(Photo above Mike Ross. By Kara Tatone)
The recipe for Bend’s Makers District is equal parts showroom in the front and handcrafted, handmade, locally produced and regionally-focused production in the back. The name speaks for itself and the District’s icon, a decorative spade denoting light industrial production, only further represents its objective to support local businesses and local products—all homegrown.
Just over a year ago, Mike Ross, proprietor of Natural Edge Furniture, founded the District with a focus on creating creative space—functional and fashionable—on the Northeast side of Bend. (The District runs from Greenwood and Olney between First and Second Streets.) And as the District motto states it is located proudly on “The Creative Side of the Tracks.”
Businesses range from organic vegetable distribution to recycled clothing and sodawork, confections and kombucha tea production, to bike shops and ski and bike rack innovation and sustainable handcrafted wood furniture.
“The attraction of the District is making things ourselves—the workroom in the back, and the showroom in the front,” says Ross. “There are no parameters on the business type, but just locally produced. With our business, we take customers to see the actual trunk. They can smell it, they can connect with it, and see the process of design and simply know where it came from.”
Inspired by an Ashville, North Carolina neighborhood where Ross was introduced to a furniture manufacturer producing within an artistic district, the Makers District was born. It was at first a quiet neighborhood of modest, vacant warehouses flanking the tracks, and now it is bustling with local production and ample warehouse space. What once was a subtle, side industrial district is now home to an active and collaborative enclave that hopes to expand on Bend’s entrepreneurial spirit.
Eric Power, owner of Bend Velo Bike Shop, is a cofounder of the Makers District, and his business is a natural fit to the premise of the District. Velo repurposes, recycles and refurbishes 1980’s era, steel mountain bike frames into Bend posh commuter bikes complete with fenders, upright riding position seats, kickstands and a commuter rack—all inspired by Portland’s Bike City USA stature and bike commuting movement.
“I like to think of myself as one of the founding business owners where we’re actually making things which is kind of unusual in this vicinity,” says Power. “The gravitation of the area is that it is close to downtown and the light industrial aspect, but we also have a retail presence. And not with the costs of downtown.”
The Makers District’s businesses blend proprietorship individuality and product uniqueness with co-branding, collaboration and marketing for a finely tuned retail industrial complex, which business owners are working to make pedestrian-friendly and a one-stop shop for clients.
“What started as really a strong group of business owners with not much of a voice, has grown into a grassroots organization, and the goal is for people to shop, wander the neighborhood, without having to get in the car,” says Power. “We have a common thing going on…making products onsite.”
A utilitarian-based cycling company, Velo shares a building with a powder coating business, Hold Fast Kustoms, where Power walks over his bikes for coating, and then onto trophy makers, Central Oregon Trophies, where he has additional custom work created.
“To take my products to someone else’s business makes it easy to support people in the area—and we’re all doing different things,” says Power.
The buildings themselves are also used in collaborative spirit; all rented by individual proprietors with the hope of promoting and building the area successfully.
“We welcome and include every business interested in joining in,” says Scott Wilcox, advertising and communications director for Hutch’s Bicycles that includes Rack N Roll in the Makers District. “There are really no qualifications to join in. We just want businesses interested in making this part of town, and Bend, a better place.”
One of many creative businesses in the district, Sarabella Upcycled, owned and operated by Sara Wiener, says it was the communal drive, ample space and affordability that inspired her relocation to the district.
“I’ve always loved this area and always coveted this space,” says Wiener. “I’ve always been attracted to light industrial. The district is an all-in-one store—the storefront and production. We share resources and work to promote one another and collaborate.”
Sarabella Upcycled produces everything from handbags to totes, zip pouches to bibs, purses to fashion wear and maintains its motto to be beautiful and green. Each of the company’s products is made from 12 to 450 plastic bags that would otherwise have been thrown away—and no two are alike.
“I wanted to do something that encompassed both my passion for the environment and my passion for art and creativity,” says Wiener. “And hundreds of thousands of plastic bags later…”
Another such local business, Rack N Roll found its niche with the district at its inception, and as Wilcox describes, it was at once an apt fit.
“Our idea was to create a friendly business neighborhood and a consumer destination of eclectic and interesting businesses,” he says. “The area was formally quite industrial. The face of the area has really changed. We see ourselves as a collection of socially responsible businesses that make, remake and sell products that make life better.”
At the helm of Agricultural Connections, Elizabeth Weigand, runs the quintessential farm-to-table business connecting regional farmers to consumers through a year-round program at both the wholesale and retail levels. Ag Connections provides dairy, eggs, vegetables, fruits and meat, all sourced from farmers, processors and distributors within a 125-mile radius, as the crow flies, in Central Oregon.
“We believe that to live a healthier lifestyle it is valuable to know about our food: where it comes from, how it is produced and how the farm and its animals are cared for during its production,” states their website. A suitable fit for the District’s own mantra.
Honest Baking is a gluten-free artisanal bakery that fits right into the District concept. Owner Cate McDonald started the business in her home kitchen and perfected this challenging art, attracting a loyal and happy following. High demand necessitated the move to a commercial kitchen in 2014 and now these lovingly crafted treats are baked up in the Maker’s District. They can be found on the shelves at Whole Foods and Newport Market and in coffee shops and restaurants such as Lone Pine and Bellatazza.
These products are downright tasty and enjoyed by folks who require a gluten-free diet and those who just love good, fresh bread and pastries. Honest specializes in hearth breads and tea breads and bakes up delectable cookies, brownies, scones and pizza dough.
The District plans to host events throughout the year to introduce the community to each craft. The goal Ross says is to organize three to four events yearly inspired by the success of a Labor Day weekend event that gathered nearly 500 patrons and business owners to the District’s roughly four-block spread. Events are planned collaboratively between the businesses based on a specific business theme.
The next event is slated for March 28 deemed the Makers March which will showcase a sawmilling demo presented by Natural Edge Furniture utilizing felled trees from the neighborhood that have been storm damaged, windfall damaged, or simply aged and in need of removal—and turned into art.
“We host events to educate with interactive displays,” Ross adds.
The Makers District is comprised of roughly 40 businesses of which about half are intimately and actively involved in its growth through events and promotion. But the whole of the Makers District—the location, collaboration and creativity—has naturally evolved…on the creative side of the tracks.
“I’m amazed at how it’s grown and people are doing extra work to make it happen,” says Power.
The next Makers District event is slated for March 28 deemed the Makers March which will showcase a sawmilling demo presented by Natural Edge Furniture utilizing felled trees from the neighborhood that have been storm damaged, windfall damaged, or simply aged and in need of removal—and turned into art.
Makers District Businesses
• Aeries Mini Storage
• Agricultural Connections
• Bethlyn’s Global Fusion
• Bowen Sports Performance
• Cascade Couriers
• Cathy’s A Greener Cleaners
• Central Oregon Locavore
• Central Oregon Trophies
• Far AField Cider
• Farmers Insurance-Perry Rhodes Insurance Agency
• Gear Peddler
• Holdfast Customs
• Honest Baking
• InMotion Training Studio
• Macs Radiator & Exhaust Repair
• Platypus Pub
• Press Pros Printing
• Rack N Roll-Hutch’s
• Sarabella Upcycled
• Searing’s Electric & Plumbing
• Smith Signs
• Totally Polished Nail & Skin Studio
• Volcano Veggies