Signs point toward big retail changes in Whatcom’s economy this year

With the loonie closing at around 80 cents compared to the U.S. dollar, it’s getting to a point where more Canadians will become interested in shopping often in Whatcom County.
With the loonie closing at around 80 cents compared to the U.S. dollar, it’s getting to a point where more Canadians will become interested in shopping often in Whatcom County. The Bellingham Herald file

This should be an interesting year when it comes to Whatcom County’s economy, particularly in the retail sector.

The industry is in the midst of big changes nationally, especially when it comes to chain store closures. That’s expected to continue in 2018, with more than 12,000 stores closing across the U.S., according to an article in Business Insider.

It’s early, but Whatcom County already has dodged a couple of store closure lists from national chains. Macy’s and Sears (which also owns Kmart) released store closure lists on Jan. 4 and Bellingham’s stores were not on any of them.

Macy's at Bellis Fair Mall in Bellingham. Philip A. Dwyer

With that in mind, here are three things to keep in mind for Whatcom County in 2018:

▪  The retail landscape will change.

While several national chain closures were announced in the first week of 2018, more are expected, including bankruptcies.

One reason could be that U.S. has too many retail stores and is due for a correction. Hart Hodges, director at the Center for Economic and Business Research at Western Washington University, pointed to a report that the U.S. has 23.5 square feet of retail space per person, compared to 16.4 square feet per person in Canada. A reduction in physical stores is also probably needed given the growing popularity of online shopping.

It’s unclear what impact that will have on the locally owned retail stores. Sales have been strong in Whatcom County, but small retailers are also dealing with online competition, just like the national chains.

bellis fair
Bellis Fair Mall in Bellingham. Philip A. Dwyer

“I do think (these changes) underscores the need for retailers to know what they want to sell and to whom. You have to have a good business plan,” Hodges said.

▪  How we shop is also changing.

The arrival of Instacart in Whatcom County in November adds to a variety of food delivery services already in the area. That’s in addition to Fred Meyer’s Clicklist program that lets you shop for groceries online and sit in the car while someone puts it in your trunk.

Kroger (which owns Fred Meyer) is even looking into the idea of shopping without a checkout line, where customers could scan products while shopping with their smartphone and use a self-checkout register to pay. Other retailers like Target and Walmart are also buying into delivery service systems. Local companies are also getting into the delivery business, including Boundary Bay’s offer to deliver beer.

A delivery service has quickly become the brick-and-mortar retailer’s answer to Amazon, and it will be interesting to see how consumers react to it.

▪  What will happen with the Canadian dollar?

With the loonie closing at around 80 cents compared to the U.S. dollar, Canadians soon will become interested in shopping more often in Whatcom County. Something that will further tempt Canadians is the price difference in gasoline between the U.S. and Canada. It appears to be widening to the point that gas is starting to look like a much better deal in the U.S. than in Canada.

can dol2
The American and Canadian flags. With the loonie closing at around 80 cents compared to the U.S. dollar, it’s getting to a point where more Canadians will become interested in shopping often in Whatcom County David Duprey The Associated Press

In the past couple years the Canadian dollar has weakened significantly in the first quarter, something that could happen again this year. Oil prices have been rising in recent weeks and that generally means a stronger Canadian dollar.


It looked like Cosmic Comics was going to close at the end of 2017, but instead it has been reborn as Cosmic Games.

Adam Scholtz bought the store at 1905 Cornwall Ave., after hearing the owner was retiring. The new store will have many of the game products Cosmic Comics had, including Magic the Gathering, Pokemon, role-playing books and disc golf. The new additions include retro and current video games as well as some collectibles. It will no longer carry comic books.

Cosmic Games will continue to host game nights; details about times and dates can be found on its Facebook page.

The store has also expanded its hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday.


According to its Facebook page, the final day of business for Along Comes a Baby at Bakerview Square is Jan. 14. .... Grandiflora Home & Flora began a closing business sale on Jan. 4. The 17-year-old store at 719 Grover St. in Lynden posted details about its decision to close on its blog, noting the decision was made after reevaluating the business. ... Mt. Baker Mouth Hole in Maple Falls announced on Facebook that it had closed on Jan. 1. The restaurant, which served burgers and sandwiches, opened last September. ... The Perfume Hut, which has been at Bellis Fair nearly 24 years, is closing at the end of January. It is currently having a closing sale. ... According to an article in the Lynden Tribune, a new retail development is planned on Guide Meridian just south of the Lynden Safeway. The retail project, called Guide Plaza, will be home to a Popeyes restaurant, an AutoZone car accessory store and potentially a Grocery Outlet store, according to the article. ... A fitness studio called 30 Minute Hit has applied for sign permits for its new space at 1225 Barkley Blvd., near Lowe’s Home Improvement. According to its website, the studio focuses on boxing and kickboxing for women. ... Old Town Cafe in Bellingham announced on Facebook that it will be closed for about a week starting Jan. 8 to do a kitchen remodel.