Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Hap Taylor article in the Bulletin has made me want, for one last time, to explain how bad things were in Bend back then. (Hap Taylor and Sons went bankrupt in the mid-80s....just like everyone else.)

You know how my parents generation was scarred by the Great Depression, so that no financial decision was made without taking that into account? I've never been able to shake the mid-80s from my consciousness.

It was a time of opportunity, in some ways. I was able to buy the store, because the owner (Mike Richardson, who went on to become owner of Dark Horse Comics and Things From Another World and a bit of tycoon) wanted out, and I'm sure he thought he'd found his 'last fool' in me. I found sports cards to carry me through the 80's. I was doing O.K. when everyone around me was really hurting.

It's really hard to explain the psychology back them. We felt doomed and hopeless, and those businesses who hadn't already left downtown were trying to sell out. The figure that was bandied about was 40% vacancy, but it felt much worse. Think downtown Burns, only worse.

A series of restaurants went into the space the Toomies is now in. Nothing like the haunted look in waiter's eyes, as they stood, tuxedo ed in the window waiting for customers. My neighbor, Jerry from the Sole Shop, and I used to sit out on the sidewalk and play cribbage for hours.

I remember when some young fellow from California named Bauhofer decided to renovate the Old Post Office, most of us thought he was crazy. The rate of change was very slow. I think it was a couple of years later when the guy renovated the O'Kane building, and most of us wrote that off to some crazy Californian who had so much Carpenter's music royalties that he could throw it away.

That's why, when people think that downtown Bend coming back was inevitable, it just means they weren't here. Because it happened one project at a time, and each one was risky, and there were a bunch of missteps and failures along the way.

But the physical reality of downtown Bend, was really only a manifestation of the scary psychology back then. I don't think I was even willing to admit that MAYBE the recession was even over until the 90's. So all that Reagan talk about "Morning in America" was just gibberish.

So yeah, I've seen a boom town become a ghost town, and it's something you never forget.


Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

This long weekend I travelled to the Coast with my family -- Bend to Netarts by way of Salem.

When you travel around Oregon like that, Bend and Portland's bright-and-shiny-newness is really striking. I mean, there are boarded up storefronts in downtown Salem. Bend and Portland are isolated oases... I'm beginning to understand why those timber payments are such a big deal.

MIsstrade said...

Funny how that young chap name Bauhoffer is now into Broken Top and Tethrow and that crazy Californian with Carpenters Royalty money is just a great father here in town with 3 beautiful daughters who made a killing in RE with the O'kane building and others.

Duncan McGeary said...

I say, good for them. Really. They showed some real vision.

Duncan McGeary said...

That ability to think big...to risk big...I admire that. The other name I mentioned, Mike Richardson, I watched as he risked everything, reaching for bigger and bigger goals. Takes vision and guts.

And I don't believe that Bauhoffer was a guaranteed success, and if he had failed, it might have set other developers back a few years.

I think there was some vision in the growing of St. Charles, as well; and I think Brooks Scanlon also made some correct choices early on. I remember how weird I thought it was that they would sell the mill and the lumber, but keep the land.

I don't think success was assured. Without the above mentioned, we might be more in the postion of Klamath Falls or Grants Pass -- more emerging than mature.

Bend Economy Man said...

I hear what you are saying Dunc. Sometimes I think that my outlook on Bend's economy owes a lot to those days.

I wasn't running a business - I was growing up. Our desks at school were so old that they had inkwells. How long ago did elementary school kids use inkwells? Many streets on the Westside were unpaved and would toss huge plumes of dirt onto 14th Street when it rained. There was junk in front of houses in neighborhoods where houses are priced at a half-mill or more nowadays. I remember seeing boarded-up storefronts when my mom would take me to Wetle's downtown to buy saltwater sandals for the summer. There were stores devoted to selling rusty junk - not antiques, rusty junk - and I figure they probably paid only a couple hunded bucks a month in rent. You could roll a bowling ball down the length of the Bend River Mall on a weekday and not endanger a soul.

And Bend was surrounded by the same amenities then as now. Bachelor was there. I guess the difference is that now there's the Internet, there's a nationwide "recreation culture," and so on.

So I guess all those who believe that we're now dealing with a new paradigm of how the Central Oregon economy is supposed to work can understand my views in context. As in - maybe you're right, if all you say is the truth. I would sacrifice the pleasure of being right if that's the case.