Amy Wolff calls herself a natural-born networker. After retiring from a 30-year career as a travel agent, she found herself continuing to connect people with what they needed. This time she wasn’t recommending restaurants or setting up hotel reservations, but helping friends find jobs and businesses fill open positions.
Now, Wolff is putting her passion to work to try to give local businesses a boost. This Friday she will hold an open house for her new business, Vashon Central. She has high hopes for the venture, which she has been planning for about three years, saying Vashon Central will one day be a hub for local businesses and service providers to match with clients.
Wolff, a mother of two and the “daughter of a Madison Avenue man,” says she fell in love with Vashon’s community the moment she moved to the Island 27 years ago.
“There’s a familiar, connected feeling here,” she said.
That same connectedness, Wolff noted, means Islanders often turn to friends for references when looking for a plumber, hairdresser or yoga teacher.
“Even though that’s the case,” Wolff said, “there’s a lot going on here that even the most connected person doesn’t know about.”
Wolff now offers what she calls a neutral place for Islanders to hear about services. “I’m a more objective word-of-mouth center,” she said.
Unlike the phone book or a website, which Wolff says provides limited and often out-of-date information, Islanders can call Vashon Central or stop by the office to find what they’re looking for.
Though only 30 business are currently listed with Vashon Central, Wolff says she plans to eventually offer multiple options for every need, be it music lessons, yard work or life coaching. After talking with an Islander about exactly what he or she is looking for, Wolff will recommend the business or service provider who best fits that person’s needs.
“It’s a passion of mine to see local businesses survive,” Wolff said. “This is a place where people can make themselves available to the public. Whether their business is big or small, full time or part time, it’s a way for them to be represented and be found.”
The service is free for customers and comes with a small fee for those who are listed. Businesses pay on a sliding scale from $75 to $200 for a four-month listing.
“If they charge less for their service, I try to have their rate be a little less,” Wolff said.
She says she feels confident in her recommendations, as she thoroughly interviews the owner of each business she lists and talks with several references as well.
Wolff thinks Vashon Central will serve as a more personalized marketing service for larger, established businesses as well as small ones where owners have little time to do more than make businesses cards and put up a few flyers.
“What I’m offering is a human connection here,” she said. “It helps people find folks that are available and suited to their needs.”
Sue Day, who owns a landscaping service with her husband, said she has listed with Vashon Central for a little over a month and is pleased that it has brought her one big client so far. Though her business has existed for seven years, Day said, she is always looking for new customers, especially during the off-season.
“I hope it’s an affordable way to get the business name out there and get connected with various people,” she said.
Day has also taken advantage of another facet of Vashon Central. In what Wolff calls the Island’s first temp service, she hopes to connect workers who may not have established businesses with small jobs or temporary positions.
Day, for instance, called Wolff when she needed a few hours of help organizing her office and Wolff sent someone over. Wolff says she has temp workers for an array of jobs, and she’ll charge a daily fee for the service rather than taking a cut of the worker’s profit.
Day said she would definitely use the temp service again.
“For a small business, it’s hard to find people to come out for three hours here and three hours there,” she said.
Debi Richards, director of the Vashon Island Chamber of Commerce, said she was pleased to see Wolff take an interest in boosting the local economy. She noted that the chamber provides a similar service. It gives business recommendations daily, always recommending chamber member first. Richards said she didn’t see Vashon Central as competition, though.
“Any person who is willing to step up and promote a shop-local- first philosophy is good for the Island,” Richards said. “I don’t want to think of any of us as competitors because when businesses do well, everyone does well.”
Amy Wolff will hold an open house for Islanders to learn more about Vashon Central from 6 to 9 p.m. this Friday during the Gallery Cruise. Her office is located at 19505 Vashon Highway, Suite B, next to Minglement.