overbuilt when it comes to restaurants, so I expect more to close again in 2010.”
Dorr’s organization, which provides counseling services for local businesses and does research about the local economy, continues to see clients who have companies struggling to survive. Lately they’ve had more clients expressing cautious optimism, but they still have plenty in panic mode.

“The keys are getting costs under control and finding ways to save money in this economy, and some are now able to do that,” Dorr said.

It’s also encouraging that the number of business openings outpaced the number of closures in 2009. There were 105 openings, according to records kept by The Bellingham Herald. However, there was a net loss of jobs because many of those new businesses started with fewer than five employees, while many of the companies that closed had a bigger workforce.

With so many job losses in 2009, there normally would be a larger uptick in business openings as people decide to become their own boss, Dorr said. However, this is a different kind of recession, where laid-off workers are risk adverse, much like banks, which have tightened lending for business start-ups.

“This is a different business paradigm than what we’ve seen in previous recessions,” Dorr said. “That good from my standpoint: I’m not seeing clients who are tapping into their 401k to start a business.”

There’s an expectation by Dorr and others that Whatcom County will see a significant number of closures in the first and second quarters of 2010. Retailers generally make a decision whether to stay open after tallying the holiday sales numbers.

The second half of 2010 possibly could see fewer business closures, but it will depend on what happens with lending, said Dave Woods, a counselor for SCORE and a mentor at Whatcom Community College and Western Washington University.

“I see people who might have a good business idea, but they better have at least 20 percent down if they want to get a business loan,” Woods said. “I’ve seen the government come out with some programs, but they aren’t tailored toward people starting a business. It’s a very confusing period right now for someone trying to get financing.”

Confidence also will be a factor in 2010, Woods said. Many businesses have been able to survive by trimming costs and taking other measures to stay open. However, if it doesn’t appear the economy is turning around, he would expect more business owners to give up trying to ride out this recession.

“The survivors are more optimistic than a year ago, but they will need to see some signs that things are getting better,” Woods said.

In the meantime, Dorr said the focus of many businesses will continue to be to cut costs, including taking advantage of a state program that lets businesses share workers.

“More are hopeful, and it may lead to increased hiring if businesses are able to get access to credit,” Dorr said.


Some of the significant Whatcom County business openings and closures of 2009:

Openings: The Market at Birch Bay, The Community Food Co-op (Cordata), Ferndale Ace Hardware, United Furniture, Scotty Browns, Tully’s and Sherwin Williams (Meridian).

Closings: Johnson Outdoors, Joe’s Sporting Goods, Circuit City, Boater’s World, BB Lumber, United Auto Electric, Car Quest, Goff’s Department Store, Eleni’s Greek Restaurant, Brown’s Beauty Supply on Meridian Street, Current Industries and Nancy Whyte School of Ballet.

Reach DAVE GALLAGHER at or call 715-2269.

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