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caption: Stephen Morales at the store where he works in Renton.
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Stephen Morales at the store where he works in Renton.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Here's what 8.6% inflation feels like

First, supply chain problems got the ball rolling. Now, the war in Ukraine has pushed up energy and grain costs.

But the numbers don't tell the whole story.

On the streets of Renton, Washington, people are really feeling the pinch.

Energy prices — and gas prices in particular, influence just about everything.

Steve Morales winces and absorbs the extra cost to commute to his job at Dpad Retro Gaming & Collectibles.

“I live in White Center, and I’m driving to Renton," Morales said. "So, just coming home and going to work, I noticed an extra $20 in gas prices.”

What’s unknown is whether the recent increase in gas prices will inspire more people to take the bus.

According to Metro’s ridership dashboard, the number of bus riders has crept higher every year of the pandemic. But it’s still less than half of where it was in 2019.

Yodit Tekle said she'd like to visit her relatives in Shoreline more, or do things in Seattle, but gas prices have kept her home more often. She and her son had just visited the library in Renton, where they stocked up on books and videos.

caption: Yodit Tekle and her son in Renton
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Yodit Tekle and her son in Renton
Credit: KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Energy costs and rising grain costs have driven up food prices, too. Tekle said that's been really been eating at her lately.

“Yeah, it is high. Going out to eat – that’s one of my hobbies," she said. "So to think two foot longs at Subway are $30 and it’s like – yeah, that’s not even fine dining!”

For $30 you get chips and soda too, but still.

caption: Sara and Vinny Capelli
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Sara and Vinny Capelli
Credit: KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

The cost of other stuff is rising, too. That bothers fourth-grader Vinny Capelli.

“So I was looking for birthday presents because my birthday’s coming up and I noticed that prices went way up," Capelli said. "Like, one Nerf gun, that’s pretty simple. It was $40! Which is expensive.”

As to what that means for his birthday, “I have no clue,” he said.

“Mom and dad will have to work that out,” said his mom, squeezing him on the shoulder reassuringly. Sara Capelli said she has some tricks up her sleeve, like buying store brand groceries instead of name brand.

caption: Katie Newman, owner of the Rose Gift House and Coffee in Renton.
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Katie Newman, owner of the Rose Gift House and Coffee in Renton.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

The cycle of rising prices

The way we respond to inflation also influences prices.

Katie Newman, who owns the Rose Gift House and Coffee in Renton, said the cost of milk, coffee, coffee cups, coffee cup lids – have all been rising.

She said she and other business owners share strategies to cut down on costs.

“I’ve talked to other business owners — a lot them, like, maybe pay for extra storage — and if they have the cash flow abilities, will do something like order a pallet at a time – when they’re like okay, I know prices are gonna continue to raise and that’s another way we can try to hold off on raising as much as possible.”

Earlier in the pandemic, large, preemptive purchases like that contributed to supply chain problems. Remember the run on toilet paper?

Newman doesn’t have a lot of storage space. She’s going to try to make up the difference by saving on labor. When some of her employees leave for college soon, she’ll take over their shifts.

“So for me that is the easiest one to control,” she said.

Newman raised her prices once already. She said she doesn’t want to do it again too soon for fear of driving away customers.

caption: Art Jenkins inside the Rose Gift House and Coffee in Renton.
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Art Jenkins inside the Rose Gift House and Coffee in Renton.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

One of her customers is Art Jenkins.

He said he’s already cutting back on his visits here.

"Even though I’m here now. But this is a rarity now," he said. "So to me, that’s affecting the local economy, when people don’t have the purchasing power they once had.”