Bremerton businesses wrestle with aftermath of Sept. 11

Boeing’s announcement that it will lay off 30,000 people — one-third of its Washington workforce — came close on the heels of news of failing dot-coms and falling tech stocks.

Those events portend hard times for the state economy, but regional experts say the effect on Bremerton and Kitsap County will not be as dramatic as in Seattle.

“In February we were told by Boeing that 600 employees identify Kitsap County as their place of residence,” said Zoltán Szigethy, executive director of the Kitsap Regional Economic Development Council, based in Bremerton.

If one-third of them get laid off, that would mean 200 Kitsap residents could be out of work as a result of the Boeing cutbacks. A number of secondary jobs likely would be lost, too — clerks, bus drivers and other service employees.

“Put into context, it’s a hit, but it’s not that great,” Szigethy said.

Kitsap County’s jobless rate was 5.5 percent for the month of September, according to the state Employment Security Department. The statewide unemployment rate was 5.5 percent, down from 5.6 percent in August.

Meanwhile, the fact that people are staying closer to home because of events on Sept. 11 might actually be a boon to Bremerton outlets.

“Our business dropped about 25 percent (after Sept. 11) and stayed down through September,” said Toni Cutting, assistant manager for Manette’s Boat Shed restaurant.

“We had gorgeous weather, our deck was open, but nobody was showing up,” she said. “Ordinarily at that time of year — especially with the Indian summer we were having — the deck would have been full.”

Business ramped back up to normal in October, she said.

“We have heard that many restaurants lost business at first, but are now recovering,” said Sylvia Klatman, executive director of the Bremerton Area Chamber of Commerce. She said some businesses got a boost from the terrorist attacks. Verizon Wireless, based in Silverdale, enjoyed a rise in sales, she said. “People wanted to stay in touch.”

Klatman said computer sales in Bremerton and the county also rose.

“Many wanted to get their e-mail set up to stay in touch” with servicemen and women who were deployed after the attacks.

The Chamber’s licensing service, an important revenue source for the Chamber, dropped 20 percent following Sept. 11 and hasn’t fully recovered yet, she added.

Mary Jane Anderson, co-owner of Chips Casino in East Bremerton, a non-tribal mini-casino, said business has been booming with no drop since Sept. 11.

“It’s up over last year,” she said. “We like to think we’re a friendly neighborhood casino where people can come and talk to each other about the disasters,” she said. “We’re like your local tavern or church group or quilting circle.”

She said other factors that probably contributed to the casino’s success included: summer is over, schools are back in session, and people want to “escape from reality into a comfort zone.”

Avenue Barber Shop was booming Sept. 11 and all through September.

“The shipyard’s barber shop was closed,” said owner Carol Green. Also, “People liked to come in and watch TV and talk about it. They came for the camaraderie.”

Her clientele load in October has dropped back to normal, she said, and she fears it may go even lower.

“A lot of my customers were sailors from the USS Carl Vinson — which has since gone to sea.” Those sailors may be needing haircuts by now, but they won’t be coming here, she said.

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