In the course of meandering along the Sisters Art Stroll this afternoon we encountered belly dancers entertaining passers-by—most of whom stopped passing, as did we, to watch this contrarian bit of cowboy town culture.
Sisters is special. It’s sort of central Oregon’s Cannon Beach—a town with character, wise business signage and design rules, and artistic flair—while Bend is growing uncomfortably akin to Lincoln City, a minimally planned sprawl of malls, dense slow-moving traffic, and garish fast-food restaurants.
Picking up a copy of Sister’s weekly newspaper, The Nugget, we saw that the city council voted 3-2 to reject a proposed ordinance that would have limited “formula food” to the four existing operations (McDonalds, Subway, Figaro’s Pizza, and Bad Ass Coffee Company).
That’s too bad. Apparently lots of local citizens wanted additional chain fast-food outlets to stay out of quaint, quirky Sisters, while lots of the business and real estate community wanted to allow them. As so often happens, quantity of dollars won out over quality of life. Pro-formula food councilors said they were afraid of being slapped with a Measure 37 claim, though I suspect this wasn’t their main motivation for voting “no.”
Growth always is good in some people’s minds, even if they live in Sisters because they like its old-fashioned small town atmosphere. They seem to think that the character of Sisters won’t change with rapid growth. But one of the proponents of the Formula Restaurants Ordinance, Elayne Clark, wrote a letter to the Nugget editor that warned of what happened to Van Nuys, California in just a few years: “A veritable sea of fast foods restaurants, all neon lighted. It was heartbreaking to me.”
I’d be heartbroken myself if Sisters turns into another copycat corporate America town. Today we bought some art at the Soda Creek Gallery, a charming family-run business where last month Laurel had spotted a painting of two wolves peering through birch trees. Since her birthday is coming up in a few days, I figured that this would be a nice present—especially since I wouldn’t have to go to any trouble to pick it out.
Our art tastes aren’t sophisticated. Hanging in the bedroom of our co-owned Camp Sherman cabin is the last piece of art that we bought in Sisters, this “Good Morning!” print. We like the animals stretching.
We had a tough time deciding whether we should buy a canvas or print replication of the wolf painting. The gallery owners patiently answered our questions and then, after I had made an executive, man of the house, its-your-birthday-so-don’t-worry-about-the-price decision to go with canvas, worked with us on choosing a frame and whatever it is you call the stuff that goes between the canvas and the frame (since we had never bought anything other than a print, we were in new territory with this art purchase).
Finally the framing choice was decided upon. I got out my VISA card to pay for the wolf canvas. My name and address was written down in a notebook. Nothing else. “My husband, who does the framing, will remember what sort of frame you want,” we were told by his wife. “I’ll make sure he does.” I trusted her.
Walking back to our car I realized that we didn’t have a receipt for our purchase other than the VISA slip. We didn’t have any record of what piece of art we had bought or what sort of frame was going to be put on it. “Do you think we should go back and get a receipt?” Laurel asked. “No, I said. “This is Sisters. Deals get done with a handshake here.”
It takes longer to shop in Sisters than other places. While we were talking to the gallery owners, friends of theirs kept walking in the door who needed to be greeted with a hug. They’d say, “Sorry for the interruption.” I’d think, “Don’t be sorry for feeling that making human contact is more important than making a quick business deal.”
Don’t change, Sisters. If formula fast-food and other corporate chains are going to keep coming to town, you need to change those businesses to match your small-town character; don’t let them change you.