Local

Longtime Bellingham maritime business to close

A local business that has played a key role in the area’s boating community, as well as the Old Town district for more than 20 years, is closing this month.

Mike and Mary Kimmich have decided to retire and will close Pacific Marine Exchange & Gallery at the end of the business day on Saturday, Oct. 25. Whatever hasn’t been sold at that point will be auctioned off at the store Nov. 13-14. A going-out-of-business sale is already underway.

Mike Kimmich said they were torn about the decision to close the store at 700 W. Holly St. They have built up a tremendous group of friends over the years, he said, but their grandkids are quickly growing up and they don’t want to miss that. They also decided against selling Pacific Marine because they believed the business was successful because of the relationships and trust they’ve built with customers over the years, particularly with those who put consignment items in the store.

“We just felt that now is the right time,” he said.

The store has two niches: Selling new and used marine equipment, as well as marine-related art. Mike was interested in the boat parts, while Mary had a passion for art and added the gallery in the same building.

Many store items are on consignment, giving people in the boating community a chance to buy and sell things that are usually hard to find, such as parts for boat models that are no longer made, including Uniflite. The store has worked with around 6,800 consignors, and Mike Kimmich said they’ve written more than 92,000 checks since opening in 1993.

“I can’t tell you how many times I hear someone say ‘I’ve been looking for this part for years,’” Kimmich, 67, said with a laugh.

ACTIVE IN OLD TOWN

The Kimmichs are also active in the Old Town district, lobbying the city to redevelop nearby Maritime Heritage Park in the 1990s. Before it was redeveloped, it was home to plenty of blackberry bushes; at one time it was a city dump.

Mike Kimmich has been disappointed lately about what has happened with the park, which has developed a reputation as being unsafe for residents because of drug use. It’s something the city is trying to address, with funding proposed earlier this year to improve the area. Proposed improvements in next year’s city budget include lighting, security cameras and emergency call boxes, as well as such amenities as a playground.

Kimmich said another way to overcome problems at the park is to organize more events and activities that would attract families to the area.

“Right now, some people just feel uncomfortable being in the park,” he said, adding that he plans to remain active in the Old Town area after the store closes.

NAVIGATING THE UPS AND DOWNS OF BUSINESS

Pacific Marine Exchange is one of those businesses at which sales would pick up during economic downturns. When discretionary income was tight, customers would frequent the store looking for boat parts to do their own repairs.

What hurt the business the most, Kimmich said, was high gas prices. Many of the store’s customers would drive up to 150 miles to the store to find a part, so a sudden rise in gas prices would curtail store sales.

Since the store kept a good mix of hard-to-find parts, it benefited from the rise of online shopping by enabling the store to sell items around the world, he said.

It also helped that the store relied on a community of boaters that is supportive and honest, Kimmich said. In all the years of business, Kimmich can recall only three bounced checks that customers wrote that he couldn’t recover in collection, a very low total for retail.

“This (boating community) is the most honest, tightknit group I’ve known,” he said. “That is what made the decision to close so tough.”

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