Business

Even with strong retail sales, Whatcom County still had plenty of business closures

How many Whatcom County businesses closed in 2017?

More brick-and-mortar stores closed in Whatcom County this year than any time since 2009, according to an informal survey by Business Editor Dave Gallagher of The Bellingham Herald.
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More brick-and-mortar stores closed in Whatcom County this year than any time since 2009, according to an informal survey by Business Editor Dave Gallagher of The Bellingham Herald.

It turns out 2017 was a busy year when it comes to local business closures.

As of Dec. 20, I’ve counted 69 businesses with physical locations that have either closed or announced closing plans in Whatcom County. That’s the highest total I’ve counted since 2009, when there were 89 closures.

Looking over the list of closures, it’s difficult to measure how much of it has to do with the local economy. This year we’ve had plenty of retail closures as part of the wave of national chain closures, including Wet Seal, Teavana, Family Christian, Radio Shack, Rue21 and Sears Hometown. We’ve also had a fair number of longtime business owners decide to retire, including Greenhouse, Morrie’s Drive-In, Kids Northwest and Woodsmiths.

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Greenhouse employee Jen Costaldo carries rugs that customer Robin Sheehy purchased during the retirement sale at the downtown Bellingham store, Nov. 13, 2017. Sheehy’s children Patrick Sheehy, 3, and Noah Sheehy, 18 months, also are pictured. Philip A. Dwyer pdwyer@bhamherald.com

It also comes in a year that has seen record-breaking retail sales totals in the first half of 2017 and an unemployment rate of under 5 percent from April through October.

The closure announcements really picked up in the past few weeks, with 11 announcements coming in December. The end of the year and early January are typically the busiest times of the year for closures as leases come up for renewal and the busy holiday shopping season wraps up.

The number of retail openings also slowed in 2017. I counted 69 store openings in Whatcom County, down from around 90 annually in recent years following the global financial meltdown of 2008. During the recovery from the recession, I remember a lot of new business owners telling me they started a business after getting laid off from another job. With the unemployment rate low, the recovery may have matured to a point where the “being your own boss” trend is not as strong as a few years ago.

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Seth Jeretzky waits outside the Dick's Sporting Goods store to open for the first time at Bellis Fair Wednesday morning, May 10, 2017. Philip A. Dwyer pdwyer@bhamherald.com

Among the openings, most were of the small-business variety. The biggest of the year was Dick’s Sporting Goods, hiring some 80 employees. In the first part of 2018 Hobby Lobby, Home Goods and Sierra Trading Post are expected to open in the former Costco building at 4299 Meridian St.

OTHER TIDBITS

The women’s clothing store Apricot Lane announced on its Facebook page that it has closed its Bellis Fair location, citing low traffic numbers. ... Beauty in the Bead Shop also announced it was closing its store in Bakerview Square on Feb. 20. The plan for the business is to continue its online shop and go to bead shows. The store is having a sale where nearly everything is 25 percent. ... Cascadia Weekly reported that The Green Frog plans to close after its New Year’s Eve party. The live music venue and bar has a slate of shows leading up to the new year, according to its website. ... The sales tax in Blaine will be going up two-tenths of 1 percent starting Jan. 1 to help pay for transportation services. The total sales tax for the city will be 8.7 percent, matching the rate in Bellingham, Ferndale and Lynden. ... The Sandwich Odyssey in Bellingham announced on its Facebook page that its crew is taking a holiday break, closing from Dec. 24 through Jan. 1. The crew returns Jan. 2. ... The Little Red Wagon, a children’s clothing consignment store, announced on its Facebook page that it will be closing its Bakerview Square location in mid-February. The Lynden store at 1889 Front St. will remain open.

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