(Sisters celebrates its 75th anniversary. Take a stroll around town to read about Sisters’ history | Photo by Kristine Thomas)
Sisters Mayor Michael Preedin understands why his town attracts tourists, new residents and businesses. “Sisters is an iconic, western-themed mountain town that has something for everyone,” Preedin said. “There’s mountain biking, snow skiing, water skiing, hiking and good shopping and restaurants. Sisters is a little on the quirky side as we have arts and culture to western activities to recreation. People are super friendly because they are happy to live here.”
Celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, Preedin said Sisters has grown from 250 citizens in 1946 to more than 3,400 citizens today. “What hasn’t changed in 75 years is Sisters still has the small-town feel,” Preedin said. “There are many people who are second and third generations of the families who founded the town.”
Preedin estimates there are 200 people who volunteer for the eight boards for the City of Sisters. “I think our volunteers are truly engaged in Sisters and work to keep the small-town feel of the town,” he said. “We all want to keep the town livable.”
Preedin moved to Sisters in 2007 for his work as a custom home designer. Since 2020, he has seen more people move to Sisters to get away from the bigger cities. “There is a societal shift taking place where people are wanting to enjoy a better life,” he said. “One of the biggest issues we are facing is growth and how to grow so we maintain the livability of our town and embrace our new neighbors.”
Finding employees for restaurants, retail shops and businesses is the greatest challenge for businesses in Sisters.
Preedin said the Sisters Woodlands project is being designed to provide workforce housing. The 35-acre development is on land previously owned by the U.S. Forest Service, east of Highway 20 and south of Barclay Drive. “The plan is for 250 multi-family units,” he said. “There is a need for affordable housing for employees in Sisters. There are plans to make it so people can walk or bike to work. Work is projected to begin this winter or in the spring.”
While Sisters is well-known for being a tourist destination, Preedin said Sister’s business park is attracting world-renowned companies in outdoor gear, natural health products and advanced manufacturing.
Caprielle Lewis is the area director of economic development for Sisters. Her employer is Economic Development for Central Oregon (EDCO), a regional nonprofit supported by both public funding and private memberships. She has been working with traded-sector companies who have moved, started or expanded in Sisters.
Cognito, Faceout Studios, Molt Brand, Nechville Banjos and Holy Kakow all recently relocated to Sisters. Funky Fauna Artisan Ales is a startup coming soon to the Sun Ranch Business Park. Sisters Coffee Co. will be expanding its operation with a new roasting facility and visitor experience in Sun Ranch Business Park. Laird Superfood is about to utilize its new, 28,000-square-foot warehouse, and several other businesses are preparing expansions in 2022.
“I think Sisters’ economic environment is more resilient than in the past,” Lewis said. “Sisters has increasingly become more economically diverse with a solid mix of industries in addition to tourism. There are several exciting new tech companies that have relocated to Sisters recently.”
Lewis has seen semi-retired to young families move to Sisters. Many people who owned second homes in the area are now permanent residents. “People felt more comfortable visiting and living in smaller rural communities such as Sisters, and we have experienced a fairly significant population boost,” Lewis said. “I wouldn’t call Sisters a Zoom town yet but since more people are working remotely, living in Sisters can be a possibility when it may not have been before the pandemic.”
Lewis said Sisters is attractive to new businesses because it offers a high quality of life with close access to incredibly beautiful outdoor recreation, outstanding schools, arts and culture and a safe, passionate and caring community. The City of Sisters and the community support economic development strategies and initiatives, including a new 15-acre light industrial park with developable lots for sale. “The Sisters, Oregon brand illustrates the community’s pioneering spirit, highlights our community values and the town’s culture and character, and is immediately affiliated with a positive experience, beautiful vision or a happy memory,” Lewis said. “Companies can leverage this to help promote their products and services and that in turn provides new opportunities for Sisters. It’s a win-win!”
Sisters Area Chamber of Commerce CEO Judy Trego would like to thank everyone who “stepped up to the plate to help during the pandemic.” Deschutes County and the Deschutes County Commissioners provided many rounds of personal protection equipment to the chamber for distribution to local businesses. The City of Sisters provided a $40,000 small grant fund for businesses.
Trego said it is a nice change of pace as the city begins to shift its focus from the crisis mindset to recovery. “However, we are facing some formidable challenges. The pandemic has decimated our workforce and finding employees is going to take all of the tools in the toolbox, and it is going to be difficult,” she said.
Tourism in Sisters Country has made a rebound, with a significant increase in visitor volume but getting back to normal will take everyone’s efforts, Trego said, adding Transient Lodging Tax is up 41 percent over last year.
As of press time, several events were scheduled to take place in Sisters including the Sisters Fresh Hop Festival on September 25 at Three Creeks Brewing Tasting Room; the 24th annual Sisters Folk Festival October 1 to October 3; Sisters Harvest Faire on October 9 and 10 and Happy Girls Run on October 30.
Christina Schulz is the branch manager of Washington Federal Bank in Sisters. She feels Sisters is a hidden gem. “This town always pulls together and looks out for each other. Everyone is so friendly and always has each other’s backs,” she said. “There is so much to do in this little town. I absolutely love living in Sisters.”
The pandemic has required Schulz and her team to make adjustments, including having to have its doors closed to the public for 18 months. “People were only allowed inside the bank if they had an appointment,” she said. “We ran everything through the drive thru. It did take some time to get used to doing, but we made it work and our clients were very understanding.”
Schulz said the amount of loans is down a bit, due to the “strange real estate market we are in and with lumber prices slowly coming down I think we will start to see construction loans again.”
A Seller’s Market
Patty Cordoni, a principal broker for Cascade Sotheby’s International Realty in Sisters, said people looking to purchase homes in Sisters are coming from Portland, the Willamette Valley, California and Washington. “Some people are retired or able to work from home,” she said. “We also have people looking to purchase a second home.”
She said the sharp decline in inventory resulted in an increase in prices making it a sellers’ market. Buyers should have a preapproved loan as homes are getting multiple offers above the listing price. “We are seeing buyers looking for homes in the $1 to $2 million range,” Cordoni continued. “Homes selling for less than $700,000 get snatched up super quick, while the higher-quality homes take a little longer to sell.”
Cordoni said Sisters is a highly desirable place to live as it is close to Bend and recreational sites including Hoodoo Ski Area, Suttle Lake and Camp Sherman. “Sisters is a small, western town and everyone who moves here wants to keep it that way,” she said.
She encourages anyone looking to move to Sisters to study the market, watch what’s happening with homes online and be prepared to pay more. “By the time buyers get here, they already know a great deal about the town and school district and where they want to live,” she said.
Javier Luna is the owner of Rancho Viejo. While business has been great, he said finding employees has been a challenge. “My advice to someone wanting to start a business in Sisters is to develop a local following to support you through the difficult times and seasonal-based tourism,” he said. “Sisters is a fun town to have a business because of the people who live and visit here.”