WASHOUGAL — For Alex Yost and Kevin Credelle, it started with a text.
“What about Washougal?” Credelle, 31, wrote to Yost, 29.
The Portland couple were looking for a new place to live and open a restaurant. They searched Portland and other nearby cities in Oregon, but spaces were too small or too expensive.
Then Credelle saw a posting for space in Washougal that mentioned a cafe and bookstore nearby. He looked up the city, and the first item that popped up was news of Amnesia Brewing moving its operations from Portland to Washougal. He thought a microbrewery would be a good neighbor to have, and it made him think moving to Washougal could actually work. He sent the text.
“We drove out here and everybody was super nice,” he said. “We drove up Washougal River Road, and it’s like, ‘There’s a horse eating flowers on the hillside in the sunshine. That’s great.’ ”
Even better, they noticed there wasn’t really a brunch restaurant in the downtown area. “Everybody is opening restaurants in (Portland),” Credelle said. “It’s going to continue to happen, but 25 minutes away, there’s a beautiful town that has potential and a need.”
Their restaurant, OurBar, opened three-plus years ago, and is now a popular breakfast and lunch spot. It’s also emblematic of a downtown that is rapidly changing, growing in size and trending younger. Washougal may be on its way to becoming the youthful, hip hub of Clark County, thanks to young entrepreneurs like Yost and Credelle.
About 20 new businesses have moved into downtown Washougal during the past five years, most within the past three, City Administrator David Scott said. More than 250 new jobs have been created in that span. Another 75 to 100 jobs are coming in the next 18 months, Scott said. Not all of the new jobs have come from new businesses, either. Some existing companies have expanded.
“We as the city can facilitate, but it takes entrepreneurs to do development and bring business here,” he said. “That’s a nice spirit to see. Some of these businesses are starting off here, and others are moving here. It’s pretty neat to see businesses start here and really take off.”
A new reputation
Downtown Washougal hasn’t attracted much buzz in Portland. Those who’d been here thought it was sleepy at best and dangerous at worst.
“What can we do to convince people this isn’t the wrong side of the tracks anymore?” Credelle said. “There definitely was that animosity toward downtown Washougal because it used to be chain link fences around empty parcels of land, and that was supposedly Main Street.”
The way to change that reputation, Credelle said, is to get people to Washougal so they can see the new downtown.
Wes Hickey is a big player in changing downtown. His company, Lone Wolf Investments, owns many of the downtown buildings housing these newer, younger businesses. He built Washougal Town Square, 1700 Main St., which has 22,000 square feet of retail space, 25,000 square feet of office space and a 13,000-square-foot landscaped public plaza, and is home to a range of companies, including those in transportation, real estate and digital media. He also owns a building at 1887 Main St. that is home to OurBar and other businesses, including a yoga studio, an advertising agency, a boutique clothing store and a sushi restaurant.
“That’s a nice mix,” Scott said. “It’s providing services to the community, but not all in just one sector. There is a theme of creativity.”
Hickey said he’s looking at an “entrepreneurial approach to building a community” in Washougal.
“We’re trying to assist the community and build a foundation,” he said. “The community will decide if the direction is what it wants to follow. People believing in a vision and pursuing with passion is when great things happen.”
That’s partly what led Hickey to lease so much of his space to young entrepreneurs.