By Cece Odell
Vicious flames and thick smoke enveloped the Methow Valley in the summer of 2014, causing the loss of over 300 homes. A huge wildfire was started after dry lightning lit the already dry grasses that cover most of eastern Washington. After the first fire started, many others followed along with a major power outage that lasted for over a week. Everyone was in a blur of panic trying to keep their homes and families safe. Havoc filled the air and the dense smoke made it unhealthy for people to go outside. No one was severely injured by the fire, however, people were scared for their safety and many were evacuated.
Because of this environmental crisis, there were fewer tourists visiting the Methow and fewer going out to eat. After the power went out, people had to live by candlelight and drink bottled water. Many locals who remained stayed home and purchased limited groceries.
All of the local restaurants were greatly impacted by this communal tragedy and the lack of summer tourists. It will take the support of a community to bring our town’s economy back from the effects of the fire.
The Glover Street Market, an all-organic health food store and restaurant, was “significantly impacted by the fires,” said co-owner Molly Patterson. As soon as the power went out in the town, Glover Street had to find a way to keep its food from rotting while the refrigerators were out of order.
The Glover Street staff made the decision to invest in a generator large enough to power the entire store, allowing them to re-open during the power shortage. The generator was a large financial investment, although necessary to save the store’s inventory.
Patterson felt it was a good decision for both the community and the staff, and would help them be more prepared for future outages. Most of Glover Street’s customers did not have power at home and were therefore purchasing limited groceries. Patterson reflects, “It felt really good to be open for the needs customers did have.”
Nevertheless, Glover Street’s sales were significantly lower than expected. Even though Glover Street Market has strong local support and Patterson is optimistic about the upcoming summer, it will take a village of customers to help them reach their goal for sales this year.
Rey Emmanuel, a Mexican and Cuban restaurant, had recently opened when last summer’s fires broke out, and faced a very challenging adjustment. Along with the craziness of trying to open a business, there was the crisis of how to keep food cold and pay bills with no customer base. The major power outage in the town caused much of Rey Emmanuel’s food to go bad.
The Twisp River Pub was also dramatically challenged by the summer disasters. As Twisp went into a Level 2 evacuation, there were few tourists and many of the locals were busy protecting their homes, which caused very slow business.
During the power outage, the pub was shut down for five days as it was impossible to run without power. Food warmed in the coolers and went bad. On the fifth day of the power outage, the pub owner Aaron Studen made the decision to rent a 100-kilowatt generator, which allowed it to reopen. The pub unfortunately had to throw away thousands of dollars worth of food, and then repurchase more food. In the matter of 10 days, the Twisp River Pub lost a significant amount of money.
These and other restaurants need local support to recover from last year’s severe reduction in sales during the fires. Knowing the effects of natural disasters, it is crucial for communities to work together toward a positive local goal of supporting local businesses. By shopping and eating locally, the community can help revive our local restaurants and economy. As we are entering a new summer that is projected to be hotter than the last, it is more than likely that there will be more fires. Considering this assumption, this year’s strong local support is going to be essential. For the Methow Valley, one way to strengthen our economy is by motivating people to eat and shop locally.
Cece Odell is a ninth-grader at Liberty Bell High School. She wrote this article last spring as a project through the Independent Learning Center.