Build community and prosperity: keep it local

Mari F. Mullen
Posted 12/4/19

I once asked Gail Boulter, the owner of six retail stores in downtown Port Townsend, what she thought about “retail leakage” – the local business that is lost to big box stores out of town over …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Build community and prosperity: keep it local


I once asked Gail Boulter, the owner of six retail stores in downtown Port Townsend, what she thought about “retail leakage” – the local business that is lost to big box stores out of town over the holidays. She said, “We just wish people would look here first. Port Townsend has holiday gifts covered!”

“Look Here First” became our holiday campaign slogan that year. The campaign this year is #FoundInTown to encourage you to see what all our businesses have to offer locally.

Individually-owned businesses uptown and downtown offer the personal touch and are a welcome contrast to anonymous malls or online buying. Gifts purchased from destination stores, restaurant gift certificates, movie passes, theatre tickets, nonprofit event tickets and local artwork are examples of thoughtful gifts your loved ones will remember long after the holidays.

We are fortunate in our small seaport town to have a unique mix of businesses which depend on you, our dear local customer, to keep strong. August and December are typically the busiest months for many retailers here. December income is especially crucial to help businesses get through the first quarter of the year.

Yes, it can be tempting to hit the button for online shopping and free shipping, but what is the impact and the cost? When you shop and dine locally, you are preserving local jobs with friends and neighbors. You are supporting entrepreneurship. You are conserving resources, saving gas, helping air quality and being more green. There’s less packaging. And more fun. Whether it is to interact with a salesperson who genuinely wants to help you (and lives here), find the perfect wine, try on the cutest shoes, chat about the latest from your favorite author, buy art or a sweet baby gift made right here – our merchants are passionate about what they carry. When you explore uptown and downtown, you’ll find gifts that are hand-curated and hard to find anywhere else. And of course when you need a break and a bite, we have an amazing culinary scene with so many choices (not to mention local wine, beer, cider and coffee) for a town of our size.

Your local businesses here in Port Townsend can only thrive and be here for tomorrow if you patronize them today. Each dollar spent at an individually-owned business returns three times more money to our local economy than one spent at a chain (and almost 50 times more than buying from an online mega-retailer) according to the American Independent Business Alliance (

Our nonprofits add creativity, depth and dimension to living here. Research shows that local merchants donated to community causes at more than twice the rate of chains. What happens when the brown paper goes up in the windows when stores decline in a historic neighborhood? They are often replaced by a much less diverse retail landscape. According to, small businesses account for more than 65% of all new jobs and 89% of consumers agree that patronizing small businesses contribute positively to local economies. Make a difference and join us by showing your local love this season!

The Port Townsend Main Street Program is working with local partners to give you plenty of reasons to stay in town over the holidays. The winter fun includes the tree lighting and Santa visit and the Reindeer Region at The Legion Dec. 7, Yuletide events, Kiwanis Choo Choo rides, holiday plays, and new winter lights which add to the festive spirit.

Thank you for investing in Port Townsend and contributing to our culture, nurturing our community’s prosperity, and adding to our quality of life. Shop, dine and stay in Port Townsend. For more about the holiday happenings, visit or follow on us social media.

(Mari F. Mullen is the executive director of the Port Townsend Main Street Program. Its mission is to preserve, promote and enhance the historic business districts. The Port Townsend Main Street Program is one of 33 Main Street Programs across Washington State. She appreciates all things Main Street and loves the arts, animals, and being a local.)


1 comment on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment
David Thielk

Thanks for this reminder. I think you hit the nail on the head in one regard, but may have missed the point in another. Having a business/retail community that meets our needs is just as important as having a customer base that is willing to keep their dollars local. There is more to "shopping' than finding Christmas presents. So, a reminder to retail business owners in town is also appropriate - think about what you can do to provide practical merchandise to local residents.

Secondly, there is more to shopping than Port Townsend Water Street or "big box stores." It is not either/or. I always look in town first (and I might point out that I ride my bicycle downtown to shop). But if our robust community of merchants can't, or won't meet my needs, I will look for alternatives. And that doesn't always mean going to "big box" stores. I buy many items from "one person" factories throughout the PNW.

I side note to the city zoning department - a goal should be to encourage small business, small manufacturing, small retail in flexible ways that allow entrepreneurs to start up and thrive, in this community. That would mean being able to enter into business without overwhelming rents, infrastructure requirements, etc. It also means that we need to have zoning that allows people to live and work in the same location. It means we need to rethink parking requirements as well as our relationship to the automobile. I personally subscribe to the StongTowns,org approach.

Saturday, December 7, 2019