Top to bottom: Oregon City's burgeoning downtown scenes: customer Sarah Ferguson tries on a hat at You Can Leave Your Hat On; the Wynona Studios storefront; a wedding cake from Wrightberry's Cakes and Cupcakes; Jan Wright from Wrightberry's Cakes and Cupcakes
// Photos by Alexandra Shyshkina
The bridge leading into downtown Oregon City is closed for repairs, and the city’s largest employer, the Blue Heron paper mill, is history.
So why are downtown boosters here so optimistic?
Lloyd Purdy, director of the nonprofit Main Street Oregon City, says 36 new businesses have opened downtown since the city started a revitalization effort in late 2008. True, another 15 have closed during that period, and large vacancies remain, but Purdy says a positive transformation is under way in this historic city of about 32,000 people. He even puts an optimistic spin on the February closure of the mill, which has dominated the area around Willamette Falls in various industrial forms since the 1830s: “We see it as a great opportunity to reclaim that property for a higher and better use.”
The shuttering of Blue Heron, the last remaining mill in the area, severs the city’s strong historic ties with the timber industry and the blue-collar mill jobs it provided. In an ironic twist, Purdy’s organization is promoting the new Oregon City as an affordable business location and shopping destination in a video titled “Blue Collar Creative,” with a hip-hop soundtrack and a montage of flashy urban shots, more steaming espresso drinks and hipsters behind computer monitors than blue-collar workers. The company that produced the video, Funnelbox Motion Picture Studio, is one of Oregon City’s most important employers in the post-mill era.
On a recent afternoon Funnelbox’s 35 or so youthful employees were clicking away at their machines, rushing to complete eight “deliverables” by the end of the month. Funnelbox has spun off a variety of companies since relocating from Portland to Oregon City, most recently a digital sign business called Flixeo and a 3D animation outfit called Clink. Clink gets its name from the former city jail in Funnelbox’s 1925 building, complete with a former drunk tank converted into a crash area for exhausted animators.
A few buildings to the north on Main Street, Jan Wright and her daughter Christi Ross were converting flour, butter and sugar into a mouth-watering variety of concoctions. Wright ran Wrightberry’s Cakes and Cupcakes out of her home in Oregon City for 13 years, before signing onto a five-year lease here last October. She said business has never been brisker, between the $3.25 cupcakes, enjoyed by lawyers and jurors on break from the courthouse across the street, and more elaborate creations involving handmade sugar flowers and frosted likenesses of Jabba the Hut.