Most folks may not remember it, but there was a time when stores weren’t open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with maybe, maybe a holiday off. It was a time when it was major news and a dramatic corporate choice to be open – gasp – from 7AM until 11PM. Radical. Hello, 7-11. Those days are here and not on the island. Take your pick because there are good reasons for both.
Settle down in the Island’s biggest and only true semi-urban city, Oak Harbor, and have almost every convenience available, all day long. There are gaps, but the major brands and chains are there to do business almost whenever you need it. Wal-Mart and Safeway are always there and ready. Other major chains like Home Depot are open until 9PM. They and some of their competitors make it easy to shop regardless of your schedule.
Then, there’s everything outside of Oak Harbor.
Settle in anywhere else and begin learning a mix of schedules. Some businesses are open seven days a week, but may close by 7PM or 8PM. Others are open most, but not every day. The open and close times are a mix as well. Ten o’clock may mean ten-ish, and they aren’t talking about sports. It can be confusing at first, but after a while the rhythm sets in. Errands and chores, events and gatherings start to happen within a timing that still works – mostly. Don’t be surprised with yet another flavor of islandtime. Yes, it can feel like the streets roll up when the Sun goes down. But notice, there are probably still plenty of cars around. The activity has probably shifted from shopping to socializing.
Take a look at the signs on the business doors for hints about the difference. OPEN and CLOSED are common enough; but instead of CLOSED find Shut, or Looking Forward to Seeing You Later, or Out Creating, or variations on Gone Fishing. Open on Tuesday, by appointment or by chance. Believe it or not, in modern America, there are people striving to find a balance between work and life, and they act on it. Sometimes that means saying no to business while saying yes to life. After living in a land of maximum convenience, it can be startling to realize that someone is exercising self-care – or, is running a business that is so small that they have to spend time outside the shop to make the products that fill the shop.
As idealistic as that balancing act can sound, it can also mean quick evening dashes into Oak Harbor for emergencies, whether they are home or pet or or pantry or party. The many benefits of diversity come in many forms, even in having a variety of business models to pick from. Fortunately, the one major hospital emergency room is right in the middle, in Coupeville, though that becomes a long drive when made from either end while filled with adrenaline.
The island’s daily slowdown is reflected in the ferry schedules. The north end of the island has the benefit of the always-open bridge. The middle and the south end benefit too, but they also see considerable traffic from the ferries. Miss the 2AM boat out of Mukilteo and sit back for a three hour wait until the 5AM boat. Miss the 10PM ferry in Port Townsend and maybe just find a room for the eight hour wait, while also having to give up your spot in the line or hope you have a reservation.
So much of the world is constantly on, never slowing or stopping, not at work, in school, at play, or at home. Finding a place that tries to balance that pace surprises many visitors. It can take days to dial it back from 11 to maybe something below 10 to maybe something below 2. After experiencing it, the value of that choice is seen as being precious. The island gives people that choice.
But, if you live on the south end and plan to do some late night baking, make sure you’ve got all of the ingredients first. Chocolate chip cookies without baking powder or baking soda can be so disappointing.