Our Bar latest addition to Washougal’s growth

Posted in - The Oregonian on May 30th, 2013 0 Comments

By Dean Baker, Special to The Oregonian
on May 17, 2013

Kevin Credelle and Alex Yost looked everywhere in Portland for the perfect spot to start their sustainable farm food restaurant, but they couldn’t find the “cozy, fun neighborhood” they were seeking.

So the young couple jumped across the Columbia River and opened Our Bar at 1887 Main St. in Washougal.

Why Washougal?

“Why NOT Washougal?” says Credelle with a laugh.

“We’re having shirts made up to say just that as part of our campaign,” Yost says. “It’s still close to the big city, but it’s got that rural, small-town feel.”

They opened for breakfast, lunch and dinner a month ago and are drawing favorable reviews for dishes such as duck breast ravioli with arugula and asiago and a ham and pimento cheese sandwich.

Besides that, Credelle and Yost, and their farmer-chef co-worker Brendan Arntz, grow vegetables for their month-old restaurant in their own 1,500-square-foot garden at their home a block from the bistro.

They drew a crowd for their big Mother’s Day brunch, which featured free champagne for the moms.

Our Bar’s homey spirit seems to fit in well with 17 other businesses that have come together in downtown Washougal. They like the sparkling facilities provided in new and refurbished buildings, the easy commutes, the country air of the Gorge and the interaction with other entrepreneurs.

Main Street Washougal is adding a dynamic element to a downtown that a decade ago was slumbering and decaying. The downtown is building slowly, adding three jobs here, 10 jobs there, while in much of the country economic stagnation persists, says Adam Taylor, the economic development spokesman for Lone Wolf Development, the limited liability corporation that owns the buildings.

“We aren’t trying to attract any big-box stores,” Taylor says. “We’re seeing some real traction, some momentum building — kind of a groundswell. These passionate, innovative people are making the leap, seeing the benefit of being here.”

Young business owners form the central backbone of this east Clark County city of 14,357. Many business owners arrived this past year, most in the past two years, coming from as far away as Tucson and New York.

The tenants occupy spaces in the four buildings of the 48,000-square-footWashougal Town Square or in the newly remodeled buildings. The latter totals 13,500 square feet and extends for two blocks directly east of the square and Reflection Plaza, the redeveloped city center on Main Street. There are about 15,000 square feet of office and retail space still available in the Town Square, but the nearby blocks are 90 percent leased, Taylor says.

The business community is growing: a dance company, a yoga studio, engineering and law firms, medical sales and computer developers, a software developer, a design studio and a beauty salon.

There’s also a women’s apparel shop, a health and fitness spa, a massage therapist, and the Hearth restaurant, featuring gourmet food.

And there is the jewel of the neighborhood laid out in a building that had once been a pawn shop: Amnesia Brewery, with a 6,000-square-foot space filled with gleaming stainless steel tanks, artisan beer and vittles. Amnesia’s roots are at its 832 N. Beech St. location in Portland, which it still operates.

Lone Wolf opened the Town Square in 2008, just as the U.S. economy tumbled in the worst downturn since the Great Depression, and invested more than $16 million in the business buildings it owns and leases to tenants.

Business initially was slow, but lately has picked up speed.

“You know when we started the project we did not view it as a short-time proposition,” says Wes Hickey, the sole owner of Lone Wolf. “We gave away trees to plant. … “We go by the proverb that societies grow great when old men plant trees in whose shade they will never sit.”

The trees have become a grove, maturing into an orchard. It’s a new kind of Washougal, drawing its energy from ideas rather than from the farms that once surrounded the town.

“We’ve had a lot of suburban development,” Hickey says. “That doesn’t create the sense of community that a traditional block neighborhood provides. People want that. … In today’s economy the ability to build relationships and share information is important. You want to be in a location where you can interact and share ideas and come up with creative thoughts.”

It seems downtown has reached that tipping point where there is a natural attraction for small business, Taylor says. He is looking for more retail tenants: food vendors, perhaps a small grocery store, a sporting goods store, an ice cream vendor to replace Papa’s Ice Cream, which closed recently due to owner Ivan Gering’s health concerns. Papa’s was among the first, and most popular with families, in the Town Square, opening in August 2008, right after construction was completed.

Current entrepreneurs have big plans. Cliona Sotiropoulos, owner of Provider Service Group, employs eight workers to sell medical supplies nationally. She plans to hire 10 more workers this year, and her ambition is to open a call center to expand further.

Folks relax over a brew at Amnesia Brewing, which opened a 6,000-square-foot microbrewery in Washougal five months ago. It’s open for dinner and happy hours.Courtesy of Lone Wolf Development

“I want to move into Washougal Town Square and hire 100 people,” she says . “I’m very happy here. We were living in Vancouver, but when we came out here, we loved the mountains and the river. We opened here in September.”

A longtime New Yorker, Sotiropoulos has many business clients based there, but is developing West Coast connections.

Omar Contento, manager of Competitive Engineering, Inc. says he chose the Town Square office to do the design engineering for computer components for their parent company in Tucson, Ariz. They work on read/write heads, devices that sense and record data on magnetic disk or tape. He says he was happy to move to Camas from the heat of Tucson, and Town Square was the best nearby location.

Heather A. Jordan started her visual branding business, D.Studio 21 Inc., in Lone Wolf’s block at 1887 Main St., on Jan. 1 because the space was perfect. Two other designers work with her.

“We do brand development, websites and marketing materials,” she says .

Taylor says other companies have expressed interest in moving in soon.

“The tough part is the front end, and just developing the momentum and the energy,” Hickey says. “Once the energy takes hold, then things seem to take off pretty fast.”

— Dean Baker

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