Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Bend does not SUX redux.

This traveling around has reaffirmed my appreciation for Bend.

With one important caveat. It helps to have money. You need to either bring it here, or have a job already in place, or be able to truly finance a business.

Fortune Magazine has just named Bend the "best" mountain town retirement location in the U.S.A.

Well, sure. If you have the money to move here and enjoy it. (Fortune thinks Bend is "affordable" but that's a relative term and I think means affordable to people who can afford that kind of thing. See the below paragraph about rents in Hastings, Ne. Now THAT's affordable.)

That still makes us a retirement and tourism center, and that still means most of the jobs around here will be in the minimum wage range.

Just so's you understand that.

At the same time, I still have to call B.S. on the KTVZ story on how Northwest Crossing is leading a recovery in housing. An increase of 11 more houses built last month in Bend isn't very significant to me. The article is basically an anecdotal story promoted by local real estate interests.

Those guys are wearing me down with their remorseless boosterism. But I'm still going to call B.S. until I see some real change in the statistics.


There was a used bookstore and a new bookstore in Hastings, which at 25K pop. is like the fifth largest town in Nebraska. On main street is Prairie Books (great name). They've been in business for 37 years, though they've moved a number of times. (They were in a mall that has become a 'dead' mall.) It was a cozy place, with a store parrot named Dickens.

Thing is -- the owner said, nothing much has changed since he started. They didn't see a boom or a bust. The unemployment rate is nil, and the agribusiness is doing well. The other thing, is his rent is exactly what I paid in Bend-- 30 years ago. His space is the same as Linda's store, but he is paying 1/4th as much. I am paying 6 times what he's paying per foot.

Sure, I probably get more foot traffic, but not THAT much more foot traffic. Rents in Bend are too damn high!

We're currently in Cheyenne, Wy. , the state capital and the biggest 'city' in the state, with 60K pop. They also are an intersection of not one, but two interstates. (The trucks moving around all night make that pretty clear.)

I've always try to point out in this blog that business would be better for me if we had both a interstate and a four-year college. But it always sounded a little lame, especially the lack of interstate part.

This trip has shown me that, if anything, I was underestimating the impact of the interstate business. There are a TON of people on these roads -- and even if they are just popping into town to fill up with gas and goodies, it must represent an tremendous amount of outside cash.

These 60K towns like Flagstaff and Cheyenne seem to have way more road infrastructure and enclaves of business than 80K Bend. (Then again, that may be one of the reasons Bend is so attractive.)

Finally, even if the "green" part of Oregon is mostly on the other side of the mountains, we do have our green forests and mountains; and it just feels way more verdant than these mega-miles of flat and dry and hot countrysides. (Or spread out and frankly pretty unattractive miles and miles of houses and strip malls in Oklahoma City.)

Flagstaff and Santa Fe are attractive locations, but Bend feels cleaner, more vibrant, without the snob appeal of Santa Fe, or the industrial feel of Cheyenne or Flagstaff. In other words, I still think Bend has it over all the places we have visited.

19 comments:

mugmkr said...

I agree, Duncan, Bend does not sux. I've never understood hbm's loathing of Bend. To complain relentlessly about weather is pretty odd - just move if it's that bad. A good buddy of mine just did that, moving from rainy Seattle to sunny California, so I know it can be done.

Bend is fantastic if you are in education, medical, or software and such (i.e., family wage income), not so much if you are trying to make it work for you with very low paying service jobs. Still, even at that, it seems to me that there's a slice of Bend's populace that is willing to put up with the low pay in order to take advantage of all the nature around us. And I totally understand the value in that - Bend is wonderful!

Leitmotiv said...

Duncan, and that's really the way it is with other towns of comparable size across the nation. Bend is vibrant. It has diversity. It has good weather (comparatively, across the board), just not the retirement weather that Miller needs.

It just lacks an interstate and major industry, but that is probably also its allure too. Makes it feels smaller than 80k. Guess you can't have it all.

That Jack Elliott said...

Uh oh. Red meat for HBM.

yokem55 said...

I've long felt that one of the biggest things that could be done for the economy on our side of the state would be to expand Hwy 97 to four lanes (doesn't need to be a fancy devided, limited access deal, just wider) all the way from Biggs down to Weed. Truckers already prefer the route so they can avoid the windey part of I-5 through Grant's Pass. Four lanes would make that an even more comfortable proposition.

But that would require a Congress interested in substantial investments in infrastructure so I suppose I should stop day dreaming....

That Jack Elliott said...

Leitmotiv wrote, "[Bend] just lacks an interstate [...] but that is probably also its allure too."

Right-o. Other than Santa Barbara (my birthtown) and Napa (before it became "Napa"), ever other town I've lived in had an interstate plowing through it. Interstates might bring in more mini-mart, Motel 6, and gas station bucks, but they never class a place up.

H. Bruce Miller said...

"Fortune Magazine has just named Bend the "best" mountain town retirement location in the U.S.A."

These magazine puff pieces about "best towns" are worthless and meaningless. They're just vehicles to sell advertising in the towns that make the list.

"I've never understood hbm's loathing of Bend."

I don't really loathe it, but I'm annoyed by the booster attitude that keeps promoting it as "paradise." My bitching is intended as a counterbalance to that.

"To complain relentlessly about weather is pretty odd - just move if it's that bad."

I've explained this countless times; I don't understand why you and others can't seem to get it. We've been waiting to move until my wife retires. That happens at the end of September.

Not everybody is so well off (or so poor) that they can just pick up and move to another town whenever the itch hits them.

H. Bruce Miller said...

"Interstates might bring in more mini-mart, Motel 6, and gas station bucks, but they never class a place up."

You think Third Street through Bend is classy?

H. Bruce Miller said...

"Bend is fantastic if you are in education"

Not at the rate it's cutting teachers' jobs. Lotsa luck if you're trying to land a teaching job in the public schools here now.

"there's a slice of Bend's populace that is willing to put up with the low pay in order to take advantage of all the nature around us."

Ah yes, "poverty with a view." As long as the locals are willing to settle for that, that's what they'll get.

H. Bruce Miller said...

"Flagstaff and Santa Fe are attractive locations, but Bend feels cleaner, more vibrant, without the snob appeal of Santa Fe"

Never been to Flagstaff, but I can't imagine how you think Bend is "cleaner" and "more vibrant" than Santa Fe.

But then, you're lookin' through the eyes of love, and the eyes of a confirmed Bend lifer.

Anonymous said...

Lots of good things happening in September ....

B_D

That Jack Elliott said...

"You think Third Street through Bend is classy?"

You don't think that the Pretty Pussycat, Stars, The Patient Angler, and all the other quirky little businesses class up Bend?

H. Bruce Miller said...

"Lots of good things happening in September"

Don't get too excited yet; we won't be leaving immediately. Going to spend the coming winter in Arizona, then coming back in the "spring" to put our house on the market. But sold or not, we'll be gone permanently before the following winter.

Of course if you want to get rid of me sooner, make me a good offer on my house and I'm sure it can be arranged.

That Jack Elliott said...

"Of course if you want to get rid of me sooner,[...]"

HBM, no one wants to get rid of you! You are a "Bend Treasure," Bend's unofficial goodwill ambassador, man about town, Princeton alumnus, swell dresser, and fine host, to boot: the social events at your house are legendary.

mugmkr said...

I too will miss hbm when he leaves. I've never met him but I think of him as a local who, in his own way, loves Bend, or used to, and misses what Bend used to do for him, and reminds us of what is now missing in his view. Good luck Bruce, I for one don't want to see you go but I wish you the best in your future.

BTW I worked at the local school district for 12 years before leaving to start my business. The staffing cuts started long before I left, it's a very difficult place to work for a lot of reasons, but those who are employed there do in fact get pretty decent pay especially when you compare to the mostly low wage jobs here in other fields related to tourism. So I stand by my example of the local school system being one of several careers which pay well locally.

H. Bruce Miller said...

"I think of him as a local who, in his own way, loves Bend, or used to, and misses what Bend used to do for him, and reminds us of what is now missing in his view."

Yes, that's a large part of it. For example, when we first moved here the living room windows of our southeast Bend home had an unobstructed view south over hills and forests toward the Newberry Crater area. Then during the real estate bubble, Pahlisch bought the land just south of our place and built "Sun Meadow," a bunch of giant, two-story, hideous, cracker-box houses crammed together on tiny lots, which not only obliterated the view but brought in hundreds of people whose big thrill in life seems to be running power tools loudly, every day of the week and almost all hours of the day.

No, this is not the "charming small town" that we gave up good jobs -- and good weather -- to move to.

"Good luck Bruce"

Thank you. Could I commission you to make a special BEND SUX mug?

mugmkr said...

I would be honored to make you a Bend Sux mug free of charge*, Bruce. You can contact me through my website.

*Nobody else gets a free mug so don't bother asking. :)

Leitmotiv said...

I have no ill will towards Miller either. But the downputting of Bend (or counterbalance as he puts it) seems to go on ad nauseum. Which can really get on a your nerves. We get it. Bend ain't paradise, but it's also fairly great if you can handle that poverty with a view. :)

H. Bruce Miller said...

Leimotiv: "But the downputting of Bend (or counterbalance as he puts it) seems to go on ad nauseum. Which can really get on a your nerves."

I'll give you the same advice I used to give people who told me they didn't like my column: Don't read it.

Leitmotiv said...

I don't. I read it here unfortunately. It's like you're informing us against our will.