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Down to the last drop

While driving to work for opening day of their coffee shop Just Your Cup o’ Tea on Pacific Avenue more than a half a decade ago, Sue Wright was so nervous she asked her husband Pat to pull the car over, and she promptly threw up on the side of the road.

The early days of starting their business were both a scary and exhilarating for the couple. Finances were tight and the future was uncertain.

Now on Sept. 30, after five years of 13-15 hour days serving teas, coffee, pastries, chocolates, sandwiches and soups to downtown shoppers, the Wrights are closing their store.

They blame the city government’s push for a downtown redevelopment as one of the main reasons they are putting the closed sign on the window permanently.

In essence, Pat Wright says that as the government and waterfront conference center arise in downtown, and more nationally renowned businesses like Cold Stone Creamery begin leasing spaces, smaller mom and pop businesses will be shoved out of town because they cannot afford the higher rents and other expenses.

“The low-rent tenants that have kept this place alive so long will not be needed, and they will be dispensed with,” Wright said earlier this week, as he sipped a Pepsi in his store.

He claims when it comes to landlords, they have been lucky. Their landlord, Jerry Soriano, has only increased their monthly rent by $150 dollars over the last five years.

He also gave them the first month they moved in for free so they could buy supplies and retrofit their 1,900 square foot space.

However, since Sept. 11, the price of their monthly business insurance has doubled from $60 to $120 dollars, and the prices of products from their 12 distributors has increased as well.

“We are down 60 percent in revenue and we are down 50 percent in customer base,” Wright said.

They have experienced their two worst quarters of business since January, which also coincided with the opening of the sandwich and coffee shop Goodies down the street.

In city council meetings and in interviews with the Bremerton Patriot, Mayor Cary Bozeman has raved about the professionalism or classiness that Goodies or other businesses like Cafe Destino offers, but that many of the small mom and pop shops do not have.

“To be competitive you have to fix up your place,” he said. “(Goodies and Cafe Destino) give off a different image. They help attract younger people. Its the people and the style and decor. You feel like you are in downtown Seattle sometimes.”

Bozeman says that he wants national chains and specialty shops downtown like Old Navy or Trader Joe’s supermarket.

He actually hopes that rents for businesses increase in the city. It will be a sign that business is picking up. He believes in capitalism, where only the strongest businesses with the strongest marketing skills and most attractive stores or products survive.

For those who are closing up shop, he says that they are simply unwilling to change with the modern times.

“We are in a capitalist country. Competition is what its all about,” Bozeman said.

When Pat and Sue close up shop in the downtown area, Bremerton will lose two staunch supporters of local business and entertainment.

Pat Wright has been an integral member of Bremerton’s largest annual events and local financial groups.

He has been the Armed Forces Festival Chairman for the last five years, and has participated on the Blackberry Festival committee for the last four years. He has also been an active member of the military affairs committee on the Bremerton Chamber of Commerce for the last seven years.

Sue Wright is the president of Lutheran Social Services’ retired senior volunteer program (RSVP), and also has coordinated the safe trick or treat program in downtown for three years, where kids can visit local businesses and participate in activities under supervision.

The Wrights say once they close down their shop, they will probably not participate in any civic groups or on any festival committees anymore.

“It will be a loss,” said Sylvia Klatman, the executive director of the Bremerton Chamber of Commerce.

“They take pride in Bremerton. They are very committed to the community. They have believed for a long time that this was a community that was up and coming. They were willing to make an investment long before anyone else.”

Klatman said the last Armed Forces Festival Pat directed brought in close to 35,000 for the parade element.

One thing Bozeman says is necessary in the coming years for businesses that set up in Bremerton to have is capital, or a large amount of money to make major decorative improvements in their store. Whereas some businesses spend $5,000 to spruce up an interior, major structural changes to modernize the style could send the prices up to $100,000.

That kind of money is very difficult to attain for many current small business owners in Bremerton.

Just to get the money to buy supplies and pay rent in the opening months Pat Wright cashed in his life insurance policy, extended the family credit card limit and scratched up a good deal on rent on a space right in the heart of downtown.

One of the reasons for their fear was the fact that they were laying all of their finances on the line.

“If Sue or I had a catastrophic injury or death, there would not be any money for the spouse to carry on,” he said.

The Wrights will run their business online after Sept. 30, and will also travel around to different festivals or events selling their teas and other products.

They believe that when the redevelopment is eventually completed 10 or 20 years from now, the city will be worse off than it will be now.

“When this is all done Bremerton is going to be a tasteless, flavorless and colorless place. And no one will come down here,” Wright said.

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