Barbara Tolliver and Susan Taylor are planning to do some more traveling of their own. After 25 years owning The Traveler store in Bainbridge Island they are packing up and retiring.
They started thinking about closing last year as their five-year lease on the building was going to end. What clinched the decision was COVID-19.
“COVID is entering into all equations,” Tolliver said, adding that travel is one thing people are cutting back on.
Tolliver said the business has been a great fit.
“The community cares about the world,” she said. “We live on an island, but we have broad and far-reaching interests.”
The store, which will close when inventory is gone about mid-August, carries luggage, clothes, guidebooks, maps and all types of travel accessories.
“We sell everything but the ticket,” Taylor said, adding they have been known to recommend travel agencies.
Tolliver said they are hearing from customers: “You’re our favorite store. What are we going to do without you?”
Tolliver said she came to the island because of the great schools, while Taylor came because of family after a divorce. Before the store, Tolliver worked in libraries, and Taylor was a travel agent.
Both have lived around the world – Tolliver in England, while Taylor grew up in Bogota, Colombia, and lived in Switzerland and Italy, too.
They said they weren’t worried about opening their first business. “Not as nervous as we probably should have been,” Taylor said.
A fun part of the job has been going to trade shows. “We love what we do and tailor it to our friends and neighbors,” Tolliver said.
The Traveler has been much more than a retail store. From the beginning they have offered programs on traveling with speakers and classes.
One of their favorites had to do with Islam. It was a time when the nation was concerned about the Taliban. Their two experts from the high school gave a 14-hour presentation over seven weeks to their maximum of 25 people.
Taylor said Iran was one of the best trips they’ve ever taken. “You hear about it, and it makes you fearful,” she said. “But they are the friendliest, kindest” people anywhere. “It blew my mind.”
Taylor added they did have to wear a scarf over their head, but the women there, “didn’t like it any more than we did.”
They said they have tried to tell others about Iran, but it’s a hard sell. “The media does a fantastic job of making you afraid,” Tolliver said.
They did other things to connect the island to the greater world. Since 1995, the store has donated 5% of December gross receipts toward purchasing books for schools on Ometepe, Bainbridge Island’s Sister Island in Nicaragua. All told, the store has donated more than $56,000. There were three libraries there, and now there are 40. Local students go there for intergenerational work projects.
“Travel changes lives,” Tolliver said.
They also have been very involved in the “Buy Local” movement. Both have served on the Downtown Association board, and Tolliver twice was president. Money spent locally is so much better for communities, “but brick and mortar is a fragile ecosystem right now,” Taylor said.
As for advice on traveling, Tolliver said people try to do too much. “Personal experiences are more memorable,” she said, adding people also tend to pack too much. “You can travel with a lot less than you think you can,” Taylor said.
They had to cancel a trip to Morocco recently due to the coronavirus but next they want to go to Italy or Barcelona, Spain.