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Economy | Business

Hard Times: Hood River Businesses See A Corner Turned

As part of our "HardTimes" series, OPB has been following owners of two small businesses in Hood River.  The last time we talked to them, they were struggling because of the recession.

Melissa Tokstad: “I’m at the point now where I’m doing my own bookkeeping. I don’t have a bookkeeper anymore. I’m pretty much doing all the production work myself.”

Kathy Watson: “It about broke my heart to see my guys in there washing dishes. But they did it with a good heart.”

That was Kathy Watson, who runs ‘Nora’s Table,’ a restaurant just off main street. And before her was Melissa Tokstad, who designs and sells swim wear from her store on mainstreet.

In the winter, things were tough, but as Kristian Foden-Vencil reports, they’ve had an unexpectedly good summer.

 Melissa Tokstad
 Melissa Tokstad

Melissa Tokstad’s smart boutique is called Melika.

The customers here, she says, are women who want to buy a unique, locally-made swim suit — that they won't see on anyone else while on vacation. 

She says these women generally have a 401k and a well-paid job – or a husband with a well-paid job. But, she says, last fall they seemed to lose their sense of security.

Melissa Tokstad: “It really was almost to the day when the stock market went crazy in October. I truly felt it and everything started going just very badly.”

For a couple of months Tokstad says, hardly anybody bought anything – everyone seemed to be waiting to see what was going to happen.  But then, things started to turn around.

MelissaTokstad: “I’ve been up every month since April — quite significantly some months. I think May was up 50 percent since last year. Which it was great. It was exciting.”

Around the corner from Tokstad’s store, Kathy Watson leans over a cutting board at Nora’s Table. It’s a white-linen restaurant — without the pretensions of waist-coated waiters or a haughty maitre de.

Kathy Watson: “So this is red onion for a German potato salad for a wedding rehearsal dinner for tomorrow night.”

Kristian: “And I notice you’re not crying. Every time I cut onions I cry like a baby.”

Kathy Watson: “It’s just the onion and the time of year.”

 Kathy Watson
 Kathy Watson

Watson isn't shedding any tears over the economy either, these days. She says just like her neighbor, Melissa Tokstad, she’s had a good summer — and the economy feels as if it’s turned some kind of corner.

Kathy Watson: “I guess the thing that I’m really happy about, is that I feel like we will make it now. And there were times last winter where I wondered if we would.”

Watson says Hood River has been in an economic malaise for the past two years. But, she says, there’s been an unexpected silver lining.

Kathy Watson: “One thing that recessions do for companies is: it gives them some breathing space in a way to rethink what they were doing right and doing wrong.And we were doing a lot of things wrong last year. We didn’t have the right menu. We didn’t have the right approach in the kitchen and in the dining room.  And so we could stop, catch our breaths and go, we’re going to come out of here stronger, and that’s what we’ve done.”

But while both women are doing better than they've done in a long time, they're still being careful about how they spend and how they plan for the future.

But one thing has changed about Melissa Tokstad's future.

MelissaTokstad:“I’m three months pregnant.”

She beams with excitement.

Melissa Tokstad: “It was a little bit of surprise. A very welcome surprise. But yeah,it changed our plans for the summer. I’ve been sick, not feeling well, so I’ve not been at the store as much as I normally would. The girls here have been wonderful, stepping up and helping me out and letting me take naps, work three hours a day kind of thing.”

She says the timing is perfect, because she’s due in February, which happens to be her store’s slowest month.  

Still, she's worried about taking time away from her first baby -– the business -– to look after her second.