Hope during hard times


Sarah Kehoe, Special to the KP News

Peninsula Home Improvement recently rebuilt a deck for a Lakebay resident. John Graves said Peninsula Home Improvement is doing OK during these tough economic times, but it takes hard work. Photo by Karina Whitmarsh

For Greg Calahan, owner of O’Callahan’s Pub and Grill in Key Center, business continues on despite the nation’s slumping economy. “The worst part of the economic crisis is the media blitz we are getting constantly,” said Calahan, who has operated the business for four years. “We should not let it scare us; we should all focus on doing our jobs right and we will be fine.”

At a time when television and newspaper headlines warn of business closures and job losses, Peninsula residents need look no further than their community to find hope. Although smaller, familyowned businesses, such as O’Callahan’s, have felt the impact of the economic slump, most are staying afloat, say local business owners and representatives.

“The businesses that were teetering before the crisis are falling but the ones that were doing OK have felt the impact; but not enough to go out of business,” executive director of the Peninsula area and Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce Warren Zimmerman said.

Around seven new businesses have opened in the Peninsula area, with only two businesses that were forced to close around the last six months, according to Zimmerman.

“In our immediate area I have seen more new businesses opening than I’ve seen businesses failing,” he said. “But this has been true for quite some time. Our history has been that businesses come and go, with success more dependent on service and product than the current economy.”

Calahan also urges residents to look beyond the negative reports of foreclosures. Having experienced economic downturns before, Calahan, a Peninsula resident for 29 years, has learned the value of hard work and perseverance.

“The problem is that people are sitting here at my pub instead of going out there and finding jobs to do,” he said.

History has shown that it is the entrepreneurs, risk-takers, and those who refuse to give up on their businesses that are able to maintain hope despite their struggles.

“In the last economic downturn, it was the small business sector that made the turn around first,” Sen. Derek Kilmer, DGig Harbor, said.

Realtors at ReMax Red Door and landscapers at Peninsula Home Improvement, also stress how hard work has kept them in business.

“We’ve been doing okay,” said Peninsula Home Improvement landscaper John Graves. “We just keep building on our clientele and things keep coming along.”

The six realtors who work at ReMax Red Door said they also continue to serve their clients.

“We are like any other business; just struggling together right now,” realtor Jessica Smith said. “Our office gets together and helps each other.”

Customer, business relations 

Peninsula businesses have not only noticed a loss of customers and a shortage of funds, they have also seen changes in what customers need and how they conduct business, they said.

“We aren’t seeing many buyers now that property values have dropped because it’s much harder for people to get mortgage loans,” Smith said. “Now we are starting to have a new trend of customers who need to sell their homes because they’ve lost their jobs.”

Peninsula Home Improvement clients also come with different needs.

“We have switched from re-modeling requests to water damage and repair requests,” Graves said. “Several customers have said they are going to downsize in projects or hold off altogether for a while.”

Jessica Smith is a real estate agent with ReMax Red Door in Key Center. The real estate market has suffered during the slumping economy, and the Key Peninsula has felt the pinch. Photo by Karina Whitmarsh

Peninsula residents are not any different than those in other cities and states who have been forced to cut back on expenditures, said Kilmer.

“No one has been immune to economic challenges,” he said. “The exception is not having to face these challenges.”

Even the prosperous O’Callahan’s Pub and Grill has noticed a change in customer behavior as faithful customers have had to make adjustments. “

There’s been a big change in the pattern of how people are spending money and in their weekly routines,” Calahan said. “People use more credit cards than cash now and those who used to eat breakfast and lunches here on weekdays have switched to only eating their meals here on the weekends.”

Businesses have also had to cut back on luxuries, saving their money for only essentials. Some businesses have moved to smaller locations while others have suffered through cutting back on office resources. For restaurants this means buying cheaper food and for nurseries, choosing cheaper flowers.

“Last year was one of the coldest years on record, yet businesses were forced to try to lower their heating bills,” Jud Morris, president of Key Peninsula Business Association said. “As a result, people were getting really sick.”

The Key Peninsula Business Association is a non-profit organization of leading Key Peninsula businesses, organizations and individuals. They come together to discuss the business climate in the area and to implement strategies for improvements if need be.

What is being done 

It is expected to take about one year or more before businesses are back to their normal services and funding, owners said. Peninsula political leaders like Kilmer agree, admitting the economy could get worse before it gets better. “

The amounts of analysis we’ve done in Olympia suggest it isn’t going away anytime soon,” Kilmer remarked.

But there is hope.

“The main thing we are trying to do is to encourage people to volunteer their time and donate to local food banks,” Kilmer said. “At a challenging time like this it becomes altogether more important to help each other however we can.”

Morris and the rest of the Key Peninsula Business Association have been working to encourage local businesses and residents to work together.

“We are developing a campaign called ‘local is the key,’ where we encourage residents to shop, give, play and support local,” Morris said. “We also encourage businesses to come together as a group in order to be most effective to their customers.”

Businesses are also working hard to shop for their products locally and help out their customers who are also suffering.

“I try to buy from local lumber yards when I can,” Graves said. “I have always preferred to support folks who live here.”

ReMax has become a resource for customers to get advice and information. They are working to create classes for clients in the midst of financial crisis in order to teach them about their options.

“Our goal as a business is for people to know that the door is always open,” Smith said. “Even if our clients can’t buy a house we want to provide them with knowledge and resources.”

And there is always the opportunity to forget troubles at O’Callahan’s Pub and Grill.

“We are going to have more hot rod shows, barbeques, music and more,” Calahan said. “I am going to fix up my building and continue on with what I told everyone I was going to do when I got here at the beginning.”