Island retail braces for tough holiday season

So far, Mercer Island’s downtown businesses have been able to float the economic recession with prudence. But with the holiday season just around the corner, retailers are bracing themselves for a tough year. Others have already felt the crunch.

“In the last three weeks, we have definitely noticed a change in people’s shopping patterns,” said Roger Page, the owner of Island Books.

November and December are typically the book store’s busiest months, Page pointed out. But not this year.

“We had days in the end of October that were like days in the beginning of August,” he said. “It’s been slow.”

In anticipation of a rather gray shopping season, Page and his team have organized a number of special events. Last week, the store celebrated its 35th birthday with the community. Managers are already planning a series of book-sale fundraisers for Island schools, and the store’s most popular draw, readings by local authors, will continue throughout the winter.

“For the moment, most of our holiday season plans are done, and we’re hoping for the best,” Page said. “It’s hard right now to tell what the reality is. All we can do is put our best foot forward.”

While Island Books may be tip-toeing toward the holiday season with caution, others are taking a bold leap.

Christine Poythress, a licensed aesthetician, just opened her first studio on Mercer Island this month. Christine Face and Body Studio sits tucked away in the back parking lot of the Boyd Building on 76th Avenue S.E. Poythress discovered the small retail space through a friend, jumping at the chance to rent it.

Though she has worked in the spa and beauty industry for 18 years, Poythress has never run her own business. Despite the difficult economic climate, she felt it was finally time to make a go for it.

“I think everybody wants to be their own boss,” she said.

Thanks to her friend’s tip-off, Poythress was able to find an affordable Town Center retail space to lease. Poythress pays approximately $1,000 per month for 650 square feet of space. Although the building itself is more than 30 years old, the interior of her three-room studio is well decorated and inviting.

“It’s definitely on the cheaper end of Island retail because of the older construction,” she said. “But the landlord, Ken Dayton, has been great. He takes good care of the building. He was excited for me to sign the lease and thought I’d bring in business.”

During the month that Poythress has been open, business has been steady. She hopes things will stay this way, despite the economic downturn.

Luckily, Poythress has a string of devoted clients who have followed her from her previous job.

“I’m in that business where, for some people it’s a necessity and for some it’s a luxury,” the aesthetician said. “Facials, eyebrow waxing, anti-aging treatments; people still want these things, even in a recession.”

An Island resident, Poythress is happy to have found a spot just blocks away from her condo. Being on the Island is important for business, she said, as many of her clients are local.

Cindy Marquise, manager of Marquise Fine Jewelry and Gifts, is also grateful for Island shoppers. In the last three months, business has dropped by 50 percent, she said. Thankfully, her devoted clientele have kept the shop afloat.

“Being in a small community is good. They support you,” she said.

Marquise is feeling the tight economy from both sides ­— production and sales. A large part of the family business is dedicated to jewelry repair and custom design. Last summer, the onset of a global recession sent the price of gold soaring to more than $1,000 per ounce (typical 2007 prices were around $450 per ounce, according to the Wall Street Journal.) The price of platinum followed close behind. Unable to afford such high prices, the Marquises were forced to cut back their jewelry production.

“In September, we stopped buying gold and platinum,” Cindy Marquise said. “This has really slowed business. We’re making fewer rings and it has also cut back on repairs.”

In an effort to offset poor business, Marquise has introduced storewide sales: 50 percent off silver watches, 30 percent off select jewelry and custom repairs. Marquise hopes that these sales will carry the store through the Christmas season.

“It’s not going to be easy,” she said. “This has been the hardest year.”

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