Valley businesses weather downturn

Despite gloomy economic predictions from industry analysts and news outlets, Valley businesses seem optimistic about the future.

"We can't keep the cars on the lot," said Frank Protzman, sales manager at Chaplin's Chevrolet and Oldsmobile dealership in North Bend. "It's fantastic."

Protzman attributes some of his success to the zero-percent financing now being offered by some car manufacturers, and other employers appear to be weathering the economic storm well despite layoffs, dropping stocks and the nation's overall anxiety following the terrorist attacks.

"I think what we offer is a safe haven," said Coulter Leslie, co-owner of the Cycle Path Bike and Board shop in North Bend. "There is a recreational aspect to what we offer, but it also has a lot to do with mental health."

Leslie admitted October was a slow month, but that didn't bother him because Octobers are always slow, serving as a transitional time between the biking and snowboarding season. He said business this past summer was terrific and that he expects it to pick up again when people start their holiday shopping.

"That will be the real gauge of how we are doing," Leslie said. "We, and a lot of others, will have to wait until the Christmas season comes."

News got worse recently with the announcement that the Weyerhaeuser Co. had laid off 33 workers from its Cascade Operations finishing plant in Snoqualmie, reducing production from three shifts to two. Weyerhaeuser's announcement came on the heels of other lay-off notices from major Northwest companies, such as Boeing, and the two-year-long decline of the dot-com industry.

"It's just terrible, but it's the sign of the times," said Snoqualmie Valley Chamber of Commerce Director Lisa Schaffer of the Snoqualmie layoffs.

Even though the media have been filled with bad news, Ed Cook, general manager of the Factory Stores at North Bend, thinks it is mostly a self-fulfilling prophesy. In his opinion, the media have overplayed the downturn in the economy, and the pessimism has spilled over into the economic world.

Cook believes high-end purchases may be curtailed, but basic necessities, such as clothes and food, will remain strong. Since most of the factory stores sell apparel, he believes most of them will be able to survive the current economic downtown.

"There is a belief in retail that you never make enough money," Cook said. "Two years ago you could have come and heard the same things from the retailers about them not making enough money, and last Sunday our lot was packed."

Mark Jordan, owner of the RE/MAX Reality Source office in Fall City, agreed that a bad attitude about the economy plays a large role in how healthy it truly is.

"People are doing themselves a disservice by saying how bad everything is," he said.

He added houses are not appreciating as well as they used to, but that follows an overall curbing of steady growth in real estate throughout Western Washington. With the Valley being one of the few places left to move, along with interest rates lower than they have been in decades, Jordan said, many are seizing the moment to buy a home.

"I think people are getting beyond all the media and realizing how good a market this is now," he said.

Many of the business owners see the downturn as just another dip in the history of American business, such as those experienced in the 1970s and 1980s. Ed Wentz, owner of Wentz Electronics in Snoqualmie, recalled growing up in the Great Depression of the 1930s.

"I remember how everyone did without things," Wentz said, adding that recent events must be put into perspective - with the economy leveling off after a decade of rapid growth and opportunity.

"It's been too good for too long, so it kind of hurts when it slows down." he said.

You can reach Ben Cape at (425) 888-2311, or e-mail him at

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