22 Sep Making it Local
Bend’s Makers District on the rise
- A person who makes something.
- A company that makes a specified product.
- A subculture that includes engineering-oriented pursuits as well as more traditional activities such as metalworking, woodworking and traditional arts and crafts.
The Makers District is a new Bend destination, known by its residents as “the creative side of the tracks.” The area in northeast Bend was originally a non-descript, light industrial tract. Now it is home to more than 20 businesses that collectively celebrate the “makers” concept, producing an eclectic variety of handcrafted, homegrown, recycled, organic and fashionable products. How eclectic? Here’s a partial list of business types: woodworker, furniture maker, baker, cider maker, brewer, and caterer.
Mike Ross, owner of Natural Edge Furniture, who helped found the District with five other merchants in 2013, explains that the vision is to offer an alternative to mass-produced products by providing an accessible option to locally produced goods, all gathered in one neighborhood. “The attraction of the District is making things ourselves, with the workroom in the back and the showroom in the front,” he says. Ross was inspired by an Asheville, North Carolina neighborhood, where he was introduced to a furniture maker producing his works within a more comprehensive artistic district.
What really seems to set Bend’s Makers District apart from other trendy local areas is the creative collaboration of its businesses. “It’s an incredible grassroots success,” says Rack and Roll Marketing Director Scott Wilcox, whose company specializes in custom-made multi-sport automotive cargo rack systems. “There are no association dues or any assigned duties. Everything is voluntary, including attending regular meetings to explore new marketing ideas, and even donations to support our website, advertising and special events.”
Beyond the craftspeople image, Makers District businesses want to be recognized as a community of socially responsible merchants who produce, remake and sell products that foster sustainability. At Agricultural Connections, for example, owner Elizabeth Weigard runs a farm-to-table business connecting regional farmers to consumers. “We believe 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.”
Another natural Makers District fit is Honest Baking, a Bend-grown bakery specializing in gluten-free artisan breads and pastries. What attracted Honest Baking to Makers? “I would say it’s the convenient location, affordable rent and the mix of creative individuals and entrepreneurial businesses that make up our community,” says owner Cate McDonald.
The District also includes more than just the traditional “makers.” There are several service, recreational and custom-work businesses that have found a niche here as well, including Armordillo Powder Coating, Farmers Insurance, Bend Hoops (youth basketball) and Utilitu Sewing and Design (alterations and custom sewing).
To promote the Makers District image throughout Central Oregon, Ross says the plan is to host events throughout the year that feature the District’s craftspeople and artists. The initial event, a 2014 Labor Day weekend street party, drew well over 1,000 people to the roughly five-block area to enjoy food and live music. At the end of March this year, a Makers’ March celebration saw businesses showcasing their particular specialties. Natural Edge Furniture, for example, milled several storm-damaged or aged trees from the neighborhood, transforming them into art pieces like wall décor. Another street party, celebrating sunshine and summer, occurred in late June.
Looking beyond special events, Ross, Wilcox and others in the District say they will continue to invest time, energy and resources to create a distinctive neighborhood. Up to this point, the District’s success has had virtually no City of Bend involvement. Rack and Roll’s Wilcox would like to see this change. “It would be great to see the City get more involved by investing in some infrastructure improvements such as street lights and landscaping,” he says. “Also, we would like to see a little less restriction on food trucks since they are such a great draw for our special events,” he adds.
But for now, it’s stay the course: create a friendly business neighborhood and a consumer destination of fun and interesting businesses. Keep an eye on this innovative neighborhood complement to Bend’s Old Mill District, NorthWest Crossing, Galveston Avenue and Downtown—the creative side of the tracks is rising!