Archive | March, 2009

P.S. What the Hood needs now …

29 Mar

… and may we only hope, is that someone with the oven chops will decide to create a great pastry bakery. Look, I buy my occasional muffin or donut at Safeway or Rosauer’s, and South Bank Kitchen nicely covers some of this ground. But wouldn’t it be nice to have a place where you could get a well-made Danish, sweet breads, cakes that taste like something other than wall board and Crisco? On at least three recent occasions, three different people have told me, What we really need is a good pastry bakery! This idea, by the way, is free for the taking. Just make sure you tell me when you’re open.

New (but familiar) tenant at former Panzanella space

29 Mar

Word from a good source is that the space formerly occupied by the late, great Panzanella at 5th and Cascade will remain a bakery — under the able hands of the gentleman who founded the original Loafer’s in Bingen. More details when I’m able to scrape them together.

How ARE things, anyway?

25 Mar

People ask, How’re you doin’? It’s nothing personal, it’s business. I, and they, as individuals, may be doing just fine — healthy, clothed, still breathing (as my father likes to say about his 86th year).

No, the question refers to business, as in, “How’s business?” The reporter from the local paper asked the question the other day. The answer? It ain’t great. It ain’t even good. It has its moments. But the word I get from chatting with many of my fellow Hood River business owners is that things are slow.

So, is it the normal seasonal downturn? Or is it the economy? Or can anyone even tell why people don’t show up, don’t spend, don’t bother to tell you why they aren’t in your store, floating your boat? After all, you can talk with the people who DO come in, but they aren’t the problem — they’re the life preserver.

One sales person put it to me bluntly today, “I had to kiss a lot of ass yesterday to do $500 in sales.” She also noted that her customers appreciate shopping for a locally made product, because they know the money stays local — it doesn’t go to China, or Bentonville, or wherever.

But convince the local shopper, caught between (still) high housing prices and wages (if they have them) that are 66% of those in Portland, that they should support the local merchant, and not the big discounter. Tough sell. Which may be why the sales person also admitted to hitting the food bank to balance her budget.

The short of it is, merchants are “hanging in there.” They’re waiting for better weather, more out of town shoppers, a bit of a return to recreational shopping. As one retailer put it, people don’t need what she sells, so she feels a little contradiction in wishing people would return to the mindset of spending on what are purely “wants.” But she does wish that. Don’t we all?

Annz Panz to put a lid on it after 12 years

21 Mar

Proprietor Carrie Nelson has confirmed plans to close her signature cafe and cooking store, Annz Panz. Slow sales were just one of several reasons she cited for the decision. She said the cafe would close after Saturday. She plans a markdown sale to clear out merchandise.

This is sad news for downtown Hood River. Annie’s set a standard for classy retailing. Because Nelson set the bar high, follow-on retailers leaped to compete in look and feel. The block of Oak Street between Third and Fourth streets owes its upscale look in great part to the hard work that Carrie and her crew put in.

Carrie says she’s looking for work. We wish her well, and a soft landing.

A major downtown closure

20 Mar

Word from a reputable source says a major Oak Street business of more than 10 years is closing — soon. If true, it will leave a huge hole in the retail look and feel along the main drag, a look and feel that IT helped create. Stay tuned. I’ll try to get confirmation ASAP.

2 ways to support Fiddle Fest

20 Mar

Denise McCravey is doing great work lifting the Fiddle Fest into its second year. For people who love old-timey music, it’s the bomb. And it’s back, May 1-3. She needs two things to help cement the handshake between the festival and all its guests, and the business community.
1. Businesses to put up posters, and fiddle cutouts signifying “Fiddler Specials,” in their stores.
2. Food purveyors to donate pastries and such, so the festival can sell them by the slice to raise funds. In exchange, you get a free ticket to the Friday night concert.

Provide 2 pies, a large cake, two dozen muffins, scones, cookies or pastries, and they’ll cut you a ticket — and put discount coupons in registration packets, promote your eatery at the food sales table, and credit you on a banner.

Write to director@columbiagorgefiddlecontest.com no later than April 10 to get involved.

Props to Heights Biz Assn & Jack

20 Mar

If you missed it, you really missed the annual Heights Business Association Impact meeting. Props to Jack Trumbull of Anderson’s Tribute Center, for pulling it together, and, in his delightfully droll manner, guiding a host of public officials through their reports, and follow-on questions.

There was a lot of detail, and I won’t dump it all on you here, but suffice to say, local governments are wrestling with the economy as well. From the city, room tax revenues continue on track to increase at the recent annual average of 3% per year, but mayor Arthur Babitz warned that city has insufficient reserves to weather a storm, despite having pulled itself out of a recent budget hole.

County Administrator Dave Meriwether, comic timing intact, noted that the crash of the housing industry has sorely dented the county’s ability to cut and sell trees from its 30,000 acres of timberland. Since those sales make up roughly 50% of the county general fund budget, he and other county managers are looking at tight times ahead.

The Hood River County School District board last night (Weds, 3/18) approved a reduction of three work days (i.e. “pay” days) for teachers, to save about $390,000. But Superintendent Pat Evenson-Brady says anticipate state revenue shortfalls mean bigger adjustments lie ahead.

The Bad News, and Far BETTER Good News

16 Mar

I hear the whining all the time: If the damned media would just shut up about the economy, everything would be just fine. Check out the excellent piece in the Sunday NY Times, by its public editor, noting that despite numerous media warnings since 2000, we still drove ourselves into the ditch — banks printing bad paper, real-estate besotted buyers gorging on junk purchasing, and the government looking the other way.

So, the Columbia Gorge Hotel closes, and Oregon Business magazine sends a reporter to ask, “Is it true the Hood River economy is in free fall?” Well, no. We set her straight. Just to share, and thanks to Jamel Badrieh at the Hood River County Chamber of Commerce for sending this along, the Chamber compiled a list of business closures, and business startups, in recent memory. It’s worth noting that, along with all the slower activity, there’s plenty of optimism out there.

Submitted to Oregon Business Magazine
February 6, 2009

Closed Businesses within Past Year

  • Columbia Gorge Hotel (temporarily closed)
  • Isthmus Windsurf Shop (This company set up shop for a summer and realized there is too much competition for windsurf shops in Hood River. They are still in business online and have a store in Wisconsin.)
  • Abruzzo Italian Restaurant (Editor’s note: A new restaurant, Sophie’s, has leased this space and opened.)
  • Panzanella Bakery & Deli
  • Hood River Chrysler Dodge-Jeep/Hood River Ford/Mercury (Space taken over by an automotive repair business.)
  • Cliff Smith Motors – dealership for GM. (The current owner is now operating a used car business at the same site.)
  • Red Fish / Blue Fish (children’s clothing retail; this space was taken over by Enchanted Alpaca retail shop about 8 weeks ago

New Businesses Within Past Year

  • Kaze Japanese Restaurant
  • The Enchanted Alpaca (retail alpaca wool clothing/coats/accessories)
  • Café at Good News Gardening
  • Dirty Fingers Bike Repair
  • Bambino’s Child Care
  • Center Pointe Bank
  • The Candy Shoppe
  • WAAAM (Western Antique Aeroplane & Automobile Museum)
  • White Buffalo Wines
  • Dog River Cycles
  • Naked Winery
  • Benjamin & Benjamin Art Gallery
  • Ixtapa Mexican Restaurant
  • Springhouse Cellars
  • AVI Trucking
  • Flying Jenny B&B
  • Nora’s Table (opened in 2007 as Nora’s Fish House, but recently tweaked its name and menu)
  • Columbia Gorge Community College
  • Norman K. Vance Art Gallery
  • Sparkling Creations – Jewelry (retail)
  • Double Mountain Brewery (open for a little over a year, but thriving)
  • Eclipse, a music education center
  • Fifth Element Salon
  • Jacob Williams Winery and Tasting Room
  • Golf, Etc. (retail)
  • Outdoor Toy Store (A new snowmobile sales/repair shop opened in the Hood River Heights area about a month ago.)
  • Columbia Cliff Villas (18 luxury cliff-side villas and 10 carriage house units adjacent to the Columbia Gorge Hotel for lease as vacation rentals and units also for sale.)
  • Cutie-Pie Consignment (children’s clothing retail)
  • Farm Stand in the Gorge (New fruit stand and organic market to open in the Hood River Heights next week. The market will sell gourmet cheeses, quality organic meat, etc.)
  • Columbia Gorge Title

If this list has somehow missed YOUR business, or if you know of others, let us know. We’ll keep setting the record straight.

First Friday returns for 2009 — on April 3

13 Mar

First Friday returns to downtown Hood River on April 3, 2009, and repeats every first friday through October.

The monthly art stroll and social gathering runs from 5 to 8 p.m. Many downtown merchants remain open, and the downtown’s more than 20 restaurants welcome a flood of hungry diners. Mark your calendar now. Note: Oak Street will remain open for this event, and all other First Fridays during 2009. So remember, keep it on the sidewalk, or “it” might get run over.

Wind Industry trade show to bring over 500 visitors to Da Hood in September

13 Mar

Once again, Hood River will vault to the head of the class when the Association of Wind Sport Industries brings its annual trade show to town Sept. 15-18.

Katie Crafts, a board member of the AWSI and executive director of the Columbia Gorge Windsurfing Association, says the event will attract more than 80 exhibitors of gear for windsurfing and kiteboarding.

The trade show will set up at the Event Site, providing plenty of room for more than 200 buyers to do the deal.

Factoring in family and friends of those attending the show, the Hood River business community can count on more than 500 visitors eager to shop, tour, wine, dine and stock up on memories to share with the folks at home.

The Hood River Downtown Business Association will be helping the event organizers link visitors with local attractions. Stay tuned.