The Dalles is happening. I am not talking about our local Facebook site where everyone goes to get information and chat about gossip. It is honestly funny to see posts, gossip, and dialog about the Buffalo Wild Wings, the new WinCo, Walmart, Target, Red Robin and other big businesses that are supposedly coming to town. What I am talking about though is the real deal: in-the-streets, boots on the ground changes, spearheaded by developers, entrepreneurs, our local government agencies and visionaries both inside and outside The Dalles.
It could not happen without some great local leadership and without some amazing people behind the scenes keeping communication open with the owners, contractors, developers, and agencies that they work with. These same people have created a partnership atmosphere by being flexible, maintaining a commitment to team, and staying dedicated to make things happen. I have experienced this firsthand so I know how motivated many of these folks are to make The Dalles better for everyone in our community. They are truly happy to be part of something bigger and to give back to the community.
Out of towners including homeowners, business people, developers, contractors and builders have overlooked The Dalles for many years. Our locals know that the city and its suburbs are an un-polished jewel ready to become a diamond in Oregon. Portland and surrounding areas are saturated with high housing costs, bureaucratic building and development processes, overbearing local and state taxation and high traffic density both in and out of the city. All this culminates in a higher cost of living passed on to consumers and people who make up the city and suburbs of the Portland Metro area and, frankly, the same people who love Portland and keep it weird. For some it is becoming increasingly difficult to make ends meet and for many others it has truly become impossible.
As people move further out into the suburbs of Portland, their commutes become longer, resulting in less time with family, time to enjoy and live life, and time to experience what Oregon has to offer. Like my family and myself, you start to consider the cost that it has on your life. You begin to wonder if it makes more sense to relocate to a town with a slower pace, somewhere that you can contribute and make a new home. It is a risky proposition, but as people work through the possibilities and see what the rest of Oregon has to offer, the cities along the Columbia River Gorge are becoming a destination for families. As businesses, entrepreneurs and developers discover the area, move in, create jobs, places to live, and expand the community, prices will go up. You can already see how it has happened in Hood River and White Salmon. Housing prices in Hood River are 20 to 30 percent greater than in The Dalles area and they are only 20 minutes away by car.
As the city and state work on infrastructure like the bike path and riverfront areas, as entrepreneurs move into the area and start offering destination packages, services, and shopping to visitors, and as the waterfront continues to increase business and foot traffic at the boat landing on Union Street, people are spreading the word. Word of mouth is a powerful tool, the message that our community puts out there is important. The downtown area needs to tell a proper story and I believe these same people in the city have been, and are forward thinking enough to realize the impact this story will have. Working on telling this story is probably the most important thing the community needs to keep in mind in order to maintain the small town feel. In my mind that story is about a growing community not opposed to making new traditions and embracing businesses. It is about preserving the history of the area. It is about having small events for the community like Neon nights, the Starlight and other parades, and the fireworks events and shows on the river. That story includes 300 days of sunshine, the history of the Oregon Trail, serving as the county seat for most of the West Coast back in the day, the contribution of Native American tribes in the area, fishing, hiking, biking, and other great outdoor recreation sports activities. That story is about the original buildings and architecture from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s including churches, museums and other historical sites which the Discovery Center and Fort Dalles Museum are dedicated to. It is also the seedier side of things with crazy stories of brothels, bars, a US mint that was never fully realized, and roughhousing that happened while The Dalles grew into a great city.
The Dalles is becoming a great mixture of historic and new cultures. The city and the community have a big job ahead of them. Telling the story to folks who discover The Dalles is the first part. How to maintain that small town atmosphere and small community mindset, while embracing the changes around them that will help us grow much-needed infrastructure in the area, is the second. The third is keeping the affordability aspect in check for the community and people who have made this town what it is today. The city has worked and is working tirelessly to preserve the history of the city while welcoming larger businesses to the area. It is a fine line, a thankless endeavor and a tough job to please the community and I for one am not sure I could take it on. I am thankful for the people who keep us moving in the right direction and my hope is that they never feel unappreciated and leave these jobs. In all sincerity to all of them who continue to make The Dalles happen, keep up the good work!
—Todd Carpenter is owner of the Last Stop Saloon in The Dalles.