Discovering the Alley District

Who doesn’t smile when an old VW Westie drives by? My son has a sweet pop-top that we borrowed to do a road trip to the Oregon coast. Just my partner, Loni, myself and three dachshunds on Hwy 101 flying by the seat of our pants. We were self-contained and ready to set up camp wherever we landed and tool our way up the entire coastline.

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Originally, we had planned to take this trip at the end of September, but life took a turn and we needed to move up our vacation to August. I had a voice in the back of my head that questioned the timing, but that positive side of me said, “Just go with it, everything will work out.” Wrong.

From the moment we left town all signs pointed to us turning around and heading home. It started with taking us 9 hours to get to Portland, yes – you read that right – 9 hours. Next, a missing wiener for 3 hours (the love of Loni’s life), lots of little signs here and there, and the biggest one – no decent camping sites! We missed most of the areas we wanted explore due to spending all our time trying to figure out where we were going to park for the night. Everyone heads to the Oregon coast in August apparently, and we had no business trying to squeeze in last minute.

So, we hung our heads in shame, gave up, and headed back home to Bellingham. Loni put the positive thinking hat on this time reminding me that our goal was to live in the moment and that was EXACTLY what we were doing. Even if that meant continuing our vacation in Bellingham, so be it. “Think of all the hiking and places to explore that you have been wanting to do,” she coaxed.

Well, she was right. I switched my gears to thinking about the many adventures and happenings around Bellingham we could take advantage of and I started to get excited. The options were endless: hiking the Oyster Dome, paddle boarding on a variety of lakes, running with the dogs through Whatcom Falls Park, buying fresh produce from the Saturday Farmer’s Market, biking on a multitude of trails, the entire Mt Baker area, finishing up each activity with a locally produced brew, and so on.

Bellingham saved our vacation! During one of our bike rides we discovered a quaint little artistic area. We were biking downtown and caught the trail to head down to Fairhaven and stumbled upon The Alley District. Such an eclectic up-and-coming area of town deserves some more investigation, so I was inspired to do some interviews with a couple of the founders.

This area was founded by a collection of people in the area and this interview is represented by Jason Byal (Positive Negative) and Aaron (Blacksmith) who happened to be available with my timing.
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What is the Alley District?
The alley district is simply a gathering of small business owners, artists, and urban gardeners who all reside on or around “the alley” that get together and share ideas and inspiration.
These businesses appreciate the character of a pedestrian or foot traffic marketplace. There is a wonderful connection between the businesses in the sense that many of us work within creative trades. This creativity has built a colorful and thriving corner of town, along the alley.

Who is involved in it?
There are many businesses who are based within the district. Some have been here for 25 years, others are new. What’s important is that we compliment each other’s skill sets, knowledge, and experience, which makes for a collaborative and supportive work environment.

How does the Alley District stand out from the rest of the downtown area?
The Alley District stands out in town because it’s on the edge. It’s on the edge of a culture and economy that primarily shops overseas, yet we make high quality handmade products locally. It’s on the edge of town between Bellingham and Fairhaven, transforming somewhat condemned structures into thriving and productive workshops. Besides, alleys are always a little bit edgy. This alley is driven by a healthy creative force. People tend to walk, jog, run their dogs, and ride their bikes here and our businesses are affected in many ways by this.

How did it get started?
I suppose the District started in response to the community’s interest in what was happening. This enthusiasm helped us realize the potential and inspired us to organize and build upon the momentum. We share coffee, conversation, and bike rides with our neighbors. I guess once we put a label on it it turned official.

What are the long term visions for the district?
The potential of the area could lead towards solidifying a commercial district that swims against the trend of our modern economy towards something that is much more creative, high quality, soulful, and community minded. This area will hopefully stay an important and valuable component of our downtown. With time there’s no saying how fantastic it could become. We have all the ideas, skills, and exposure to continue to grow and explore.

Why should “Hamsters ” make a trip to the Alley District?
B’hamsters and tourists should visit the area to find inspiration. There are constantly projects and processes underway that are totally unique to Bellingham. The inspiration happening is contagious. Upon your visit to The Alley one may leave with inspiration, motivation, and fresh ideas versus being sucked dry and acquiring a headache from the mall or a drive up the Guide Meridian.

Next time you are in the downtown area, take a stroll or a bike ride through the Alley District and see for yourself the creative collection of businesses along the path. Don’t be afraid to poke your head in the shops and see what sort of inspirations are flowing.

Alana Simler spends her days working with people through massage and pilates in the tranquil setting on her property. After 19yrs of practice and teaching, she enjoys sharing her gained knowledge and experience with those looking to deepen their connection with their own body.

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