Bashing tourists is all the rage in Bend these days, a sure sign the economy here is doing pretty well. I can understand the complaints, at least to some extent — though I think those doing the complaining may not really understand what they’re talking about.
Many, perhaps most, of them weren’t here in the 1950s, ’60s and early ’70s, before the things that tourism has added to the community really took hold. Bend was a far cry from the place it is today.
For one thing, the number of doctors in town was far smaller than it is, and relatively few of the men practicing medicine here were specialists. When my children were born in the mid-1980s, the community had no neonatologists, and fortunately my family did not need one.
Today, not only are there neonatologists, but there are men and women who practice in a broad range of specialties. At least 25 orthopedic specialists call Bend home, as do adult and pediatric cardiologists, palliative care specialists and endocrinologists, to name a few. Bend also boasts a slew of lawyers, certified public accountants and other professionals.
Many of these people came to Bend for what city planner Brian Rankin says is our most important product (my words, not his): Bend is a nice place to be.
If you’re outdoorsy, Bend has outdoors by the mile within shouting distance of your front door. If you like skiing, mountain biking, camping or fishing, this is a great place to live. It’s good for runners, for rafters and almost everyone who doesn’t need an ocean within shouting distance. And, no matter how much Bend grows, that won’t change.
It’s that niceness that has brought such businesses as Bend Research to the area. And, as telecommuting has become easier, more of those moving to Bend do so knowing they will continue to work somewhere else without the trouble of leaving home to do so.
There have been dozens of businesses that have come to Bend since Bend Research opened its doors in 1975, and many arrived because their owners had visited and decided this is a nice place to live. Deschutes Brewery is one of the largest of those, but smaller establishments like Next Level Burger are here for some of the same reasons: A founder or members of the family saw Bend and decided this was the place to be. Today, according to Forbes Magazine, Bend is one of the 10 best small communities for business.
All that business, brought here in no small part by the “niceness” that draws tourists, means Bend is a place with a broad range of grocery stores, from Wal-Mart to Market of Choice and Whole Foods. It means that as Macy’s closes more than 100 stores around the country, the one in Bend is not among them — and it means Macy’s came to town in the first place. The department store would not have considered locating here if Bend were still a community of under 50,000, I suspect.
And yes, it means more traffic and more hassle, at least some of the time.
I’d wager, however, that had Bend not been nice — had the weather not been good and the outdoor amenities spectacular — Bend would not have grown as much as it has. There’s not a lot to draw manufacturing, for one thing. Transportation of goods out of town could be a stumbling block, and the one sort of manufacturing that kept the community alive for decades, timber, is no longer viable in much of Oregon. Thanks in part to a combination of elevation and lack of water, farming in much of the county is more a hobby than a business.
It’s Bend’s niceness that draws tourists, no doubt. It’s that same niceness that has played a huge role in turning Bend from a small mill town on the edge of the High Desert to a community with restaurants, stores, rafting, physicians, theater and music. And much, much more.
I remember the old Bend, of course, and I loved it. But the new Bend is pretty darned nice, too, and we have tourists to thank for much of it.
— Janet Stevens is deputy editor of The Bulletin. Contact: 541-617-7821, firstname.lastname@example.org