Closed in Old Town
“Sorry, we’re out of business.”
Seemingly, that sign has been seen too often in Old Town over the past year.
Woody’s is gone. The Muk Hut is gone. Leely's Day Spa & Wine is gone. La Cascada Acapulco – that’s gone, too.
The recent closures have some Mukilteo business owners feeling wary: Is it just the economy? Or is it Old Town?
Some say the issue is the ferry traffic. More than 4 million people pass through Mukilteo annually, taking the ferry between Mukilteo and Whidbey Island. Yet almost none of them stop in Old Town.
“The ferry traffic is a hindrance, not an advantage,” said Shannon McCarty, Chamber of Commerce executive director. “Hardly anybody gets business from the ferry, other than Ivar’s.”
They pass through on their way on and off the ferry, not knowing what’s there – and then it isn’t.
“They’ve pretty much got blinders on until they get to that holding area,” said Steve Vincent, who owned the Muk Hut. “That was something I was not able to tap into. I tried everything. I had signs out on the Speedway.”
McCarty said Old Town is missing a distinct business district, where people can walk from shop to shop. The dearth of downtown businesses forces people to use their cars.
“If we were to do some development that would be the place to do it,” McCarty said. “If we had a few more shops I think they would feed on each other and there would be some prosperity.”
“It’s hard to take a gamble on a little shop when there’s no others and there’s no walking traffic.”
Others say it’s the Rosehill Community Center. They say there’s limited parking on 3rd Street for customers due to overflow parking at the community center.
Vincent said Rosehill hurt his business, especially on the weekends. He said businesses in the Lincoln Courtyard have it even worse than the Muk Hut did, because they are right across the street.
“It’s a great revenue source for the city and all, but sometimes it takes all of the parking on the streets and that impacts businesses,” Vincent said. “The barber shop, the Thai restaurant on the corner – sometimes that’s a negative for them.”
Mayor Joe Marine disagrees. He said there is actually more parking available around 3rd Street with the addition of the community center than there was before. Rosehill has about 150 parking spots, not including the diagonal spaces on 3rd.
“I rarely see all of that diagonal parking full,” he said. “I go down to lunch to Ambrosia and Red Cup all the time, and I’ve never not been able to find a spot.”
Marine said that not only is there more parking, there are more people in Old Town than ever before, thanks to the popularity of Rosehill.
“The good businesses will take advantage of all of the new people coming down,” he said.
Still others say that it was the businesses themselves that led to their closure, not the location. You just have to have the right business.
The mayor said businesses like the Red Cup Café, Diamond Knot, John’s Grill and the new French bakery are doing just fine.
“Not every business is going to make it, but there’s a lot of businesses down there that are being very successful,” Marine said.
McCarty said you can’t just put your sign out anymore and expect customers. You have to spend money to make money.
She also said it’s natural for entrepreneurs to go in and out of business.
“At the same time, we’re seeing small businesses open up,” she said. “There have been a lot of ribbon cuttings, even with the down economy.”
Jacky Lichtenthaler, owner of the L'Artisan French Bakery on 3rd Street, said he has good days and bad days. Some days it’s so busy they run out of croissants within hours of opening; other days no one comes into the shop.
“A lot of people don’t know about all these businesses up here,” Lichtenthaler said. “That’s the problem. The only time the people come up to our place is when there’s no parking in the park.”
Woody’s closed in October of last year. The coffee and ice cream shop had been a Front Street fixture for 10 years.
“Woody’s down there, it’s tough for that area,” Vincent said. “It’s a destination, but only for about six months of the year. When it’s nice out, there are lots of reasons for people to go down there, like the park and the beach.
“In the winter months, there’s nothing to bring people down.”
The Mexican restaurant La Cascada Acapulco followed soon after, closing in December. It had been in business for 15 years on 2nd Street.
The Tin Fish on Lincoln Avenue changed its name to the Muk Hut in 2011, but dropping the franchise didn’t help much. After seven years, the fish-and-chips restaurant closed in January of this year.
Next door, Leely's Day Spa & Wine closed in March. It had been open for six years.