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News / Business / Clark County Business

Foot Traffic treks into Vancouver and land of sales tax

The store opening Saturday in east Vancouver is the fifth for the Portland-based company

By Allan Brettman, Columbian Business Editor
Published: October 19, 2018, 6:37pm
5 Photos
Glacier quietly oversees the unpacking as his owner Fritz Fitzer and his co-workers get the store ready for opening day at the new Foot Traffic in Vancouver’s Cascade Park Plaza on Friday.
Glacier quietly oversees the unpacking as his owner Fritz Fitzer and his co-workers get the store ready for opening day at the new Foot Traffic in Vancouver’s Cascade Park Plaza on Friday. (Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Somewhere between the Columbia River, a line of interstate traffic and consumers’ wallets lies a sweet spot, and David Pietka thinks he’s found it.

It’s inside a running shoe.

“An 8 percent tax on $100 is $8. The decision for everybody,” said Pietka, “is what’s their break point on a price of a good before they travel to Portland?

“We are expecting that it will be closer to our price and the Vancouver people will appreciate our support of their community and will stay here in Vancouver and buy these products at this price point.”

Pietka is co-owner of Foot Traffic, a running shoe and supply retailer with four locations in Portland. At 10 a.m. Saturday, a fifth location will be added, at 305 S.E. Chkalov Dr. in east Vancouver. Foot Traffic will be trampling the conventional wisdom that the typical Southwest Washington consumer would prefer to cross the bridges for sales-tax-free purchases in Oregon. But Pietka and the other co-owner, Sean Rivers, think the combination of location, competitive prices and customer loyalty will win the day. On top of that, there may be a civic-minded component.

The Foot Traffic co-owners had been considering a move to Vancouver for some time, Pietka said. Possible locations included the Salmon Creek area and 192nd Street corridor as well as the winning location, at Cascade Park Plaza, chosen because of its proximity to the entire community, he said.

“Here we are,” Pietka said. “As central as you can be, right off of 205, right off of Mill Plain. Everybody can get here. Everybody shops in this area.”

In some ways, the Vancouver Foot Traffic location may be the best of the five outlets, situated as it is in a shopping center. The company’s four Portland locations are more neighborhood oriented.

But choosing Vancouver does not come without “a sliver of trepidation,” said Rivers, who organizes some of the store’s signature running events, including the Holiday Half in North Portland and the Foot Traffic Flat on Sauvie Island.

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“Indeed, the decision to move north across the river was not without careful consideration of the potential ramifications of the sales-tax discrepancy,” Rivers wrote in an email. “However, in our mind, there’s no doubt that the Vancouver running and walking community wants an active, responsive, local shoe and event business.”

Rivers and Pietka are betting their formula of customer service (such as in-store running gait analysis) and community-oriented events (group runs will be offered on Wednesdays), will help the store distinguish itself to win sales, even in the face of an 8.4 percent sales tax. On top of that, the store has weathered internet competition since its founding in 2001.

And in Vancouver, it will face competition from a known friendly adversary, the Fleet Feet store at 16020 S.E. Mill Plain Blvd.

That store has Portland roots that extend to its previous owner, Fit Right, previously called Fit Right Northwest. Fit Right’s owners, who sold their stores to a Fleet Feet franchisee in 2014, opened a Vancouver store in 2002 or 2003, said Kevin Cooper, the store’s manager. Fit Right opened its original store in Northwest Portland in 2000.

Cooper, who declined on commenting on Foot Traffic’s arrival in Vancouver, downplayed the importance of a sales tax.

“It’s important to some folks and not to others,” he said. “It can really vary from person to person.”

Pietka, whose children attend schools in Clark County, offered another reason for shopping closer to home.

“The people in Southwest Washington need to support their economy,” he said. “They need to support their government agencies. Here we are … giving them a chance to support their local economy.”

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Columbian Business Editor