Stan Febus unlocked the door of his antique shop in downtown Orting just before 10 a.m. Thursday.
A woman soon walked in. She eyed the goods – from vintage furniture to knick-knacks – that line nearly every available surface.
Febus asked if she needed help.
“I’m just looking,” she replied.
That’s not uncommon these days in shops around Orting, a city of 6,700 people in the valley looking up to Mount Rainier. Businesses are feeling the effects of the sluggish economy, perhaps in some ways more acutely than shops in larger communities nearby.
“We’re a bit of an island out here,” said Orting city administrator Mark Bethune. “All the big-box stores are in South Hill, Puyallup, Sumner and Bonney Lake. A lot of our disposable income seems to go out of town.”
The old farming community prides itself on its homespun city center. Since the early 1990s, the city has required all new buildings there to follow a turn-of-the-century, Victorian or Western theme.
But the recession did Orting no favors. Bethune estimates 10 businesses have shut down in the last three years, from a pet store to a smoothie shop to a gym.
“For a (community) our size, that’s a big hit,” he said.
City officials hope to turn things around. On Saturday, Orting for the first time is putting on a business fair aimed at helping established merchants, such as Febus’ First Love Antiques & Collectibles, as well as prospective start-ups.
Workshops are planned in everything from marketing to business taxes.
The Orting Chamber of Commerce and U.S. Small Business Administration are co-sponsors.
Bethune said he hopes the South Sound Business Fair will draw participants from his city and the region.
The idea grew out of a City Council committee’s work to stimulate economic development.
Since 2007, Orting’s general operating fund has dropped roughly 29 percent, largely due to declining sales tax and construction permit fee revenue, Bethune said. City staff has been reduced 10 percent.
Recently, there have been signs of improvement. Bethune said the city has started seeing an uptick in residential construction over the last six months.
Still, “it’s been a hard road the last few years,” he said.
Febus and his wife, Linda, opened their antique shop more than five years ago. They’ve started selling items online and organizing estate sales to enhance their business, Stan Febus said. He said his wife may attend Saturday’s event.
Robbie Burns and her husband, John Rendell, who own Wild Rose Quilt Shop & Retreat, will speak on a panel.
Bethune points to the quilt shop as a success story. Burns and Rendell bought it in the fall of 2007 and have worked to expand the customer base beyond city limits, with a newsletter and greater online footprint.
Groups come from as far as Arizona and New York to stay in the retreat center above the shop, Burns and Rendell said.
Like Wild Rose, the owners of the nearby Big J’s Outdoor Store are working to expand their reach. Co-owner JJ Arnett said the family business is selling items online and attending sportsman shows around the region.
The store is doing well, but still “you can tell times are tough,” Arnett said. “People are watching their dollars a lot more.”
He pointed out there are several empty storefronts in the shopping complex anchored by a Safeway off one of Orting’s main streets.
As for the business fair, “I’m hoping it goes well,” Arnett said. “It’s good for the town.”email@example.com 253-552-7058 blog.thenewstribune.com/street @TNTschilling