Two pictures of Bainbridge

Despite the common perception of rapid change, Bainbridge is a rather stable community, according to two new surveys that shed light on island demographics.

But we are not economically independent or isolated.

About as many of us work in Seattle as work on the island. And while almost all of us shop on Bainbridge, we still spend a great deal of money elsewhere.

“Our readers on Bainbridge Island tell us that 44 percent do most of their shopping off the island,” said John Vitale, marketing operations manager for Sound Publishing, which sponsored one of the surveys.

“The national average is 18 to 22 percent of dollars leaving the area. Bainbridge Island is a huge exception,” Vitale said.

The two surveys were done at about the same time, but by different organizations using different methodologies.

One survey was done by the Field Company for the Bainbridge Economic Council. Done principally to assess the demand for telecommunications infrastructure on the island, that survey involved telephone interviews with some 389 randomly selected homes and businesses on Bainbridge.

The other survey, done by Pulse Research for Sound Publishing, consisted of a lengthy questionnaire inserted in the Review.

Somewhat contrary to the oft-stated view that Bainbridge is being overrun by “newcomers,” both surveys showed that the typical islander has been here for awhile. In fact, the BEC survey showed that the folks who they talked to on the phone had been here for an average of over 17 years.

While the school system may attract families with children, a surprisingly strong majority of islanders – almost two thirds – have no children at home under 18, according to both surveys.

The surveys did bear out the general perception of Bainbridge as educated and affluent, with a median household income of at least $75,000. Mirroring that statistic were findings that almost half of island families have at least one member with a post-college degree, while only about 1 in 10 did not go to college.

Still commuting

The Pulse survey suggests that about as many islanders work on Bainbridge as in Seattle, which is consistent with past information collected from numerous sources.

But that survey also shows that another significant number work in neither place, suggesting that retirees make up a significant portion of the island’s population.

A bright spot disclosed by the BEC survey is that Bainbridge-based businesses are not necessarily small. Of the 83 business responses, almost 40 percent reported five or more employees, with eight firms reporting more than 30 workers.

The Achilles heel in the economic picture, though, is the loss of dollars to off-island businesses.

The Sound Publishing survey is intended to be a tool to help local merchants capture more of the Bainbridge consumer dollar, Vitale said.

“The missed shopping dollars provide a huge opportunity for the merchants who can figure out how to go about getting them,” he said.

The survey tracks such things as the types of products and services that Bainbridge families intend to buy over the next year. Matching that information with knowledge of what may not be available locally could disclose new business opportunities.

“This could be a library for merchants who take the time to look at it for opportunities,” said Lori Maxim, marketing vice-president for Sound Publishing.

For example, Vitale said he is not aware of any place on the island where one can buy men’s dress wear or girls’ underwear.

The fact that island consumers do plan to make such purchases could mean that those are available market niches.

Another possible explanation for off-island shopping, Vitale said, is a simple lack of awareness that the desired merchandise or service is available on Bainbridge.

“The top reasons that people shop out of their area is that they don’t know the goods and services area available, and because of selection,” he said. “Price comes after that as a factor.”

Vitale said that in the near future, the survey data will be coded in such a way that it can be sorted on a custom-made basis.

“For example, a merchant might want to find out about the characteristics of people who are not shopping with that merchant – their age, income level, and that sort of thing, and then plan how to reach them,” Vitale said.

He stressed, though, that while pinpoint demographic data will be available, the identities of individuals will not.

“We know a lot about the people who responded to the survey,” he said, “but we do not know who they are.”

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