Community shows support with #WhidbeyStrong

— Created April 1, 2020 by Kathy Reed

By Kacie Jo Voeller

            Business in Island County looks different these days. The importance of social distancing and the stay-at-home order are clear in the wake of COVID-19, but the implications have left many local businesses either shutting their doors or offering altered services to help the community stay safe.

Eric Peterson, owner of Ashley’s Design and Letterman Jackets, said as a Whidbey Island business owner, he wanted to find a way to help local businesses as each organization navigates the uncertainties and challenges presented to them. Peterson launched the WhidbeyStrong campaign, where for those who wish to help local businesses, sending support is just a few clicks away. Shoppers can visit to pre-order T-shirts for $20, and for each shirt sold with a particular business’s logo, $10 from will be sent directly to the store or business.

“For WhidbeyStrong, the main mission is to help small businesses survive the shut down and get money into their hands so they can pay basic bills and expenses to bridge that gap to where things get back to normal and they are able to open up and able to function,” he said.

Peterson said he was inspired by a printing company in St. Louis, Tiny Little Monsters, starting a Here for Good campaign. After reaching out to the St. Louis company, Peterson set to work launching the initiative with a local, Whidbey Island emphasis.

            “That company (Tiny Little Monsters) said, ‘Yeah, go ahead, do it and make it your own thing,’” he said. “They provided a basic outline on how to get that started and then we did some of the groundwork and got it started.”

Peterson said when he started the campaign, about eight businesses were involved. Now, over 30 island businesses, from Woodward’s Tae Kwon Do Academy to Wicked Teuton Brewing Company, have joined the WhidbeyStrong movement.

“It really shows how much of a need there is to support these businesses,” he said.

Peterson said providing a way for businesses to bring in money was especially important for an island community.

“We are a large community with the military, but we are also a really small community so we do have to rely on one another,” he said. “And I think that is a big part of just being there to support each other and businesses knowing that their customers are there and they are going to look out for them and help them out in these tough times.”

The campaign is all about giving people a way to connect at a time when traditional business has been interrupted, Peterson said.

            “What we want to get out to people is that when they buy a shirt or when they donate or when they help other people, it is not just helping one person, it is helping multiple people, and that again, you are not alone in this whole challenge,” he said. “We all rely on one another, so it is just really important to look out for one another and be there.”

            Peterson said another key element of the campaign is the ability to get funds to the businesses in need quickly, without the need for each business to purchase inventory. The shirts will be taken down as pre-orders to be made and distributed once the stay-at-home order has lifted.

“We want that money out there for those businesses to use,” he said. “Every Saturday I am going to go through and we will keep doing that to help those guys, because those bills come due, whether it be weekly or monthly.”

Eric Marshall, publisher of the Whidbey Weekly, said he appreciates the creative approach Peterson has taken to helping the business community.

            “I love what Peterson and Ashley’s Design is doing,” he said. “They are providing local businesses an opportunity to sell merchandise without having to purchase inventory, take or fulfill orders. The community can support their favorite local businesses and get a quality T-shirt. It’s a win-win scenario. It’s also a fun way to promote your business during these challenging times.”

            Marshall said the Whidbey Weekly will be participating in the campaign. As a free publication, the newspaper depends on advertising to stay in business.

“With the mandated closing of businesses and the cancellation of foreseeable events, our advertising has taken a significant hit,” he said. “Like most businesses, we are looking for ways to reduce costs and increase revenue. Having the opportunity to sell apparel without having to purchase any inventory is extremely helpful. Any money we receive to help offset lost advertising revenue is a blessing.”

            For those looking to offer help to the community at this time, Marshall said there are a number of ways to provide assistance.

“Other ways people can help support local businesses are by shopping their online stores, asking about purchasing gift certificates for future use, and continuing to order food from the restaurants that are open,” he said. “If you are unable to financially support a business but still want to help, go online and like their social media platforms, leave a positive review and share their posts.”

Marshall said the WhidbeyStrong movement is one of the many ways islanders have come together to stand behind businesses and their community.

“Community is an extension of family,” he said. “We see it all the time around here; when someone is hurting or in need and calls out for help, our island community is quick to respond. That holds true for our tight-knit business community, too. Right now, small businesses on the island (across the whole country) are hurting and in need of help. Ashley’s Design has come up with an innovative way to offer their support and the community is responding by purchasing shirts. How cool is that? This is a special place to call home.”