Why Leave The Island

Applause as the ferry system restarted two boat service on the weekends. Going from two ferries down to one meant long waits, missed boats, and generally a higher hurdle to cross getting on and off the island. We’re back to two! at least in Clinton. Congratulations to everyone practicing patience as they funnel through the two tight lanes that are all the Deception Pass Bridge allows. As for Coupeville, one boat, only one boat to Port Townsend. Visitors wonder how islanders deal with these things. No problem. Lucky islanders never have to leave, unless they want to.


There’s always a better deal elsewhere. Shoppers who shop for the sake of shopping know of the never-ending search for the best bargain, the uncommon extra feature, the allure of the mall (which may be fading fast.)


Realize that familiar motto of small towns; “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it.” As strange as it may seem to off-islanders, the islands, at least Whidbey Island, has everything you need (almost.) Yes, it is possible to actually live on the island; to only shop on-island, to see dentists and doctors and such on-island; to forget about sailing schedules and bridge traffic. Show up. Move in. Slow down. Relax.

OK. There are things that people need that aren’t on the island. Shop local is one of the ways to make sure a small community is healthy and sustainable, but there’s always an odd gadget, or a need for a custom fit, or something from someone else’s small town or business that could benefit from another customer. It might seem like that applies to almost everything at the start. The longer a person lives in the community, the easier it becomes to know which things to buy local and which things to buy elsewhere.

Delivery is the temptation, but also the solution. USPS, UPS, FedEx, whatever else, delivery trucks are busy on the island. Shipping charges look small compared to individual trips for individual items when ferry or gas or both sets of fees add up to far more. It becomes apparent that a shopping trip to the mainland needs several stops to justify it – or Costco, or Trader Joe’s, or hopefully you get the idea.

Covid-19 is helping entrench the delivery option. There are more reasons to stay home, more reasons to not go into some stores, and the guilty indulgence of ordering online and letting the goods show up eventually.

Never leaving the island is an option for many, but commuters (who aren’t fortunate enough to work from home) have to make those trips, anyways. They can become the funnel, another ad-hoc delivery system bringing stuff from the mainland to the island.

Whidbey Island doesn’t have mega-malls, massive multi-plexes, or miles of strip malls (well, maybe close to that). Whidbey Island does have shopowners who know what islanders need and want because they are islanders, too. They may stock products based on talking to people instead of paying for marketers. Local shopowners in a small town don’t have to wait long for compliments and criticisms to filter back through the grapevine. Good service becomes personal, because it is harder to be anonymous on a island.

Summer is departing. Merchants are getting ready for the holiday shopping season. The tourists may be leaving (though many may stay rather than return to riskier pandemic areas); but ironically, autumn will bring shoppers. You see, not only does “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it.” apply, but the chance to buy from island businesses and artists draws visitors back to the island to get the things they can’t get anywhere else. The shopowners and artists may never need to leave the island, but that doesn’t mean folks can’t come by and visit. Check those ferry schedules and bridge construction notices, though. Of course, it is possible to ship from the island, too. Ordering online works both ways.

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