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Celebrating People, Places & the Good Life in SW Washington State
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Discovering Main Street: In Appreciation of Small Towns

Foster Church has it right. The Pulitzer Prize winner has published a new book of essays Discovering Main Street – Travel Adventures in Small Towns of The Northwest (Oregon State Press, 2010). I love it when he writes about visiting small towns in the introduction:

Usually we pass through them on the road to someplace else…Enjoying a small town is more than seeing the sights. Just as important is absorbing the culture of the place: having breakfast in a cafe, dropping in on local meetings, attending a rodeo, an ice cream social, a high school sporting event or a little theater production.

We all have choices. We can visit the places where tourists flock or we can explore the burgs that are ignored by the masses. It is our gain when we pull off the main highway. The richness of visiting a community that is bypassed for flashier locations is immense. The surprises, the conversations, the friendly people, the sincere interest in YOU not how much you might spend, create far more meaning and memories in my opinion.

Foster Church has written about more than 50 such communities in his book. Most are in Oregon, not surprising because he was a reporter for The Oregonian for years. But five are located in southern Washington State – Ilwaco, South Bend, White Salmon, Lyle and Dayton.

Of these small towns, ZEST has posted about Ilwaco (think cranberries, museums and bookstores) and South Bend. Future trips are planned to White Salmon and Lyle. Dayton is a little outside the ZEST geographic area but certainly worth a visit.

So what does Foster say about our Washington communities? Some favorite comments of mine:

Ilwaco – From his book: “Water is all around and the culture of water is everywhere—at the Ilwaco Marina, in the two lighthouses that beam warnings from the edge of Cape Disappointment State Park, in the oysters taken from the bay , the fish harvested from the ocean and in the river that surges past the town.”

Ilwaco is a favorite place of mine. Watching the marina from a harbor restaurant or bar as a storm blows is a fine pastime. Perusing the stacks at Time Enough Books where yellow lab, Harper Lee lounges, is a great afternoon. Picking up a fresh cooked whole crab at OleBob’s. Wandering through the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum. This is a town that no one should breeze through without exploring.

A small corner of the scenic Ilwaco Marina

South Bend – Foster actually writes as much about Bay Center as South Bend but the whole area is a great place to explore. He writes “You have to accept a gray-green world to live on Willapa Bay. You should also have a taste for oysters. Raw or fried, an oyster can make up for a lot of gray.”

It’s true, oysters are the stars of the area. We found that the Chester Tavern, which has been raved about in the New York Times, and River View Dining provided life-altering oyster dinners for us. We will never think about the bivalves in the same way again. They were that good.

Barbequed oysters at River View Dining in South Bend.

I would love to read Foster’s take on other SW Washington communities like Ocean Park, Longview, Centralia and Chehalis, Cathlamet, Camas, Stevenson and other small towns. All provide fertile ground for exploration.

Towns change quickly. Cafes and bars come and go. Some businesses close, others open. But starting with Discovering Main Street is an excellent way to get going, if not about specific sites, perhaps about cultivating an attitude of discovery. Your experience will be different than Foster’s or than mine. That’s just fine. These small, often overlooked towns, will make their own impressions on you, one community, one shopkeeper, one meal at a time.

December 12, 2010   2 Comments

The Booksellers of Long Beach Peninsula

“A bookstore is one of the only pieces of evidence we have that people are still thinking.” Jerry Seinfeld

Bookstore owners are a hardy (and hearty) bunch. With low profit margins and high overhead, bookstore ownership is not for the faint-hearted. Toss in the pressure from online sales and chain bookstores, and booksellers are downright courageous to be in the industry. We are lucky to have them.

On the Long Beach Peninsula of the Washington Coast, four tenacious booksellers are passionate about books. From Ilwaco to Long Beach to Ocean Park, they serve their communities and thousands of visitors. Open hours may vary with the season, so call ahead for details.

Time Enough Books, Ilwaco

Karla Nelson and Harper Lee of Time Enough Books

Time Enough Books (157 Howerton Avenue, Ilwaco Harbour Village at the Port of Ilwaco, 360-642-7667) surely must have one of the best views of ANY bookstore in the country. Overlooking the Ilwaco marina, just inside the Columbia River bar, and its commercial and recreational boat fleets, the store is a mainstay of the shops and restaurants along the harbor walk. Fresh seafood is nearby. May through September, the promenade in front of the store features a Saturday market. Depending on the season and weather, there can be a lot happening here.

After collecting and dealing books and filling their home with tomes for “years and years” and inspired by Portland’s Powell’s Books and Robert’s Books of Lincoln City, Karla and Peter Nelson opened Time Enough Books in May 2000. At that time most of the buildings along the harbor were boarded up. Karla had, in fact, cleaned fish as a teenager in the building. It was a “leap of faith,” she says.

Time Enough Books now operates a 7 day a week, year-round shop featuring 80% new and 20% used books. “Every book is handpicked by me,” Karla says. She is happy to recommend titles, including favorites from the book group, which meets at the store. Harper Lee, a golden lab, is the store greeter.

While all genres are stocked, not surprising, the maritime section is a strong one, reflecting Peter Nelson’s experience as a seaman. Chairs by the fireplace encourage reading. And if you haven’t found just the right book (or even if you have), Harper Lee will keep you entertained.

Banana Books, Long Beach

Ed Gray and Sobe of Banana Books

You won’t find very many banana trees in Long Beach, but you will find Banana Books (114 3rd Street, SW, Long Beach, 360-642-7005) in the old town part of the beach community. Owner Ed Gray worked for 20 years as a book scout and wholesaler or rare books. A small, year-round shop, Banana Books features used titles. “We have a good eye for titles that people are looking for,” says Ed. He knows his books.

His customers are 80% tourists with three-quarters of his business, like many other Peninsula shops, coming in June through September. (That’s a shame because the peninsula is so relaxing and conducive to reading in winter!) Many of his customers are looking for entertaining beach reads including titles by Patrick McManus, Clive Cussler and Carl Hiaasen. From literature to quick vacation books, Ed offers a diverse collection. Sadly, he doesn’t have much time to crack open his inventory. “I’m a bookseller but I don’t have a chance to read,” he says. He’s a fan of Raymond Carver.

More than books, the nine-year-old shop has an espresso bar and a large deck in front of the store. Jewelry shoppers should check out the stunning earrings and necklaces created by jewelry designer Mary Johnson, Ed’s wife. Another family member, Sobe, an American Staffordshire, will also be happy to meet you.

Catherine O’Toole Bookseller, Ocean Park

Catherine O'Toole and Jetsam of Catherine O'Toole Bookseller

Antiquarian, rare and out-of-print books are the specialties of Catherine O’Toole Bookseller (1310 Bay Avenue, Ocean Park, 360-665-0004). Located in a historic 1880s building – a former Methodist Church and Moose Lodge – her shop is packed floor to ceiling with her collection, which numbers about 68,000 titles. She also carries new local history and guidebooks. “I can’t resist books,” she says. “It’s very gratifying to be able to say to a customer, ‘Oh yes, I’ve got that.’”

In a book-filled office in the front of the shop, Catherine spends her days online, selling her titles through and other book sites, and shipping them around the world. Her business model of online selling keeps the store viable year-round.

She was born in Ireland, studied in England and moved to the US in 1967. She studied political science, horticulture and landscape architecture at the University of Washington, where she received her BA. A lifelong learner, Catherine now takes computer classes through the Grays Harbor College at the Community Education Center in Ilwaco. She is also perfecting her pool skills through a league at Doc’s Tavern down the block.

If she could turn back the clock, she would like to be a member of London’s Bloomsbury Group of Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster and other writers and artists. “They didn’t work,” she says.” They hung out being intellectuals.” Catherine hangs out with her thousands of books, her online and in-store customers and Jetsam, her black and white cat.

Adelaide’s Books, Ocean Park

Cyndy Hayward and Miles of Adelaide's Books

Across the street from Catherine’s shop, another historic building houses a bookstore. As an owner of the Taylor Hotel (1887-mid-1930s), Adelaide Taylor spent more than 40 years running the lodging spot in the two-story wooden structure in Ocean Park. She died in 1940 but lives on through a bookstore named for her – Adelaide’s Books (1401 Bay Avenue, Ocean Park). Cyndy Hayward, a Seattle attorney who moved to Oysterville, bought the building with its expansive wrap-around porch and spent a year renovating it into an airy and inviting bookstore and coffeehouse. She opened the business in 2008.

Approximately 3,000 new books are well-organized from the children’s area with its charming mural to young adult, fiction, non-fiction collections and the poetry section, which Cyndy was advised against. The naysayer was wrong. “We sell poetry almost every day of the week,” Cyndy says proudly. She offers a diverse, handpicked collection. “We receive strong feedback on the quality of the books.” Miles, her friendly, full-sized poodle receives positive strokes, too. He blends right in as he sleeps on the loveseat.

The space is well-suited for game nights and author readings. The upstairs includes apartments and one day might house a low-power community radio station. “I want to make this into a community place,” she says. “Books. Coffee. Pastry. Talk.” is the shop’s tagline. What more could you want?

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February 21, 2010   12 Comments