In recent months, downtown White Salmon has been a study in contrasts: A number of vibrant, unique businesses dwell alongside abandoned storefronts where painfully bare windows display only "For Sale" or "For Lease" signs.
The phenomenon is particularly striking in the two-block heart of the business district, between N. Main Avenue and NE Estes Avenue, where there are almost as many empty shops as thriving businesses.
Among the recent casualties are the Elkhorn Bar & Grill at 186 E. Jewett; the White Salmon Grille, 120 E. Jewett; Second-Hand Sheik, a clothing store at 216 E. Jewett; and the Wrapsacks business at 290 E. Jewett.
The Elkhorn and the White Salmon Grille are both for sale or lease, but for now there are no deals pending and they remain empty.
Local artist Peggy Ohlson has transformed Second-Hand Sheik into an art gallery and painting studio.
What had been Wrapsacks is being remodeled to accommodate expansion of the business office of The Insitu Group, a company that builds miniature robotic aircraft. The company's main facility is located at Bingen Point.
Two businesses -- Miller Sports/Liquor Store and the Creative Touch Nail Salon -- recently relocated. Miller Sports/Liquor Store is now at 150 E. Jewett, while the Creative Touch Nail Salon is at 202 E. Jewett, but the buildings where they used to be (151 E. Jewett and 208 E. Jewett respectively) have not yet been occupied.
The overall picture may be about to change, however.
Property owners David Crumpacker and Greg Boudreau, who own the Elkhorn space and the neighboring building to the west of there, are in the process of extensively remodeling three storefronts between the Elkhorn and Miller's Sports.
Once the $150,000 remodeling project is completed, the building -- which used to be the Rec Hall -- will offer new electrical, new plumbing, new drywall, new soundproofing, new flooring, a new glass storefront for the entire building, and new bathrooms that comply with requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
The largest of the three spaces, 1,400 square feet, will become a new coffee shop/restaurant. The Ground, a Hood River coffee business with an existing business in Hood River, is expanding into the White Salmon market. The new cafe is expected to open here around the middle of July.
Directly to the east of where The Ground will go is a 1,138 square foot retail space, with no tenant lined up as yet. To the west will be a 458 square foot office space.
Crumpacker said he hopes to see retail businesses move into the renovated building.
"Those are natural retail spaces, and I'd love to have them remain retail," Crumpacker said. "But if we find an office user, we'd do that because it can be so hard to find tenants."
Carl McNew, president of Mount Adams Chamber of Commerce, was happy to hear that a new business was coming to town.
"It's good," McNew said about The Ground. "I was hoping Katina [Putnam, owner of The Creamery] would be able to move in there; that was a logical space for her business. But this will fill that gap in the community, giving people someplace to go and sit down and have a muffin and a cup of coffee."
McNew added that McMenamins, the Portland-based tavern chain with 15 businesses in Oregon and Washington, had briefly entertained the idea of turning the Elkhorn into one of its outlets. However, it does not appear McMenamins will pursue locating in White Salmon at this time.
"It's too bad, but they just have too much going on right now," McNew said.
The long-abandoned Cameo Theater site, 125 E. Jewett, remains a big empty space, but that is expected to change soon with a new four-story building, "The Cameo," which will offer nearly 40,000 square feet of mixed commercial/residential space on the site. The Cameo will have retail shops on the ground level, although it is unknown at this time what specific businesses might be going in there.
Construction is expected to begin this fall.
Other upcoming changes include The Creamery cafe, at 121 E. Jewett, which is slated for closure in August. The building where The Creamery is located will be torn down to make way for The Cameo project.
Across the street, Butterflies Flowers & Gifts, 110 E. Jewett, remains open but is now up for sale.
La Playita, the Mexican grocery store at 210 E. Jewett with a small restaurant in the back, is hoping to expand into the now-open neighboring space at 208 E. Jewett (where the nail salon had been) in July.
Jorge Rangel, La Playita's owner, said the move would allow the store to develop its restaurant business. Rangel has also applied for a beer and wine license.
"Their food is very good and they have a big clientele," said White Salmon Mayor Roger Holen.
McNew said he was optimistic about the changes coming to White Salmon.
"There is some big stuff happening that's really monumental for White Salmon," McNew said. "Hopefully we'll see businesses unique enough to draw customers from Hood River and elsewhere."
Mayor Holen was even more upbeat about the possibilities.
"I'm optimistic we're about to see a boom," Holen said. "It has been a long time coming, but it is coming. The increase in population near the downtown core bodes well for the shops."