City of Bend: You are Doing it Wrong

Being a Portlander, one of my favorite places to get out of town to for a few days is Bend, Oregon. It is part ski town, part hippster scence and part retirement area. The weather is great, the scenery is beautiful and Mt. Bachelor is just down the road.

Despite all of these great attributes, Bend has struggled in the past few years. Businesses have shut down, unemployment has skyrocketed, foreclosures are on the rise and their general economy often ranks in the top 10 worst in America.

I am over in Bend right now while my wife is here for work. I decided to find a nice coffee shop to work at this morning and ended up in a trendy looking section of downtown Bend. Unfortunately for business owners, downtown is dead. Empty commercial space lines most streets, restaurants sit virtually empty and the roads are all but a ghost town. If you are a small business owner, downtown Bend is probably one of the worst places for your storefront in all of Oregon right now.

I parked and walked into a wonderful coffee shop called Thump on Minnesota Street. They serve Stumptown and offer free wifi. The place was packed, unlike so many of their neighbors. Afterward, I asked the owner for a lunch restaurant suggestion and he pointed me to one of his favorites, and now one of mine after the amazing sandwich I just had. All told, I spent 3 hours in downtown Bend, found 2 great businesses to frequent and spent money.

When I returned to my car, it sat alone, the only vehicle parked on that side of the street for an entire block. I had a green envelope on my windshield; I was issued a parking ticket. Apparently that street, and most other downtown bend streets, have a 2 hour parking limit. I was a patron at locally owned businesses, spending money for 1 hour too long. Shame on me.

See, Bend, when you are in the type of economic situation that you’re in, parking tickets on empty streets are the last thing you should worry about. Sure, I know that I violated the time restriction, guilty as charged. However, I was one of very few people spending money in your community. I was supporting the businesses that have managed to stay alive during one of the worst economic downturns in modern history. One that names Bend as its poster child for what went wrong.

Instead of enforcing laws that keep people from spending more time and money in your once vibrant downtown, why not remove those restrictions and encourage people to hang around? I need a place for dinner tonight and will want to have a coffee while working again tomorrow. Should I go to downtown Bend for those trips or not? As I look at my $22 parking ticket from the City of Bend, I can tell you I’ll take my business elsewhere.

Bend, save the parking tickets for when you unemployment drops below 17%, for when your housing prices are no longer down 40%-60% from their highs and for when businesses start opening in your downtown, rather than closing.