‘Let’s Paint Winthrop’ aims to revitalize downtown businesses
Trace almost any major undertaking in Winthrop back to its roots and you’ll find a volunteer committee with a vision and the conviction that if others saw the same potential, they’d join the team.
From the rebuilding of the Winthrop Barn after its collapse under the 1971 snow load to the construction of the Winthrop Rink to the development of Homestream Park, volunteer-led efforts have resulted in a remarkable number of projects that benefit the community.
Winthrop’s most recent initiative — a campaign to repaint all the downtown buildings — may prove to be another such effort.
“Let’s Paint Winthrop” is the brainchild of Nilsine Harris, owner of Shotgun Nellies and member of Winthrop’s Westernization Board. Harris saw a need to revitalize the downtown buildings, signs and murals, so she pulled together a committee to get it done.
Billed as a campaign to solicit both donations and volunteers, “Let’s Paint Winthrop” aims to restore downtown Winthrop “to its original luster.”
One of the first committee members Harris enlisted was Carol Lester, who is uniquely qualified to help orchestrate a project of this magnitude. Not only does Lester have a long history in Winthrop, having moved to the Methow Valley with her parents in 1961, but she was one of the powerhouses of the “Auxiliary Seven,” the women responsible for the successful reconstruction of the Winthrop Barn.
Lester and her husband, John, still own several buildings in the downtown area as well, including Trail’s End Bookstore and Shotgun Nellies. If anyone can rally the troops to paint the town, it’s Lester.
Time to touch up
Lester shared a bit of history about Winthrop’s reimagining as a Western theme town in the 1970s. “[Westernization] was funded by a gift from the Wagner family and it boosted the local economy, which was in decline,” she said. “But that was more than 50 years ago. All that original sprucing up is beginning to fade.”
Lester pointed out that “if you owned a house, you wouldn’t wait 50 years to paint it. The same should be true for businesses. Some of the signs are so faded you can’t even read them anymore.”
But thus far there has been no concerted effort to repaint and spiff up Winthrop on a regular schedule. “It has always just been up to individuals and businesses,” Lester said.
Lester estimates that touching up all of the downtown buildings, signs, and murals will come with a several-hundred-thousand dollar price tag, but the committee is hoping not to have to rely on private philanthropic donations for all of it. “We’re going to apply for the hotel-motel tax and we’re researching grant opportunities,” she said. “We’re going to get out and look everywhere for funding.”
The committee’s first project will be refurbishing the murals on the side of the Emporium and Three Fingered Jack’s Saloon; both are damaged from sun, wind and water. “We’ve purchased the boards and are in the processing of redoing the murals in the original designs,” Lester said. “Marti Darling, who was part of the project 51 years ago, is overseeing that process. She has so much knowledge from that original effort — it is just a joy to work with her.”
Other expertise needed
Lester added that although Darling is well-versed in mural painting, the committee is seeking some carpentry expertise to advise on the murals’ structure and installation on the buildings’ exterior walls. “A retired carpenter would be perfect,” she said.
The four-way intersection “is kind of the cornerstone of the town,” Lester said, “so we decided to start there and then the repainting will radiate out from there.”
Lester envisions a true community effort, with anyone who is able to wield a paintbrush or piece of sandpaper pitching in as time allows, although a core group of more-consistent volunteers will be essential to the project’s success.
Let’s Paint Winthrop may take several years, Lester acknowledged, but the committee hopes that once people notice a change in the downtown corridor’s aesthetics the enthusiasm about the project will gain momentum.
“It’s what happened in 1972,” Lester said. “Seeing things look better made others get on board to help out. We think that will happen again.”
To learn more about volunteering for or making tax-deductible donations to Let’s Paint Winthrop, visit winthropwashington.com/paint.