Sunday, December 3, 2006


I never got around to talking about Bend tourism yesterday, so here it is;

Growing up in Bend, it was pretty much a 1 and 1/2 industry town. Lumber was king, and tourism was a far second. I started skiing up at Bachelor Butte (as it was called back when we weren't quite so grandiose) the year it opened. The lodge and the parking lot was tiny, and the lifts were a t-bar, a rope tow and poma lift.

Meanwhile, Brooks Scanlan and other smaller mills provided most of the employment in Bend.
(It is has always been amusing to me that the "OLD MILL" district has tried to create some sort of nostalgia about the mills. They were ugly, smelly, dirty, dangerous, noisy and toxic. Anything but charming. The 'bungalows' on the west side was were the poor people lived, the rich (such as there were, doctors, lawyers, businessmen) lived along Drake Park or the West Hills.

40 years later, we are still a 1 and 1/2 industry town. Tourism is king, and I'd have to say the combination of construction and resort/retirement industry is second.

Couple of problems with this: Tourism doesn't pay all that well. And if anything, it is even more vulnerable to economic shocks. After 9/11, the sales in my store dropped over 20% for three straight months, almost exactly the same drop that the Redmond airport saw.

The construction industry seem to me an industry that is chasing it's tail. If the growth of Bend depends on construction, but construction if based on the growth of Bend...well, you see the problem. I shudder to think of all the bank, mortgage, title, insurance, and contracters jobs there are in Bend.

Still, tourism is important to my business. I make money four months out of the year,; July, August, December and June/or March. I break-even four months out of the year; Sept., April, May, and March/or June. I pretty much lose money four months out of the year. Oct., Nov., Jan. and Feb.

Without tourism, we'd probably trend toward breaking even five or six months out of the year and lose money four or five months out of the year, and maybe make money one or two months of the year. My store would be much, much smaller, with much less inventory. I might be able to survive, at Minimum Wage, but it would be tough.

Resort or retirement living? Well, I keep hearing that there are some very wealthy people here, and I do believe it. But I NEVER see them! I suspect that if they are older, they are past their funky consumer years, or if they are young and wealthy they probably buy in the cities or online. Who knows? All I know is that almost all my customers are of humble means. So when I look at all the fancy stores downtown that seem to be designed to cater to the whims of the wealthy, I just wonder how much success they are having.

The look of prosperity is extremely misleading. In my building, we lost 3 long-term, established businesses (a shoe repair shop, 25 years, an engraving, trophy shop, 22 years, and a bike shop, 5 years.) They were replaced by a fragrance shop, and art gallery, and a jewelry store, all of which LOOKED more properous. Yet the fragrance shop and art gallery are already gone, replaced by the expansion of the jewelry store and a new dress shop, which look even more prosperous than the last businesses, and so on.

I call it failing upward. It is happening all over downtown. Meanwhile, we are losing the old funky good feeling that was attracting people to downtown in the first place. That's what I want to talk about tomorrow.


lightcap said...

Bring back the funk! We recently tried to bring a yoga studio downtown but it's just not financially viable. The rents downtown are driving out the funky businesses. It seems like its only a matter of time before the chains start moving in. Luckily the Old Mill (I agree, its an interesting move to glorify a place like the Mill) is containing the chains so far. To me it's sweet irony to see the chain stores occupy a place like the Mill. Continuing the legacy...

Duncan McGeary said...

Hope you don't mind my stealing your first line in today's post. Couldn't agree with you more. I think that what has kept most of the chains out of downtown is that most of the spaces just aren't big enough.

Plus, the big chains probably actually do research and realize that the rents are too high for the foot traffic.