Strung along both edges of State Route 3 as it breaks away east from Port Orchard, Belfair’s isolated spot between the S-curves to Bremerton and the long stretch of road south to Shelton has made the town a bustling business hub as of late.
“I hear businesses saying all the time now that things are picking up, that people are loosening up their purses and spending a little more,” said North Mason County Visitor Center manager Ann Whitman.
That’s true for the automotive industry in Belfair, for one. Auto repair shops and the like have not just stayed strong throughout the recession, but more are being added.
The growing number includes a new O’Reilly’s Auto Parts store that opened last month, and is staging a grand opening celebration the end of July.
“It’s a growing area, and based on our customers’ comments, it’s been long overdue,” said O’Reilly’s district manager Ted Ruoff. “Why make the people of Belfair drive to Shelton or Gig Harbor or Bremerton to find us?”
The company had the goal of opening a store in Belfair some time ago, Ruoff added, but had not been able to find a good site until this year. Now, set right along the bustling, two-lane curve of SR 3 in the town’s northeast sector and across from the Visitor Center, the shop now occupies prime business real estate, he said.
That the new O’Reilly’s is right next to the popular Les Schwab tire store is also a benefit, rather than a competitive situation, he explained.
“If the customer wants to do it themselves, they come to us. If they want to pay somebody, they go to them, and then hopefully, they call me to get the parts,” he said. “It’s a symbiotic relationship.”
Another new franchise in town is Dairy Queen, which opened early this year. Run by regional investor Ron Baxter, who also owns the Port Orchard, Shelton and Gig Harbor Dairy Queen stores, it was hardly a gamble that the central-town site would do crisp business, especially come summertime.
“We’ve been doing very, very well,” said shift manager Nancy Anderson, “especially now that we’re into the good-weather months.”
But why did Baxter pick Belfair for his next shop, rather than other Mason, west Pierce, or Kitsap sites?
“Because Belfair’s a hub,” Anderson said. “It makes its own business.”
If the lack of an ice cream stop was one empty niche in Belfair until this year, another was gardening.
That is, until Scott McLendon’s Hardware saw it, and expanded its original site December through March to add a roughly 3,500-square-foot, fully stocked greenhouse space.
“We really worked our brains off, but we knew it was something needed in Belfair,” said Mark Goodwin, a day manager for the store.
There is a small plant nursery down the road, he added, but McLendon now provides the town with a major indoor and outdoor gardening and landscaping site.
“We certainly have more variety in and numbers of plants,” he said. “So it’s going really, really well.”
And, all of these new businesses follow the theme that Whitman has seen from her busy Visitor Center post: ongoing optimism in 2013.
“Even though part of it is that they’re in their busier season right now,” she said, “I’m hearing that businesses are feeling much more upbeat this year over last about how things are going.”