Despite improving economy, plenty of local retail closures

While the economy continues to improve, it’s still challenging to be a retailer.

So far in 2016 I’ve counted 53 brick-and-mortar stores across Whatcom County that have closed or are planning to close this year. That’s already more than in 2015, which had 44 closures, and will probably settle close to the 2014 total of 61. The peak in recent years was 89 in 2009, following the global financial meltdown of late 2008.

Stores close for plenty of reasons, including regular turnover. Some, like Garys’ Mens and Womens Wear, close because the owners are retiring. Others, such as Sports Authority, are major chains that end up in trouble for reasons beyond the local store.

In Whatcom County, the low Canadian dollar may have been a factor in the closure of some smaller businesses. The loonie has been below 80 cents compared to the U.S. dollar all year, and that has had a significant impact on cross-border traffic. What’s interesting is that Bellingham’s big box stores – except Sports Authority – have continued to plug along. Many of the stores along Meridian are longtime tenants that have weathered the ups and downs of the loonie, so they may be prepared to ride out these changes.

Many of the closures on this year’s list are restaurants, despite the growth in sales in that industry. Restaurants usually take a lot of time and hands-on effort by an owner to successfully operate, so turnover there is typically higher than other retail stores.

Next week I’ll write about business openings. Those have been solid so far this year in Whatcom County, particularly in the restaurant industry.


The three Jalapenos Mexican Restaurants and Luna’s Bistro are bringing back the annual cash discount day to thank customers the day before Thanksgiving.

The three Mexican restaurants and Luna’s are offering 50 percent off the total bill to customers who pay cash on Nov. 23. It’s the fifth year owner Jesse Cantu is doing the pre-Thanksgiving cash discount.

Customers at Luna’s will see a revamped menu. Cantu said it will bring back many classic dishes that have done well, such as pasta and steak, and will add a few new items. The restaurant will also have a projector screen for showing Italian movies and sports events.

The Jalapenos restaurant in Fairhaven is also going through a change. Cantu has taken over the former Mad Batter Cupcakes space and will put the Jalapenos lounge, currently on the second floor of the restaurant, into that spot. Cantu is working with the city on getting sprinklers into that space before the expansion.

The Jalapenos restaurants are at 1007 Harris Ave., 2945 Newmarket Place and 501 W. Holly St. Luna’s is near the Barkley movie theater.


Retail sales were up in Whatcom County last spring, but it wasn’t shoppers that provided the boost.

Overall retail sales during the second quarter of 2016 totaled $966.6 million, a 4.8 percent increase compared to the period a year ago, according to data from the Washington State Department of Revenue. Retail trade, which focuses on items sold in stores, totaled $432.6 million in the second quarter, only slightly higher than last year’s total of $431.8 million.

Much of the increase came from construction goods (up 11.8 percent) and wholesale trade (up 10.6 percent). Sales at local big box stores totaled $80.3 million in the second quarter, down 10.8 percent compared to a year earlier.


Ulta Beauty is planning a Dec. 2 opening at Bellis Fair. The cosmetics retailer will have 20,000 products across 500 brands in its Bellingham store as well as a full-service salon, according to a news release. The first 100 guests each day Dec. 2-4 will receive a “beauty treat” valued between $5 and $100. ... Chuckanut Brewery is tapping two new brews for the holidays: Marzen Lager and Baltic Porter. Both are available in limited quantities at its Bellingham and Skagit County breweries. ... Samuel’s Grill, a Mediterranean restaurant going into the Food Court at Bellis Fair, is expected to open this week. Apricot Lane, a clothing boutique, is scheduled to open Nov. 18 in Bellis Fair, near Macy’s.