Vashon can attract the ‘thoughtful tourist’

By Melinda Sontgerath

For The Beachcomber

Like the old E.F. Hutton ad says, when Emma Amiad talks, I listen. With great interest, I read her editorial Aug. 5 regarding the role of the Vashon Chamber of Commerce and the issue of tourism on Vashon.

I agree with most of what she said: The chamber should (and does!) focus on promoting local businesses to local residents.

We have created an interesting and easy-to-maneuver Web site (www.vashonchamber.com) that gives businesses an opportunity to promote themselves and to direct people to their website and place. We have also run a series of fun ads in the Beachcomber (for which the chamber pays) to promote Island businesses and to give away free “chamber bucks” to spend at any local business. We create fun up-town events, designed to bring residents out to patronize Island businesses. We have arranged for Island influencers to publish several articles and opinion pieces appealing to residents to buy local and help keep our businesses strong and sustainable.

The list goes on, but we need to do more in order to get people to make a difference in our local economy on a year-round basis.

Regarding tourism, Vashon business owners know that our primary market is our on-Island patron. Vashonites will always be first and foremost behind our efforts to provide great goods and services. However, it is difficult for most local businesses to maintain sustainability in the winter months.

The list of “business casualties,” just during the past year or two, is daunting: Macrina Bakery, Vashon Wine Shop, Fred’s Homegrown, Island Variety, Zanzibar Chocolates, Ferraras, Napa Auto Parts, Back Bay Inn, Gallery 070, Reliable Wines, Splash Seafood Bar and Market, Sound Food and All India Cafe. And the list of businesses “just hanging on” is longer than one would like to know.

Our Chamber of Commerce-sponsored tourism plan is to attract the “thoughtful tourist” — particularly during the winter and spring months. These visitors would come and enjoy the beauty and “locality” of our Island and help support the infrastructure of Vashon by spending their dollars during their visits.

The impact of the “thoughtful tourist” has a much further reach beyond just the business being patronized. Using The Hardware Store Restaurant as an example, during the summer months, when business increases, we are able to afford to make repairs and improvements to the restaurant. In so doing, we patronize True Value, Island Lumber and use local trades to do this work. We are also able to employ more local residents — enabling them to patronize local businesses for groceries, gifts, haircuts and dentist visits. We are better able to support the many local nonprofits with donations and gifts, enabling them to do their good work and provide social services on the Island.

We are also able to purchase ads in The Beachcomber and Loop, enabling all of us to enjoy these publications. Multiply this by the many businesses patronized by the “thoughtful tourist” and the trickle-down effect is dramatic. It is a simple, yet powerful economic tenet.

The “thoughtful tourist” we are targeting is a 35- to 60-year-old female who matches up with the essence of what Vashon has to offer. She is not easily recognizable on the Island because she fits in so well.

With great care, intelligent focus and the guidance of our marketing firm, Blonde Ambition, we are confident that we can, in fact, attract this very tourist and that the delicate balance between economic sustainability and Vashon uniqueness can be reached.

— Melinda Sontgerath, a member of the Chamber of Commerce board, owns The Hardware Store Restaurant.

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