What’s Working in the Whit?
Personal explanations as to why the economy in the Whiteaker is able to remain positive.
By Allyson Will
In 2010, Oregon ranked 47th in the country for job growth, leaving the unemployment rate at 11 percent. In January of 2010 the unemployment rate for Eugene alone was 11.2 percent. Fast-forward to January 2011 as the unemployment rate sits at 10.6 percent. Finding a job during a recession may be hard, but the entrepreneurs of the Whiteaker area had some different advice for the unemployed: if you can’t find a job, make your own.
The current recession has taken its financial and emotional toll on many businesses in Eugene. One barrier that must be dealt with during an economic drought is being able to keep your head up and eyes open for new possibilities. Due to a combination of factors, the small businesses of Eugene have been able to maintain their finances and avoid being hit hard by the recession. To start up a new company during a recession would be bold, but to call the business owners of Whiteaker optimistic is an understatement.
“This community is becoming a lot of people getting together loans and starting their own businesses,” says Brad Coffey, the owner of Olivejuice Gifts on Blair Boulevard.
Olivejuice is a locally owned lingerie, art, and gift boutique. What makes Olivejuice different than other retailers is their dedication to giving back to the local community. The store has given half of their vending space for fundraisers and art shows. Coffey says that while these fundraisers do benefit his business the ultimate goal is to help the community members in need. “Everyone being benefited is local, and that is what we like about it,” says Coffey.
The Whiteaker is gaining a reputation for being a prime location to try out a new business idea. Coffey says that although much of the Whiteaker residents have been around for a long time, they are still invested in their community. Coffey adds that they still consider Olivejuice to be a new business in the area and always enjoy a positive business suggestion from the Whiteaker residents. “Locals have expressed their interest in attending some of the upcoming festivals in which they dress up, so we are working on bringing in new costume clothing,” says Coffey. It is really important to Coffey that their store reflects the community.
Just around the corner from Olivejuice is the multi-colored Eugene Glass Menagerie. Geoff Stengel, the owner and creator of the glass shop, moved to Oregon from Boston in pursuit of a glass blowing career. He was quickly welcomed into the Whiteaker neighborhood as he was offered an apprenticeship with a fellow Whiteaker glass blowing company.
“It was amazing when I realized that I was going to be able to start my own glass shop,” says Stengel. “The Whiteaker was the place to do it.” Stengel says that the consumer residents in Whiteaker take interest in your business, are a part of the development, and truly care about how they invest their time and money.
Bordering the Eugene Glass Menagerie is an equally new restaurant, El Pinche Taco. In the summer of 2008 Juan Dominguez and his wife opened their authentic Mexican restaurant. Dominguez, who is originally from Guadalajara, runs the business with the help of his wife and daughter.
Dominguez recognizes the fortune he has to be running his restaurant in a positive work community. At time the Dominguez’s family decided to open El Pinche Taco on Blair Boulevard, the two main selling points for them were the cheap rent and convenient location. Two years later the family agrees that the most valuable part of their Whiteaker neighborhood location is the nearby businesses.
We get along extremely well with the other businesses,” says Dominguez. “You’re eating with everyone.”
Dominguez clarifies that “eating with everyone” isn’t about food; it’s about building relationships with those around you for everyone’s financial benefit. Brandy, Juan’s daughter, says that the employees of the Pizza Research Institute and Papa’s Soul Food Kitchen often stop by for a meal. Brandy adds, “Around here, everyone helps out everyone.”
Josh Henrickson would be considered the new guy in town for the Whiteaker neighborhood. Henrickson came to Eugene from Colorado eight months ago in search of a new business opportunity. Henrickson hadn’t spent much time in the Whiteaker neighborhood before he knew this is where he wanted to be.
“I stood at the end of Blair, looked down the street, and I saw everything I needed except for a coffee shop,” says Henrickson, “so that’s where I came in.”
The result of his search is The Last Stand Coffee Co. located at the end of Blair Boulevard. For someone who new to the Whiteaker neighborhood, like Henrickson, a sense of community like the employees of El Pinche Taco and Olivejuice feel is important.
“Call me an optimist, the Whiteaker reputation is increasing and now has a lot of potential,” says Henrickson, “but we need more human connection between busnisses.”
Much like Coffey, Henrickson agrees that in order to have a business in Whiteaker it must be a community effort that involves other businesses participating in the consumer side. He says that in a district as small as the Whiteaker’s everyone needs to do their part to help others.
Not many communities can compare to the business dynamics that are found in the Whiteaker. The growing economy in the Whiteaker is owed not only to the business owners, but also to the community members who give their time as well as money.
“This neighborhood has character,” says Brandy Dominguez, “It is just a lot of characters.