Friday, September 26, 2014

It makes a difference.

Cameron was at the Portland comic convention last weekend, and he visited a comic store while in the city.

"I don't understand it," he said.  "They were doing all the things that we don't do.  How can they do that?"

"Two million people," I said.

That's it, in a nutshell.

Here's the thing.  The Bend Metro area includes 200K people, and that includes all of Central Oregon, Lapine, Redmond, Sisters, etc. etc.

So we have a much smaller base of people, at least half of whom are not urban.  Actually, I would include most of Bend in that, and call them "small town."  There is a different attitude toward the arts in a "rural" or "small town" than there is in an "urban area."

So I have a base of customers which is in no way enough to support a comic store, or a game store, or a card shop, and perhaps not even a independent bookstore (since Bend currently doesn't have one.)

My solution was to try to be all those things.

Anyway, within a half hour drive, I have access to 200K customers, most of whom aren't ever going to be interested in comics.

Overlay that with tourists.  Being in an expensive downtown with access to tourists is the only thing that makes my store viable.

In Portland, they have two million people within half an hour drive.  Not only that, they have several four year universities, they have an interstate, they have an urban culture.

It makes an enormous difference. 

In every case, the towns in the valley have access to an even greater population pool within an hour, and then an hour and a half, and then two hours -- on an easy access interstate.

In an hour, an hour and half, and two hours of Bend, you hit wilderness.  Not only that, but mountains and desert.  Not so easy to drive, especially in the winter.

Even the Medford/Ashland and Corvallis/Albany Metro areas have access to twice as many people as Bend, along with legit four year colleges and an interstate.  Eugene/Springfield has access to three times that population.  (With the other Metro areas just an hour away.)

It makes a difference.  Anyone who comes to Bend needs to understand that difference.

I always say the lower population isn't the biggest problem, it's the isolation, the lack of an interstate and a true four year college. 

Tourism is what makes everything work.

There are many things that we are so very, very close to being able to do...but ultimately can't.  Perhaps in another five or ten years the population will have grown enough, perhaps when the college here is really humming, perhaps when Hwy 97 has been turned into a faux interstate.

But until then, it is better to recognize the realities and scale the store properly.  It is still possible to be a viable store here, but I think you just have to be slightly more efficient and careful.

1 comment:

P. J. Grath said...

My situation is similar to yours, except that mine is exclusively a bookstore, with none of the other stock you carry. But small town, yes; interstate, no; tourists, yes. Our little village has rebounded enormously from its low economic point 8 years ago, and that's been good. On the other hand, I would hate to see it suffer from too much "success," even if that meant doubling my own income. I like living in the country and having my bookstore in a village. If the country were to turn to suburbia and the village to a sprawling town, I wouldn't be nearly as happy as I am now. But you are absolutely right about the differences size and demographics and access make to what a small business can do.