In an area where retirement homes and vacation rentals are more common than not, a crop of young entrepreneurs is choosing to put down roots on the Oregon coast.
Their businesses range in variety as much as the owners do — some sell records, clothes or jewelry, others are private chefs or massage therapists. Despite their varied business endeavors, however, a common commitment to local customers persists.
John Gentner started his music, clothing and paraphernalia shop Metal Head about a year ago. A Portland native, Gentner said Astoria presented the right mix of elements to get his business off the ground.
“(If) I were to open it in say Portland or Seattle, I couldn’t afford it, but if I moved to a small town where I could afford, then there probably wouldn’t be as much interest, so it seems like Astoria is sort of a perfect storm when it comes to it,” he said.
The town is small but the potential for growth makes it a prime opportunity for young business owners to make their start in the city, said Alicia Phifer, owner of The Fox & Fawn consignment boutique in Astoria.
“(Astoria is) small, but it’s growing in a lot of ways,” Phifer said. “So many people are visiting from Portland, so I feel like I’ve kind of jumped in at a time where there’s actually a lot of younger entrepreneurs coming here to sort of build their dreams up and it’s really cool just to be a part of that.”
Jonathan Hoffman, owner of Chef’s Table, a private chef business in Cannon Beach, added that working in a small town affords a level of trust in the community that isn’t available in larger cities. Hoffman also runs a bakery and a landscaping service, and uses all three of his businesses to support each other.
The number of connections in the community gave him the advantage of being able to rely on local people for supplies rather than spend time searching for everything he needs, he said, and those connections have been particularly beneficial during hard times.
Even as local patrons keep their businesses afloat, young entrepreneurs are focusing their own efforts on serving a year-round customer base.
The focus for clothing and art boutique Maiden Astoria has always been on locals, said co-owner Sara Knighton. The boutique stocks locally made merchandise and caters to the economic limits of people in the area.
“We know that certain months of the year are slower, and we have really great community support,” Knighton said. “The challenges are that there’s not that much industry in Astoria and Clatsop County so we have to make sure we’re within the community’s means.”
A focus on local customers and building relationships with the community affects advertising and other business practices, especially in a small town, said Jenn Visser, owner of massage and wellness center, Healthy Hub in Seaside.
“I think it’s a totally different ball game now with all the technology and the social media. I think advertising is completely different. You’re’ not going out there to sell people, you’re gaining people’s trust and giving them something they need and they want,” she said.
Gaining customers’ trust is particularly important in a small market because return customers make up a greater portion of clientele than they would in a larger city, Visser said.
The younger group of business owners along the coast bring a familiarity with new media and a new connection with their market, something a more experienced business owner can benefit from, said Staci Daniels, who co-owns Maiden Astoria with Sara Knighton.
“In terms of having a young entrepreneur partner, it’s awesome because she’s really tied into her market and into social media,” Daniels said. “I think there’s a huge benefit that people maybe wouldn’t look at, but you kind of can balance each other in different ways.”
The newer group of business people putting down roots in coastal communities add a new energy to the areas where they work, Hoffman said. That new energy adds a fresh take on what can, at times, be some stale business practices, he said.
“Now we have people our age that have disposable income that are looking to do something, and it’s not the same as our parents. We have different ideas of what excites us. So our age group, our young entrepreneur group of people in this town are able to understand what that is,” he said.