(Downtown Bend is home to many businesses that create products locally | Photos by Miguel Edwards Photography)
Central Oregon has attracted many a maker: Entrepreneurial spirits are drawn to the beauty of the region, its abundant recreational opportunities and the lifestyle our beloved home offers. Bend and surrounds have seen unprecedented growth, and the pandemic has only escalated this as individuals and business owners seek to escape metropolitan areas in search of a place to create a more idyllic work-life balance.
As a result, there are countless companies that make products here. The creativity that can be found in Central Oregon is unparalleled. “One of the things I love about downtown is that in 1903, it was brave entrepreneurs, small business ownership, that formed this town. The town was incorporated in 1903, which paved the way for the city to incorporate in 1905. It was the small business owners who were the trailblazers, the founders, the creators of our rich history,” says Mindy Aisling, executive director of the Downtown Bend Business Association. “I Love that I can walk the streets of downtown Bend, the same streets that Bendites walked 100 years ago, and I can enjoy the services and passions of my fellow community members made manifest in the businesses that had the courage to build from the ground up.” She adds, “This story has been playing out over and over in our community for over 100 years. I would venture to say that this story is the backbone of our community, and I think that is pretty cool. Businesses that make their own products are some of my favorite entrepreneurs in our district.”
Now is a Great Time to Shop Locally
At a time in history when supply chains are clogged and consumers can no longer be confident that an item they wish to purchase will actually be available, there has never been a better time to support Central Oregon makers. “Shopping locally is, of course, about keeping money in your local community — and as the popular meme states, ‘It’s about helping a family afford dance lessons for their little girl vs. providing a corporate mogul with the funds to purchase a third jet.’ We all know these things, but I think the more important thing that we don’t realize is that shopping local keeps the path of small business ownership, of entrepreneurship, alive. Entrepreneurship is truly an equal-opportunity path. It doesn’t matter if you dropped out of high school or if you have a master’s in business, the path of owning your own business is available to everyone.” She continues, “For me, it is of critical importance that we keep this path a viable option for individuals. I believe the world would be a much less vibrant place if we didn’t have these small businesses.”
Katy Brooks, CEO of the Bend Chamber of Commerce, agrees that supporting the local makers is crucial, now more than ever. “It’s critical to shop locally,” she says. “The advantage to consumers this year is that you know if you go shopping here, you’ll be able to buy something, because the supply chains are so backed up. It’s a great time to shop locally; you won’t have an IOU in your Christmas gift box,” she says with a laugh. “I’m definitely shopping local this year; and really looking forward to supporting local businesses and actually having something in the boxes when they are opened on Christmas morning.”
Except for the impact of the global supply chain problems, Don Myll, Bend Area director of EDCO, says that for the most part, Central Oregon companies that produce their products locally are faring well. “The demand for many of the types of products produced or assembled in Central Oregon since the pandemic started to take effect in early 2020 has predominately continued through today. But the resiliency of these companies is now being challenged by the current supply chain problems as they struggle to balance customer orders with vendor deliveries. It is not uncommon to hear from local companies about extended vendor delivery dates of up to a year.” He adds, “In the Central Oregon way, local manufacturers appreciate the support of local consumers. Whether it is Pawket Treats dog treats (pawkettreats.com) or biscotti from our newest specialty food producer, Tastefully Bend (tastefullybend.com), it is not hard to find locally made products on our local store shelves.”
Local Maker Metolius Tea
One such local maker, Metolius Tea, offers artisan retail and wholesale teas that are created in a facility on Centennial Street in Southeast Bend. “The best thing about being a maker in Bend is how much entrepreneurial support I’ve felt. There are many other makers and business owners who have both mentored and encouraged me, including Deschutes Brewery, Bend Rock Gym and EDCO,” says Amy Lee Stahl, founder and owner of Metolius Tea. “I moved to Bend in 2009 to be close to my grandmother. She’s probably the reason we have such great sales numbers in Bend. She tells everyone about us! She’s in the hospital right now and I bet at this very moment she’s telling her nurse where to buy Metolius Tea.”
Stahl found her path as a local tea maker in 2011 when she created her own Earl Grey blend. She says she had noticed the conspicuous absence of a well-crafted, quality Earl Grey, so, since she couldn’t find it, she decided to make it herself. She used hand-picked leaf and bud Yunnan black tea, bergamot essential oil from select Italian orchards, sustainably harvested Madagascar vanilla bean and organic bachelor’s buttons, all farm-direct from small-production farmers. “We have been developing farm-direct relationships and designing beautiful teas ever since,” she says.
Initially, Metolius Tea was called “Lovely Goat Plant Medicine,” explains Stahl. “But when I approached a local resort about serving our tea in their restaurant, the owner communicated to me in a series of Dutch swear words that we had better change the name if I wanted our tea at his restaurant,” she says with a laugh. “So we came up with a new name. Water is essential to tea, and I used to drive to Sisters once a week to bring tea to local cafes. I would keep on driving out to the Metolius River, where I’d jog along the river, making wishes, being with the grand old Ponderosas and cataloging the medicinal plants along the river’s edge, such as rose, Oregon grape and elder. While I did change the name so that somebody would buy my tea, ‘Metolius’ has come, like a river, to represent both where we came from and where we are going.” She adds, “While we have stayed ‘plant-forward,’ true to our organic roots, we have grown into a company with viable goals to enrich our world with our work and through our products.”
As part of her desire to give back, Stahl says she is excited about a new initiative she is launching this year: a not-for-profit line of farm-direct teas. “We’ll select four extra-special teas a year, including oolongs and pu erhs, and all the profits from the teas will go back to social justice causes in tea-growing regions,” she explains. “This gives me an opportunity to have greater altruistic impact, and we also get to enjoy a rotating selection of super fancy teas. The teas will only be available through select coffee shops. Sisters Coffee Company was among the first and most enthusiastic to join our program, so look for featured teas in their cafe in the new year.”
Stahl is also working on an expansion project that she says her team hopes to finish by the end of the year. “We’ll be getting a large — and fast — labeling machine so we can keep up with chai production and expanding chai sales, and a bunch of new equipment for improving our chai brewing systems.”
While the desire of so many to dwell and create in Central Oregon has been a boon to the local economy, Brooks says it has also posed a problem that now must be solved as the region continues to burst at the seams. “The advantage of manufacturing and doing startups and growth in Bend is that it is Bend: People want to be here. The energy around innovation, specifically the Bend Venture Conference, is that we have built a culture in Bend around investments. EDCO has done that. That has enabled Bend to be great place to start and grow a business,” she says. “But the challenge is labor. When I say labor, I mean specifically housing. Our greatest challenge to growing and making products in Bend is the ability of people to afford to live here. It’s our key initiative right now.”
This year, Brooks says the Chamber is working on asking employers who are interested in creative solutions to address housing. “We are trying to put cohorts together to identify resources and new types of projects that can be done in our community, trying to set the table to bring employers together to see if there is actual construction that can be done to build some housing projects.”
The Chamber wants to bring developers, investors and employers together, Brooks says, to get creative on how to build more housing that is attainable to the labor force, concentrating on the mid-market. “This is not official affordable housing as designated federally; we are concentrating on mid-market workers whose monthly income is between 80-100 percent of the average. It’s so expensive to live here now that people who are in the average income level can’t afford to live here.” She continues, “This is new, this has just happened in the last few years. There is no designated funding for workers in that pocket of income. If you are making 100 percent of average income, there are not a lot of options.”
The question now, according to Brooks, is how Central Oregon can come together as a community to try to accommodate the workforce that is so desperately needed in order for businesses to continue to make products in this region. “It used to be easy to live here, and now you can’t. You can’t be a homeowner unless you have money tucked away, and you can’t afford rent.” She adds, “We started a conversation last month on how to tackle this as a community, locally and regionally.”
Downtown Businesses Offer Unique Treasures
With holiday shopping time upon us, Mindy Aisling, executive director of the Downtown Bend Business Association, offers a sampling of five of her favorite shops, where finding a great gift — or something fun for yourself — is a breeze.
aos Skincare — “Angelina grows her own herbs, makes them into beauty products in the lab downtown and sells them in the storefront. From source to sales, she is incredible!” (aosskincare.com)
Bend Brewing Co. — “Packy and Ed are a father-and-son team that make their own beer. They have been wildly successful at it and have transformed the NW corner of the downtown district.” (bendbrewingco.com)
Just a Little Charm — “Jen is the coolest; from following the Grateful Dead to making jewelry out of the old Bend Bulletin building, she is a great example of a free spirit sharing her gifts and passions with the world.” (justalittlecharm.com)
Bronwen Jewelry — “Bronwen started out making jewelry from old climbing and camping gear while she was in the backcountry. With a vision for jewelry that women could wear while they played hard in the outdoors, she now has an incredibly successful business.” (bronwenjewelry.com)
Found Natural Goods — “Jacq is a great example of a woman who is passionate about sourcing locally made, environmentally friendly products. She doesn’t make her own products, but she sources 100 percent locally made products. She is a woman who is an advocate for many, and a great example to all.” (foundnaturalgoods.com)