Oak Harbor debuts website to bolster businesses

— Created January 6, 2021 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

The City of Oak Harbor has developed a new website aimed at helping local businesses suffering in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Trouble is, the very businesses the city is trying to help may not even know about the website.

The “supportoakharborbusiness.com” website went live in mid-December, even though few businesses were listed (more are being added regularly) and the site seemed incomplete and contained only stock photos.

While the Langley and Coupeville Chambers of Commerce launched virtual shopping villages featuring local businesses in April and May, respectively, the subject of establishing a website for Oak Harbor businesses wasn’t brought up until a November City Council meeting and at a budget workshop meeting the following day. Spurred on by Gov. Jay Inslee’s order to again close restaurants to indoor dining and close fitness centers, bowling alleys and indoor movie theaters before the Thanksgiving holiday – a closure which continues today, city council members wanted to investigate other ways CARES funding (which had to be spent by Dec. 31) could be used to help small businesses.

“I don’t think there’s anything more pressing,” Councilmember Joel Servatius said. “If we have excess COVID dollars, we as a city have a lot bigger pockets to get through this than some of these small businesses do. I know that we’ve utilized some of these funds internally for some of our own COVID-related expenses, but my hope would be we could put our heads together…to figure out how to fast track a package out to those businesses, specifically those most affected by the ‘no dine in’ restriction.”

Council members wanted to see if any of the remaining CARES money could be used to help with rent payments, but because of strict regulations for how the money could be used, the City looked for other alternatives, identifying a need for assistance purchasing PPE, take out containers, signs and printing.

“I know it’s challenging to know where to find these resources,” said Sabrina Combs, public information officer for the City of Oak Harbor. “People want to know where a list is available, or where they can support their local businesses. This [website] points you in the right direction.

“We quickly identified that we could use CARES funding, and used  an online website provider that allowed us to use a template,” Combs continued, remarking on how fast the city was able to get the site up and running. “It’s user friendly and required pretty minimal work.”

The website has several different categories of business, such as finance and insurance, travel and lodging, restaurants, shopping and retail, construction and handyman, real estate, automotive and marine, to name a few. Cost of the website template and hosting is approximately $248 per year.

The City worked closely with the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce to get the website off the ground.

“We came together as a group…one huge team trying to get economic recovery back to the entire island,” said Vicki Chambers, executive director of the Oak Harbor Chamber. “It’s still a work in progress – we’re just now uploading photos and trying to make it more specific to more Oak Harbor businesses.”

Graham said it’s tough for small businesses. Some have had to close and others are having to make hard choices.

“We have 11, 12 members who are not able to renew their memberships because they just don’t have funds,” she said. “They have to choose between that or paying their light bill, paying their employees. It’s tough out there and we want to be there to help.”

The chamber and the Oak Harbor Main Street Association, along with the city, are trying to identify businesses and inform them about the website. Any business within the City of Oak Harbor can ask to be added to the website by clicking on the “Business Resources” tab, then clicking on “Promote My Business.” Those interested can also email cares@oakharbor.org.

“I hope the community is patient as we try to get all this information up there,” said Combs. “We’re continuing to update, so if something needs to be added or included, let us know.”

“I wish I had a magic want so that on Feb. 1 everything will be back to normal, but there’s not,” said Graham. “We’re hoping to have the website up as long as we need it up to push the economy.”

Check out supportoakharborbusiness.com, altogetherlangley.com and explorecoupeville.com to find local businesses and shopping options in your community.