Founded in 1792 by Capt. George Vancouver, Vashon Island — and attached Maury Island, accessible by a small bridge — is largely known for its tourism trade and seen by many Puget Sound residents as a hidden gem of amazing coastal views and luscious hikes. In fact, the Vashon Island Chamber of Commerce boasts that Vashon is the “Heart of the Sound.”
During the 1850s, settlers were drawn to the isles. Soon, the land was cultivated, and small businesses began springing up. Today, businesses on Vashon Island continue to flourish and serve the island’s residents and tourists.
The island is approximately 13 miles long and 8 miles wide at its widest point. And while tourism ups the overall population during summer months, the island has a year-round population of about 11,000. This permanent population helps the island keep its small businesses running, no matter the season.
“In the summer, the population booms to (between) 20,000 and 25,000 people,” said Cheryl Lubbert, president of the Vashon Island Chamber of Commerce. “(It is) comparable to Nantucket (Massachusetts), where during winter there’s a core group running businesses locally, and in the summer, people come to their vacation homes.”
When tourists take the time to hop on a ferry to explore Vashon, they are greeted with some of the best cideries and wineries in the county, like Nashi Orchards and Palouse Winery, the regionally renowned Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie, and a diverse food scene.
The island also is known for its art community and grants visitors the opportunity to see world-class performances, such as pianist Vyacheslav “Slava” Gryaznov in an intimate setting at its $16 million performing arts center. The influence of art also can be seen at its number of galleries throughout the island.
Still, many of Vashon’s primary industries are largely invisible to nonresidents. In fact, the island employs close to 5,000 people, nearly one-fifth of those employed in the professional, scientific, and technical industries. Other prominent industries include healthcare and social assistance fields, as well as educational services. Those who work in the financial and manufacturing sectors are among the highest-paid.
Overall, Lubbert said, she has seen substantial growth in the business community over the last decade.
“There has been an increase in restaurants, small businesses, and beverage businesses, so I do think there’s been some nice economic development from my perspective,” she said. “I’ve seen a change in people coming to visit more year-round, which is important for our businesses and community.”
Despite Vashon’s land limitations, the chamber wants the island to continue to grow in tourism while bolstering its feeling of serenity, according to Jim Marsh, the chamber’s executive director.
“Vashon will always be a tourist destination,” he said. “Our future is to continue to be a place that captures people’s imaginations; inspires people to take time away from their daily grind; and do so while preserving our locally run, small, rural, artsy community.”