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Poulsbo businesses keep it close to home

POULSBO — The rushing approach of the tourism season has yet to spill out onto Liberty Bay’s shores, but area businesses are already preparing for its arrival.

And as traveling expenses add up with a walloping thud, this year local companies are shifting their attention to those already close by, hoping locals, too, take a dip in what makes Poulsbo such a charming attraction.

Greater Poulsbo Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Adele Heinrich said the chamber is channeling its efforts to a “shop and play locally” focus. The agency will market within 150-200 miles of Poulsbo, catering to an economy that will shorten trip distances for many.

She said with gas and ferry costs on the rise, it will be local and nearby visitors the chamber will work to attract. Currently, the chamber is producing a new community guide meant to find its way into the hands of residents. It is expected to be out by the beginning of July.

Poulsbo Inn & Suites sales manager Shawna Seals said the Little Norway lodging institution, too, is priming packages aimed at travelers coming from not-too-far away. While the inn always works to velkommen tourists from across the Puget Sound, rising costs are anticipated to make that trip more difficult for some.

The inn developed getaway programs geared to provide easy access to nearby destinations and fun and relaxing vacations for patrons without the spendy drive. Paired with area companies, including the Whiskey Creek Steak House, Northwest Boat Rentals, Stella’s Pizza & Pasta, White Horse Golf Club and The Point Casino, Poulsbo Inn has created a handful of various getaway treats that aren’t a pain in the pocketbook.

“We’re anticipating that there will be more people utilizing more of our getaway programs,” Seals said. “We want to be sure that we can keep things affordable and market to them something that’s going to be a direct draw.”

Downtown business owner Bill Archer, president of Northwest Boat Rentals, said he isn’t worried about the slowing economy’s affects on Little Norway businesses.

Named Kitsap’s 2007 Tourism Promoter of the Year by the Kitsap Peninsula Visitor & Convention Bureau, Archer said he thinks the coming months will still be positive for merchants.

He said 80 percent of his customers are local residents with friends or family visiting the area. Northwest Boat Rentals, a company in its third year, rents 12-seater electric boats and Nu Canoes to customers wanting a bay-side view of the town.

“I think the tourism in Poulsbo will be good,” he said. “We’ve had guests come in from places just to go on these boats in Liberty Bay.”

Northwest Boat Rentals will open for the season officially May 1. Archer said he is already booked up for the Third of July, and is even adding a 22-foot sailboat rental this year. As gas prices rise at the marina as well, and maintenance and insurance costs tend to mount quickly, taking advantage of a rental option can be a penny-saving opportunity, he said.

Historic Downtown Poulsbo Association (HDPA) president Tammy Mattson said tailoring offerings to residents is nothing new for Front Street business owners. While tourism tends to pick up significantly in May, she said it is the local shoppers and patrons who keep the merchants afloat, and they try to keep them coming downtown all year long.

“We’ve always tried to attract our local residents,” she said, adding while the HDPA and other business and tourism agencies use marketing dollars to bring in visitors, “at the same time, we understand that without our residents, what are we? We love and rely on our local community and our neighbors.”

And while Mattson, owner of Tizely’s Europub and Europa Deli, said she knows for many extra spending money this spring and summer could be on the decline, downtown businesses are still working hard to provide activities and specials that not only bring shoppers in, but stir up good, old-fashioned community bonding.

“This year to us is coming back to our roots, because we are celebrating the centennial,” she said. From the Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day events to the literacy festivals, Viking Fest and Girls Night Out that are scheduled for April and May, downtown merchants have cooked up a host of “bring-it-back-home activities for the community to be involved in.”

And there’s no waiting for the tourists to come a few months from now.

“It’s already started,” she said.

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