New manager steps up outreach efforts
The Winthrop Barn is under new management and direction, but it will continue to provide the welcoming atmosphere the Methow Valley community has come to expect from the rustic gathering space. With events resuming after two years of quiet during the pandemic, the Barn’s calendar is beginning to fill again.
Originally a Quonset-style community hall built in 1931, the venue was later reconceived with a peaked roof, which collapsed under the weight of a 1971 snowstorm. Volunteer efforts and funds raised from within the community resulted in the gambrel-roofed red landmark.
Earlier this year, the Town of Winthrop, which owns the Barn, also assumed responsibility for its management and operations, a role that had been previously filled by the Winthrop Auditorium Association — a small nonprofit organization with a skeleton crew of part-time staff.
In mid-May, Michelle Parsons took the helm at the Barn, managing operations, scheduling, upgrades, communications and outreach. The Winthrop Auditorium Association may continue to be involved for a limited time, but the pressure is off this volunteer organization to manage the Barn’s operations.
A 1985 Liberty Bell High School graduate, Parsons (then Michelle Edwards) is no stranger to the Barn. She grew up attending community events under its roof, including her coronation as 1985 ’49er Days Princess.
A career in creative pursuits, from fashion merchandising to floral design, took Parsons away from the valley for 35 years, but in 2019 she and her husband, Jeff, bought property in the Twin Lakes area. In September 2020, on the day they closed on the sale of their Acorn Floral business in Magnolia, the Parsonses packed up their Seattle lives and relocated to the Methow Valley, and “started our new life,” Parsons said.
It was a homecoming for both of them, particularly Michelle, whose father owned and operated Winthrop Motors for decades, but also for Jeff, whose aunt and uncle lived in Twisp — right next door to one of Michelle’s close friends, it turns out, although the future couple never met at the time.
Once they got settled, the Parsonses immediately began establishing their 4,000-square-foot garden, in which they grow flowers for Parson’s latest creative endeavor: a small flower farm called Snowberry Gardens. She knew she didn’t want to go back to the stressful small-business environment she’d been in in Seattle; she sought balance. But when she saw a classified ad describing the Barn manager position, it appealed to her.
“I’ve always been a social person,” Parsons said. “I was a cheerleader, always really comfortable and happy out in public. With the Barn job, I knew I’d be meeting new people all the time, getting to know new people and reacquainting with old friends who I knew from growing up here.”
Once on the job, Parsons immediately began focusing on what the Barn needs to ensure viability for the foreseeable future. Short term, Parsons is focusing on small upgrades as well as outreach, making sure the Barn’s calendar sees some bookings. Longer term, she is seeking to mitigate what she calls the Barn’s “under-utilized” status.
“The Barn is such a wonderful community venue and event space,” Parsons said. “It has a historic value to this community and it has that unique rustic flair. I want to see it have an aesthetic and functional appeal to a wider audience.”
Parsons said she’s interested in securing more long-term rentals for the Barn, such as the annual Zumiez event, which utilizes the Barn and the area around it for its annual 700-person corporate leadership training and team-building event for the better part of a week, providing not only a boon to local lodging and dining businesses but also a reliable source of revenue for the Barn.
Parsons still has many business ties in the Magnolia area of Seattle and sees potential to bring other companies to the Barn for retreats, trainings, and social gatherings.
Filling the space
In the meantime, Parsons has been booking kitchen-only rentals for the Barn. With a limited (and shrinking) number of caterers in the Methow Valley, chefs from the outside are increasingly catering weddings and other local events, and they need access to a commercial kitchen like the Barn’s.
She has also been starting to fill up the Barn’s calendar, including Methow Arts events, Methow Conservancy First Tuesday talks, nonprofit fundraisers, wildlife manager meetings, and even an antique motorcycle show. She hopes the traditional holiday bazaars, blood drives and other similar events will continue to take place at the Barn as well.
Parsons is also revamping the Barn’s website to make it more functional for users. She is establishing a booking calendar, so that potential users can see if a desired date is still available, as well as a list of local vendors who can be hired to support events. Vendors who would like to be included in this listing should contact Parsons at the phone or email listed below.
As Parsons ramps up the Barn’s social media presence, she is keeping it light. She recently instituted “Fun Fact Friday” on the Barn’s Facebook page, sharing information about TranGO bus routes to the Barn and the location of the only ballot box in Winthrop, which is just to the right of the Barn’s main entrance.
Parsons encourages potential users and other interested parties to check out the space. “I have an open-door policy and I’m responsive about returning calls and emails,” she said. “Come for a walk-through. The Barn is a great venue for a lot of different occasions.”
Parsons is available at the Barn Wednesday-Saturday from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. and by appointment. She can be reached at (509) 423-3704 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit www.winthropbarn.com.