I love the central Oregon town of Sisters. I've written about it in "How Sisters, Oregon became a charming prosperous town" and "Camp Sherman and Sisters: I love these Oregon towns."
Now, there's only a few thousand people in the city limits of Sisters, while Salem, my home town, has a population of about 160,000. As noted in one of my previous posts, Sisters was centrally planned to have an 1880's Western theme. Salem has pretty much just grown, and suffers from a lack of smart urban design.
Every time I visit Sisters, I think "This town has a lot to teach Salem."
After all, the central downtown area of each is about the same size (Sisters -- around 28 square blocks, not much different from Salem's Historic District). However, I have a much better feeling while walking around Sisters, for reasons I'll talk about below.
First, though, let's examine the title of this post.
My allusion to bikes, beer, and food carts isn't to separate places in Sisters. Eurosports has all three, mixed together in a wonderfully creative and appealing manner. Does anything like Eurosports exist in Salem? Sadly, no.
Part of the reason is that Sisters is a highly walkable town. Here's a photo I took as I approached Eurosports. Note the copious trees, which City officials in Salem can't resist cutting down for no good reason.
The new location of Eurosports is a block from the busy main drag, Highway 20, which runs through the heart of Sisters. However, it is just one lane in each direction. Heavy traffic moves slowly, 20 mph or less. It's easy to dash across the two lanes, whereas downtown Salem is dominated by intimidating three lane one-way streets.
A food cart with a clever name sits at the entrance to Eurosports. I was told by bike shop staff that it took some doing to get approval for what eventually will be a food cart pod. The 'Sup Dog? cart has both meat hot dogs/bratwurst and a vegetarian Tofurkey offering.
Even though food cart regulations have been relaxed in Salem, I still haven't eaten at one "in the wild," so to speak. Only at events, like the World Beat Festival. Downtown restaurants in Salem complained about a food cart in the Historic District, so now there aren't any in the urban core.
It's weird that Sisters has an emerging food cart pod, and downtown Salem doesn't. I picked up a handout that was sitting on the bike shop counter. It says that the Backyard Bistro food cart will be coming soon to Eurosports.
Being a vegetarian, I like the sound of "Cold Sesame Ginger Tofu Soba Noodles" and "Bistro Salad." Again, though, I can eat at food carts in downtown Sisters, but not in Salem. Hopefully this will change, because food carts are popular and don't really compete with sit-down restaurants.
Taken from the Eurosports porch, this photo shows how nicely the food cart meshes with the bike shop. People can eat at shaded tables, cooled by misters. They gaze at brightly colored bicycles. People who want to eat are connected with bikes. People interested in bikes are connected with food.
And inside the bike shop, everybody is connected with beer and wine. This is freaking genius, having beer on tap and a counter with stools where Eurosports customers can chat with employees in the fix-it area.
That's what I did in June, when I took my mountain bike in to Eurosports to have a couple of broken spokes replaced. I'd left the bike off and wandered around Sisters for a while. When I came back to check on the repair progress, a woman walked in after me and asked the guy working on my bike, "You've got beer, don't you?"
"We sure do," he said. Again, genius.
I followed the woman's lead and ordered a stout. I enjoyed sitting on the stool, sipping the beer, engaging in repartee with the Eurosports guy who was fixing the spokes. I hadn't realized that spokes came in many sizes, with different fittings (nipples?), and weren't all that simple to replace.
After joking with the guy that I might need to take a nap on the showroom floor if the repair job took much longer, he said "Do you know how much this is costing you, my friend, no matter how long it takes? Ten dollars."
"That's too cheap, man," I told him. "You need to charge me more. Have you called a plumber lately? Bike shop service is one of the great bargains."
The bikes, beer, and food cart vibe makes for a wonderfully pleasant customer experience. Like so many other businesses in Sisters, Eurosports combines creativity, artistry, and small town friendliness in an appealing fashion.
Sure, there are political tensions in Sisters.
I follow these when I pick up copies of the town's weekly newspaper, the Nugget. This isn't apparent to visitors, though. And regardless of controversies below the surface, the town simply works as a place to shop, eat, recreate, and otherwise have a good time.
Walkability -- this is the key to Sister's success. I park my car and never think about it again until it's time to leave. Walking around downtown Sisters is enjoyable. Walking around downtown Salem, not nearly so much.
As mentioned before, Salem suffers from those autocentric three lane one-way streets. Salem's Historic District feels like it is meant for cars, with humans invited in as an afterthought. In Sisters, pedestrians rule.
I step off the curb and the busy traffic on Highway 20 stops. It is only moving at 20 mph, or quite a bit less. Walkers feel at home in Sisters. Which is way good for business, because nobody can shop while sitting in a car.
Sisters also has done attractive streetscaping of Highway 20. Native vegetation, rock work, and such line the main downtown street. There are no ugly obtrusive sidewalk signs, which abound in downtown Salem.
Don't get me wrong: I love downtown Salem also.
Some good things are happening in the Historic District. It is only when I go to a truly walkable downtown area like what Sisters has, filled with people, energy, and creativity, that I realize how much better downtown Salem could be.