These are the most inspiring five words I’ve read in days. They come from June Colony or Lostine Oregon, who has launched a cooperative store for locally produced goods in Wallowa County, Oregon.
Wallowa county is off the beaten path, to put it mildly. It is more than an hour (under perfect driving conditions) from the Interstate from Portland to Boise, in the northeastern corner of the state. It is wedged between a mountain range and the Snake River Canyon, and not on the way to anywhere. You have to really want to visit Wallowa. It is one of my favorite places on the planet.
This isolation is charming, but not good news in the current economy in which costs are being cut everywhere. For example, sooner or later someone is going to look at truck routes and either raise rates, drop frequency, or outright cancel service. Or perhaps an outside-owned store will close its less-profitable store This will lead to diminished availability of basic goods and services, and to the extent that people shift their shopping toward a pattern of stocking up when they go to town in La Grande, it will deflate the local economy. This will start a vicious cycle.
I’m not aware of this happening in the way that it has in places like Ely, Nevada, where the community responded to the departure of JC Penney by converting the store into the Garnet Mercantile. However, there are already a good number of people in Wallowa who are aware of the need to build a local economy, and one of those is responsible for the above quote.
As reported in the La Grande Observer, there is a new store in town, offering goods made by local producers operating as Brand Wallowa. The store offers produce, baked goods, crafts, and other products.
I’ve done several workshops in NE Oregon over the last few years, including two in Wallowa County. So it is especially interesting to me on a personal level that the seeds seem to be sprouting. On the other hand, my workshops taught a development process that is quite different than what eventually got the store open, so I can’t take too much credit.
Ideally, there would be a strong planning group that has taken the time to establish feasibility and follows good process so everything is clear. But these aren’t ideal times. Sometimes you just have to start showing up.