San Juan Island Hostel opens for seasonal workers and daily guests

Friday Harbor’s migration of seasonal workers is about to strike, and this time, Charles Thomas is ready.

“It’s always been a problem, finding workers in Friday Harbor,” said Charles Thomas, who has owned the China Pearl restaurant for 27 years. “People can’t find places to stay to work in this town.”

To accommodate seasonal workers this summer, at the beginning of May, Thomas will open a hostel, located next to San Juan Fitness on Argyle Avenue called San Juan Island Hostel. At $500 a month, four temporary workers can share a room with two bunk beds. This includes utilities, as well as amenities like internet and TV.

“For $500 a month, they can afford it,” said Thomas, who has been contemplating opening a hostel for about 10 years.

At a March panel discussion on affordable housing, County Health and Community Services Director Mark Tompkins admitted that anecdotal evidence shows businesses suffer from employees unable to find shelter.

Lauren Jawer, owner of Belle Terre Island Ceramics since 2009, said it’s hard to grow her small business because workers seem transient.

“I can’t expand my business without people willing to stick around. I’m not sure how to find workers,” said Jawer.

John Hamilton, who has managed Cask and Schooner since it’s 2011 opening, has had to help seasonal workers find shelter for about three seasons.

“It’s become a burden on the employer,” said Hamilton.

The Cask and Schooner proprietor owns two rentals to house employees and may buy a third. Hamilton is down to four summer employees working on travel visas, from eight, because of the lack of housing options. The likelihood of him using Thomas’ hostel, he said, is likely.

“There’s not even enough housing for the people who are here,” said Hamilton.

That could change this spring. The 17,000 square-foot inn will offer eight rooms for seasonal workers and nine for daily guests. Seasonal workers rooms are rented to business owners, who collect rent from their employees. Private rooms cost $50 a night and include one to three bunk beds per room. There is no limit to how long guests can rent.

Bathrooms, kitchens and living areas are communal.

“People who work at the restaurants in town or other places can go home and cook themselves lunch, dinner or breakfast,” said Thomas.

A community kitchen has two, four-burner ovens, two refrigerators, two sinks and a dishwasher. Each sex has two shared washrooms, with three showers, bathroom stalls and sinks. Lockers are located in the dining room, living area and downstairs entrance. Two family rooms include 60-inch TVs and a pool table. The Harbor Village building houses other businesses including Cecil’s Electronics and Photos, Paradise Lanes and the Computer Place.

Affordable shelter could ensure that the additional employees needed every summer are hired, said Thomas.

“Employees work eight hours and then stay another two hours because it’s busy and customers are still coming in,” said Thomas of summer’s increased patrons. “We all suffer. We need extra help, everyone does, from Kings Market to China Pearl.”