Local business says port slowdown ruined their Valentine's Day promotion

SEATTLE -- West Coast ports, including Seattle and Tacoma, will shut down vessel loading and unloading for four days starting Thursday. It’s an effort to keep workers from getting so-called “premium pay”during holidays.

The latest shutdown will affect local businesses like Tomboy Exchange, a start-up merchandise company in Seattle's Sodo district. They were hoping to cash in on some new designs and products this Valentine’s Day. But the lack of love over at the port forced them to change their plans.

When the lifestyle company Tomboy Exchange started, they had no idea one of their most popular items would be boxer briefs. But months ago, they decided to make their best-sellers the highlight of their Valentine’s Day promotions.

“We ramped our orders and put together new color combinations,” says Julie Nomi. “We even decided we were going to have a new product, some pajama bottoms.”

The problem is much of the material needed to make those products comes from overseas and they haven’t been getting their regular shipments, because of the slowdowns at the port.

“We devoted the resources to developing these products, booked up factory space, but no raw materials.”

Tomboy Exchange is just one of the local companies being affected by the problems at the port. Congressman Dave Reichert says it’s frustrating to see businesses lose money, because the Pacific Maritime Association and the longshoremen’s union haven’t been able to negotiate a new contract.

“Especially in Washington, we’ve had a bumper crop of apples and we’re not able to ship those apples to our customers around the world,” he says. “They’re stuck on the docks, they’re stuck in the warehouses, and they’re not being shipped.”

On Thursday, the congressman will be holding a news conference, putting more pressure on the two sides to figure something out.

“We have almost 90 (U.S.) House members signed on to this letter sent to PMA and the union, saying we need quick resolution," Reichert said.

It’s too late for Tomboy Exchange to have the Valentine’s Day business they were hoping for. They’re just hoping business at the port will get back to normal, so they can keep their customers happy.

“We’re just trying to grow a business here and service our fan base to the best of our abilities,” says Nomi.

There was a shutdown at the port last weekend. This time, it won’t just be Saturday and Sunday. It’ll also be Thursday, which is President Lincoln’s birthday, and Monday, which is when Presidents Day is observed.