Many happy returns for area retailers

The fact that more than 3,200 sailors arrived in Kitsap County last week was not lost on anyone, least of all local retailers.

Along Wheaton Way and in Silverdale, reader boards welcomed the sailors, and attempted to woo them with military discounts.

The reader board outside Nuts About Hi-Fi on Silverdale Way reads “Welcome back hometown heroes.” General manager Bob Craft said the store already was having an unusually robust January, which got even better when the USS Sacramento and USS Carl Vinson arrived home last week.

“The timing in the electronics business is good because of the end-of-year clearance, and the military discount offered saves them more,” Craft said.

Craft stayed in contact with several deployed sailors via e-mail, he said, and a number of them have stopped in to purchase car audio equipment.

“They are in the demographic group which allows them to love music,” Craft said.

There is a hard logic to the retailer’s enthusiasm. The sailors were deployed long enough to stockpile earnings, and returned to Kitsap with a pent-up demand for goods and services.

Lt. j.g. Bill Couch, a spokesman for Navy Region Northwest, estimated the Sacramento and Vinson sailors have a cumulative annual payroll of approximately $80 million dollars.

The tourism industry was hit hard in the wake of Sept. 11, and hoteliers welcomed the boost that started weeks before the ships pulled in.

“We are a little busier than last year and we noticed an increase three weeks prior to the arrival of the ships,” said Kevin Wojcik, general manager of the WestCoast Silverdale Hotel.

Last week, Navy-related travelers accounted for 50 hotel room stays, Wojcik said, and about $125,000 worth of business.

Salespeople at West Hills Honda decorated the showroom in red, white and blue during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, according to general manager and partner Jerry Powers. The dealership was rewarded with high traffic.

“We have had a number of people coming in, and we have sold some cars,” Powers said.

He predicted increased sales in the coming weeks, and added that he believes the military has helped shelter Kitsap County from the economic troubles plaguing the eastern Puget Sound.

Jeff Robbins, a sales associate at the Verizon Wireless kiosk in Kitsap Mall, said he saw an immediate spike in business, but things since have slowed to a normal pace.

“The first day it was back, I did four activations in 15 or 20 minutes — all from the Carl Vinson,” Robbins said.

He also noted increased traffic in the mall.

“They have been out to sea for a long time and they are buying gifts and stuff like that for family members,” Robbins said.

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