A couple of days ago I was talking to someone about a new Methow Valley business and we played the what-used-to-be-there game — a familiar mental exercise for anyone who’s spent appreciable time here. My own recollections go back more than 20 years, which doesn’t exactly make me an expert on valley lore but does mean that I’ve seen a lot of things come and go.
The “going” part is always disappointing and a little sad. As a longtime business reporter and editor who specialized in covering entrepreneurs, and a small businessperson myself, I always root for the enthusiastic start-ups, the dreamers who saw potential where perhaps no one else did, the calculated risk-takers who can shake up an entire business sector.
But as we have all witnessed, idealism often gets run over by reality. In business competition, there’s an old adage that still rings true: the marketplace always decides, and the marketplace is fickle. People will either buy what you’re selling or they won’t; or they’ll buy it for a while and then stop. It’s such a simple concept that it often gets overlooked in discussions about why some businesses make it and others don’t.
High taxes, oppressive regulations and unfair competition usually get the blame. Most of the time, however, other factors were at work (bad management, inadequate marketing and insufficient capital among them). We all pay taxes, we are all regulated, we all have competition. It’s tough out there, and not for the faint-hearted.
Hard work, knowledge, enthusiasm, optimism, perseverance, flexibility and foresight are all necessary for success, but don’t necessarily inoculate a fledgling business against failure. The tiniest shift in margins can doom a struggling small operation. Marketplace shifts — seisms, sometimes — also can bring down giants. Witness what’s happening in the big box retail world and shopping malls.
Against that backdrop of challenges, new players continue to enter the fray, or expand their roles. Currently the valley is witnessing a seasonal surge of new businesses in both Winthrop, where there’s hardly ever a storefront vacant, and Twisp, whose downtown vacancies are being absorbed.
In last week’s issue, we went along on a Twisp Chamber of Commerce tour to visit Glover Street businesses. New in the heart of downtown are Pinetooth Press, which relocated from Winthrop to the former Motion Auto building; Thrifty Fox Thrift Store in the former 24HR Mart space; and Rod Weagant’s art studio. Things are happening at the Methow Valley Inn under its new ownership, including a new coffee shop; and the Twisp Movement Studio (formerly home of the Methow Valley News) continues to expand. The iconic Antlers Saloon is stuck in the middle of an ambitious, long-awaited remodel, needing more funding to proceed. Ground has been broken for the Old Schoolhouse Brewery’s new brewing facility and taproom.
You may have also noticed that what everyone knows as the Blackbirds building on Highway 20 is again in some kind of transition, with the Blackbirds logo removed. Oh, and Twisp Self-Storage is expanding south of town.
In the government sector, I think people will be surprised how much a new Twisp civic building will enliven downtown. It’s an investment that’s as important as any others going on in the valley.
In this week’s paper, you’ll find stories from Winthrop about the new Drop Zone Cowork space in what used to be the Pinetooth Press building (which used to be a liquor store and a real estate office and probably something else); and Lariat Coffee Roasters’ new retail outlet on Riverside Avenue (in what used to be Methow Masala and before that, it was occupied by the original, much smaller Rocking Horse Bakery).
Out west of town, the LeDucs are about to start construction of a new Goat’s Beard Mountain Supplies building next to their Mazama Store, and are imaginatively thinking about what to do with the existing Goat’s Beard site. Woodstone Pizzeria recently opened in the Wesola Polana building.
Other businesses have launched or changed hands in the past year, some without much fanfare. Plans are afoot for more ventures. Some of them we know a little about, but reporting on them would be premature. Others we know more about, such as the Konrad development on Highway 20 in Twisp and the Estes/Smith property at the corner of Highway 20 and Glover Street. It will be intriguing to see what happens on those sites.
Sometimes, watching all this activity, we may forget that many other rural towns are in economic distress and losing businesses, while the Methow Valley continues to reboot and revitalize itself. Change is what keeps us moving forward.