International media outlets are abuzz over a Facebook page about the Bellingham Costco store and the crowds of Canadian shoppers.
The Facebook page called "Bellingham Costco needs a special time just for Americans," was created last month but was discovered by Canadian media last week. Along with Canadian television, radio and newspaper reports about the Facebook page, it's attracted the attention of the Daily Mail newspaper in England and National Public Radio.
From Friday, Aug. 10, to Monday afternoon, Aug. 13, Ken Oplinger, president of the Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce & Industry, had done 12 interviews with Canadian and other media organizations talking about the Facebook page, which he is disappointed to see up.
"I've tried to get across (in the Canadian media interviews) that the vast majority of Whatcom residents understand the importance Canadian shoppers have on our retail economy," Oplinger said.
The Facebook page has a variety of complaints about the Bellingham Costco, including that it's too crowded, lines are too long at the Costco gas station and that Canadians are rude. As of Monday afternoon, the page had more than 2,500 "likes."
Oplinger said the Canadian reaction has ranged from being amused to deeply offended, particularly with some of the Facebook post comments, which Oplinger described as "over the top."
Oplinger doesn't know who is the administrator of the page but has attempted to contact the person through Facebook to have a conversation about the topic. He hopes the page will be taken down or altered.
"If someone cuts you off in the parking lot, you could be angry at that individual, but you shouldn't direct it at an entire group of people," Oplinger said.
Canadian traffic has been a driving factor in the increase in retail sales in Whatcom County ever since the Canadian dollar strengthened versus the U.S. dollar three years ago. While Oplinger believes a store like Costco would still be in Bellingham if there were no Canadian shoppers, the retail offerings in this area would be much different.
"(The Canadian shopper) is very important to us," Oplinger said.
Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville issued a statement Monday echoing Oplinger's comments and noting that Bellingham's taxable retail sales growth was almost double the state average from 2010 to 2011, much of it due to shoppers from Canada and elsewhere outside the city.
"Retail spending makes it possible for us to keep our parks, playgrounds and trails open, our police and firefighters providing public safety services, and much much more," Linville wrote, adding she encourages Canadians to continue coming to Bellingham.
Oplinger said he's also disappointed about the disinformation being spread on the Facebook page. Throughout the page it blames the city of Bellingham because of a big-box expansion ban. Bellingham had a temporary ban in place, but in April 2010 the Bellingham City Council voted to allow stores such as Costco to expand to any size as long as development and landscaping standards are met.
Costco officials recently met with city of Bellingham officials to discuss replacing the current store with a new building on West Bakerview Road.
The Facebook page has also led to other group pages on the social media site, including one called "Bellingham businesses and residents welcome Canadian shoppers."
Ferndale Chamber of Commerce also updated its Facebook page with a photo showing a Canadian flag and the caption "WELCOME CANADIANS!"
Reach DAVE GALLAGHER at email@example.com or call 715-2269. Visit his business blog online at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/business or get updates on Twitter at twitter.com/BhamHeraldBiz.