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Getting the word out

TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Owen Ferguson and Olivia Kane enjoys the music performance by the Youth Music Project at the Summer Street Market kick-off June 1, part of the Willamette Historic Main Streets effort to revitalize West Linns downtown core.  When Historic Willamette Main Street (HWMS) Manager Noelle Brooks attended a West Linn Historical Society meeting in early 2016, she was struck by a comment made by Historical Society President Beth Smolens.

Smolens mentioned the society’s new “History Without Walls” program, which aimed to bring history to life through activities, events and online resources, as opposed to the traditional physical museum.

In many ways, Brooks thought, the approach mirrored what HWMS has strived for in the first half of the year. Like the Historical Society, HWMS does not have an office, and its wide-ranging efforts to improve the Historic Willamette Main Street area have been concentrated on a virtual spot, within a newly revamped website.

“It’s our ‘headquarters without walls’,” Brooks said.

The group was incorporated in 2010, and officially registered as a 501c3 nonprofit in 2014. As part of the Oregon Main Street Program, HWMS’s recently revised mission is to “celebrate and preserve the rich history and natural beauty of the area, invest in the heart of our downtown and create a community where local residents and visitors can dine, shop and connect with others.

To that end, Main Street groups use a four point approach focusing on “Organization,” “Economic Restructuring,” “Promotion” and “Design.”

In June 2015, the West Linn City Council committed $40,000 to HWMS in its 2016-2017 biennial budget — a notable vote of confidence for West Linn’s only official business district. The grant was officially approved in October 2015, and Historic Willamette’s plan called for the bulk of the $40,000 to be spent on the contract for a new, part-time Main Street Manager who would focus largely on engaging key stakeholders.

Brooks was brought on shortly thereafter, and since then she and HWMS Board President Matt Lorenzen have hit the ground running.

“In a super short period of time, we have a new logo, a new website and we’ve got a brochure in the works,” Brooks said. “Both the website and brochure were, for the most part, from a really generous grant from the Mt. Hood Territory — a grant for tourism.”

The website proved to be a top priority in the early months of 2016, as Lorenzen and a local web designer took on the bulk of the redesign effort.

SUBMITTED PHOTO: MATT LORENZEN - As part of a largescale rebranding effort, HWMS redesigned its logo.

“We looked at what was on the old site, and really it was just antiquated, stale and the overall presentation was like circa 1999,” Lorenzen said. “So it involved integrating new branding, giving it a new aesthetic in general, making it more user friendly — and we added a searchable business directory and events section.”

In keeping with Brooks’ “headquarters without walls” idea, the goal is for the website to evolve into a one-stop shop for residents and visitors alike.

“We really want the site to be sort of a hub of information for everything that happens down here, even if it’s not an event we’re hosting,” Lorenzen said. “If it’s the Old Time Fair or if it’s the holiday parade, whatever it is, those events are all going to be on our site.”

The brochure, meanwhile, will aim to highlight all that Main Street has to offer, and the goal is to get the brochures placed at rest stops along the highway and attract new visitors.

“Once that brochure gets in place, we’ll start looking at those opportunities for those travelers coming up and down between Canada and California,” Brooks said.

The goal is for the brochures to be ready by the time NW Natural Street of Dreams arrives in West Linn, in late August. This is because HWMS has also agreed to be a “sponsor in kind” for Street of Dreams, a luxury home show that is taking place on Petes Mountain this year.

Tens of thousands attended last year’s show in Lake Oswego, and even more are expected this year — thus leaving an opportunity to bring at least some of the attendees over to Main Street.

“Obviously we have to redirect them to this area,” Brooks said, “especially if you’re thinking of moving, to show what the neighborhood really has to offer.”

One of the most prominent offerings, of course, is the Summer Street Market, formerly known as the farmers market and now on Wednesdays as opposed to Sundays.

“Not only did we move the day but we’re offering it as a ‘summer market,’” Brooks said. “So it’s beyond the farmers market that every other neighborhood in the Portland metro area has. We realized there was a need to make a niche and a different experience, so they’ve got vintage vendors, they’ve got artisans, as well as what you’d like to see — your produce areas.”

There is also an informational booth where residents will have an opportunity to meet with HWMS board members, and other local organizations like the Youth Music Project are now involved in the market.

HWMS also held a business reception recently which served the dual purpose of introducing the organization to some businesses while also soliciting sponsorships. Sponsor levels are broken into three tiers: Partnership ($300 a year), Leadership ($1,000 per year) and Friend of HWMS ($100 per year), and each come with different benefits for businesses or community members.

In a broader sense, the reception was meant to hammer home the diverse set of resources offered by HWMS.

“We’re trying to establish an open line of communication, which has been open in the past, but hasn’t really been open any time in the most recent years,” Lorenzen said. “It’s fair to say business owners haven’t really been aware that there’s a nonprofit, formally organized group advocating for them, trying to bring business and visibility to this Main Street, trying to land grants that are going to bring publicity and attention to the area.

“We’re here, we’re active and doing a lot. And we want you to know about it.”

Learn more

Visit historicwillamette.com for more information

Patrick Malee can be reached at 503-636-1281 Ext. 106 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..