We’re No. 7! We’re No. 7! (Is there a foam finger to go with that chant?)

We love lists, and love the love that lists deliver when they list Hood River high if not higher in their rankings.

So it was nice to see the folks at Livability.com again ranking Hood River among the top small towns (under 20,000 population) in the U.S.

Their list includes 100 towns, but you don’t have to scroll too far down from No. 1 (not us) to find Hood River ranked 7th. Last year, we were 4th.

Other Oregon cities on the list? Newport at 35, Astoria at 47, La Grande at 60 and Coos Bay at 75.

First was Lebanon, N.H., and last was Papillon, Nebraska.


Nutritious snacks designed to boost your business smarts …

Gorge Grown Food Network has received a $20,000 grant from the Jerome S. and Barbara Bischoff Discretionary Subfund of The Oregon Community Foundation. The grant will fund a new Veggie Prescription pilot program this summer. Its goal will be to reduce food insecurity by providing vouchers to low-income community members. Under the program, healthcare and social service providers will identify people facing food insecurity, then write a prescription that patients will fill at local farmers’ markets and select grocery stores for fresh fruits and vegetables. Several local healthcare providers are providing matching funds specifically for the fresh produce (vouchers) including Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital, Skyline Hospital and the Columbia Gorge Health Council. The Tofurky Company is also providing funding support. “A recent survey shows that even those receiving food stamps and other help are not able to acces the food they need, especially fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Sarah Sullivan, Executive Director of Gorge Grown Food Network. …

Interesting report from GoLocalPDX showing trends in growth — and decline — of poverty around Oregon counties during the last 30 years. Hood River County is doing relatively well. Wasco County?Not so much. Check various counties with roll-over map, then use slider to compare years from 1980 to 2010. …

Envirogorge, the environmental web site maintained by Susan Hess, is challenging conscientious consumers to employ reusable cups during June. Take your own mug to Doppio, Ground, 10 Speed et. al. , and avoid the paper (or foam) disposable cups. Take a selfie of your responsible cup use, and submit it at the envirogorge web site to qualify for prizes …

Did you know that wine will help the health of your marriage? Yes, according to the number crunchers at Naked Winery

Make note of two forthcoming business development workshops, “Understanding Your Brand” from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. June 15, and “Marketing Planning” from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., both at Gorge Innoventure, 1000 E. Port Marina Drive (east end of the Port of Hood River building). The Brand workshop is presented by Emily Reed, who has work as a brand strategist for 20 years. The Planning workshop is led by Becky Brun of Pitchfork Communications. Cost is $45 per person per class. For more info or to register, go to the Innoventure web site. Or call 541-436-0797. …


City planners give OK to look and layout of new Sheppard’s facility

Artists' rendering of proposed new facility for Sheppard's on the Hood River waterfront.

Artists’ rendering of proposed new facility for Sheppard’s on the Hood River waterfront.

The Hood River Planning Commission this week signed off on plans for the new location of Sheppard’s, the longtime Hood River supplier of orchard and vineyard equipment (John Deere etc.).

Based on conceptual drawings prepared by Surround Architecture of Portland, the site at the northwest corner of North Second Street and Riverside Drive will offer an outdoor showroom that showcases the valley’s agricultural heritage.

sheppards_downtownv2Craig Sheppard said the project to move all its operations from downtown Hood River (First and State streets) is “still a work in progress.”

Once it’s complete, the new facility will include 20,000 square feet of space for an equipment showroom, service and repairs.

Sheppard said the family has no plans now for what to do with the site it will vacate.

He said the construction timeline will firm up in the next couple of weeks, but the company is tentatively looking at completion of the new facility and relocation in 2016.

Sheppard said the relocation became imperative because the company needs parking for large trucks making deliveries, and for its customers.

“The business has been expanding over the last several years, a result of the farm economy,” Sheppard said. “The farm economy has been good, and that affects us directly.”

Freeway access will let the company better serve its base of specialty crop growers in Hood River and Wasco counties.

“One reason for the move to the Port is that we do a lot of business east of here, in the cherry orchards and wine grapes,” Sheppard said.

The site, once planned for a Burger King, covers almost two acres. Michael McElwee, executive director of the Port of Hood River, says the Port entered into an agreement with the Sheppard family late last year. Under the agreement, they can buy the property if they meet a host of requirements.

At a meeting with the Port commission June 16, the Sheppards will detail progress on planning, toward lining up financing and permitting. Once all the pieces are in place, the property sale can close. McElwee said that would likely happen this fall.

“Everything we’ve seen looks good so far,” he said.

Gorge homes are selling 32% faster than a year ago, at higher prices

Real estate is rockin’, to judge by the numbers in the April market action report from the Regional Multiple Listing Service for the Mid-Columbia region.

Thanks to Washington appraiser Steve Gibson for passing along the numbers. The survey covers Skamania and Klickitat counties on the Washington side, and Hood River and Wasco counties on the Oregon side.

To date this year, the big leader in median sales price is … (wait for it) … no, not Hood River.

Answer? Trout Lake, with four sales and a median of $422,500.

Rowena, on the Oregon side, topped median and average sales numbers at $1 million — for one sale.

That’s a tilted view of this world, however. To get a real fix, you need more closings at all price levels to get a real picture.

The most active market this year has been The Dalles, with 78 sales. Prices on average are up 4.8% compared to a year ago.

In the city of Hood River, brokers closed 40 sales through April, at prices up 7.6% on average compared to 2014.

Across the region, average sales prices (which can be skewed mightily by one sale of $1 million) are up this year by 21.2%.

Median prices — with half of all sales above and below the number — are up 11.1%.

Comparing county numbers, Klickitat County led the pack with an average year-over-year price rise of 9.2%.

Following seasonal summer upswing patterns, sales activity has depleted the number of houses on the market.

At the rate of April activity, the listing pool would last six months. That means houses were selling 32% faster this April than in 2014.

Time to call your broker?

Emporium pop-up shop debuts first of summer weekend series on First Friday

You’ve heard of First Friday (coming up this week, on June 5), but thanks to pop-up thinking, you might also want to think about First Weekend.

Yep, a new business, Emporium at Butler Bank, will debut its Northwest-centric, hand-made product line on First Friday, then welcome customers on first Saturday, and first Sunday — every month from June through October.

A concept of the Union Event Co., Emporium will feature clothing, jewelry and home furnishings made in the Pacific Northwest.

Organizer Stephanie Laur says the Emporium will also feature entertainment and refreshments, with something different every night. To find out what, you just have to pop in … to the pop-up.

Emporium is open only to adults from 5 to 8 p.m. First Friday, because of the tasty menu of beer, wine, cider and sake, shoju and champagne cocktails. All ages are welcome during open hours on the weekend, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Curious about who’s jumping into business? Here’s the hot sheet

For your curiosity, herewith a list of recent Hood River area business filings with the Oregon Corporations Division.

Because filings have limited information, we can’t offer more than what appears here. But as per our practice, anyone on this list with more information to share about their plans and enterprises is invited to contact The Buzz.

Now, for the business names and filing agents of record (if any).

  • Worth the Wait Foods, Cynthia Brunk
  • Bee Buds Inc, Melanie Noble
  • Incite Product Design Group, Kevin Murray
  • Hood River Barley Co.
  • Wilde & Co.
  • Cuate’s Burgers and Tacos, Ricardo Lopez
  • The Clothing Outlet, Erick Viramontes
  • 64 Oz.
  • Northwest Play Sales, Patricia Lenz
  • Play Northwest, Patricia Lenz
  • The 506 Gallery, Rita Rathkey
  • Giuseppe Boat Works, Joseph Castaldi
  • Columbia Gorge Home Staging, Shawn Johnson
  • A-1 Hotels, Vijay Patel
  • Cathy’s Kids Daycare & Preschool, Cathy Frazier
  •  Pruitt Construction and Excavation, Timothy Pruitt
  • Wyeast Family Farm, Molly Olsen
  • Gorgelicious Dog Treats, Natasha Markovich
  • Fresh Current, Jake Olson
  • Big Herm’s BBQ, Catherine Herman
  • Rutledge Rentals
  • Columbia Gorge Visitors Guide
  • Heidi Venture Consulting
  • Galindo Brothers Maintenance, Sonia Lachino
  • Jesse James Trucking, Jesse Meadows
  • Pick Me! Popcorn, Jackie Campbell-Geary
  • Hanalei Boys, Mohammad Ayach
  • Nichols Hotel
  • Chronic Warrior, Nathan Ohlson
  • Got Life, Nathan Ohlson
  • Nichols Office
  • Olness Construction, Michael Olness
  • 12 Ciders, Chip Dickinson


Post Office parking lot closed today (May 28) for repainting

Relaying quick note from city administrator Steve Wheeler, for those of you who use the parking lot just south across Cascade from the Post Office. It will be closed today (Thursday, May 28) for repainting. The city is converting the lot to a year-round mix of 25 permit spaces and 25 public day parking spaces.  The flip is set to start next week, or June 1, whichever you prefer.

For today, Wheeler says permit holders can park on any side street except Oak and Cascade.  The permit must be visible at all times.

Home-grown Azure Standard taps a healthy appetite for chemical-free foods


Dave Stelzer inside the greenhouse at Azure Standard's main facility outside Dufur.

Dave Stelzer inside the greenhouse at Azure Standard’s main facility outside Dufur.

(Editor’s note: This story appeared originally in the Ruralite magazine. Reprinting here because it tells of an interesting business operating out of the limelight but making significant strides. It’s hiring, too, as recent ads in local papers attest.)

DUFUR — Not many farmers here can point to the day they got fired by Bob’s Red Mill as the day they got fired up to start what 30 years later has become a national distributor of organic foods generating annual sales of around $50 million.

Dave Stelzer, chief executive of Azure Standard, smiles when he thinks about the company’s crisis point, when his family’s farm was forced in the mid-1980s to shift emphasis from growing to marketing and distributing.

His family and its 160 employees still produce 180 different products from 1,000 acres of dry land and 3,000 acres of cultivated soil — some of it their own, some of it leased — stretching from the home farm 9 miles east of Dufur to irrigated land along the John Day River.

They harvest a mix of grains, orchard crops like cherries, peaches, apricots, apples and pears, and row crops including potatoes, onions and squash. A greenhouse produces tomatoes, squashes, peppers and, yes, bananas.

But most of what they sell, they buy from other growers.

“Sales has outgrown production,” Stelzer says, noting that his own emphasis leans these days to the marketing side. “Marketing and distribution is 10 times the farming side of the business.”

In the mid-1980s, however, Bob’s Red Mill was about the only customer. It was a good contract, Stelzer recalls, but it almost literally left all the family’s eggs in one basket. When Bob’s went away, Stelzer was left with a lot of grain to sell, much of it rye – and the local grain co-ops weren’t buying rye.

Stelzer says he arranged for some custom milling in Yakima, bagged up the flour and started knocking on doors of food retailers in Portland, Salem, Bend, the Tri-Cities and Yakima. He promised delivery every other week, and did.

The buyers liked his product – all organic, since his father Alfred had converted away from chemicals in 1973 – so they asked Stelzer if he could add a few things to his deliveries.

“So I added lentils,” he recalls. “I was young and stupid, so I said ‘yes’ more than I should’ve, then figured out later how to do it.”

It worked. The company adopted the Azure Standard brand in 1987. Stelzer says “azure (blue)” is often associated with law and justice. To him, it seemed appropriate to symbolize the family’s goal of creating a “right and just standard in organic foods.”

Stelzer talks with passion about eliminating chemical fertilizers and pesticides from growing practices, while at the same time feeding the soil the nutrients it needs to produce crops that themselves are rich in nutrients.

Growing demand among consumers fed right into Azure’s objectives.

Connie Davis of Carson, Wash., is like many of Azure’s customers, people who live in small towns or out in the country, far from any grocery store, let alone stores like Whole Foods, which specialize in organic product.

Davis came slowly to Azure. She likes to see and feel her food. Catalogs weren’t her thing, until a friend in North Bonneville, Wash., suggested she try Azure Standard.

“The big thing that won me over was raw milk,” she recalls. “More and more, as I got involved, I’m going, ‘Oh my gosh, everything I could possibly want is here.’”

Now she coordinates delivery dates for 35 customers who live within a short drive of her home. Azure Standard sells through online and print catalogs, but delivers through a team of 23 contractors who manage 59 delivery routes all over the country. When the delivery truck shows up at Davis’s house, customers jockey their rigs into position to unload the truck, sort orders, load up and head home.

“The drop takes maybe 20 minutes,” Davis says. “It’s a social affair. We have a chance to swap produce or eggs.”

Wyatt Wall lives in Hood River, and delivers to buyers like Davis, except that all his delivery routes begin 1,450 miles from home – in the Dakotas, northwestern Iowa and western Wisconsin.

He and his wife Kristi leave Hood River on Saturday, pick up their cargo at Azure’s 68,000-square-foot warehouse in Moro, and head to one of three routes they service each month. They’ve cover 1,000 miles, stopping 40 to 60 times for drops.

Wall says they’ve been driving for Azure for a little more than a year. “They really put a premium on serving their customers’ needs,” he says. “They really try to make customers feel they’re part of a journey to bring organic and healthy food to the masses.”

Stelzer says Azure has barely scratched the surface of appetite for its products. Demand has outstripped the capacity of the Moro warehouse, which opened in 2007. That’s why Azure is looking at a possible distribution center in the eastern United States.

“We’ve had double-digit growth for each of the last 10 years,” Stelzer says. “We can grow as fast we can handle it. There is a lot of market opportunity.”

His dream is to increase sales ten-fold in the next decade. That would boost revenues to the neighborhood of $500 million.

“Maybe that’s crazy for a farm kid, but I think it’s totally possible,” Stelzer says. “There are a lot of wholesale markets we haven’t reached. It’s kinda fun.”

Candidate info keeps trickling in

Use the Vote 15 tab at the top of the page to select contested local races and review statements submitted by candidates, including people mounting write-in campaigns. We’ll add information as we get it.