5th & Columbia: Vancouver’s new “local” block

The Mighty Bowl mobile food cart

“Torque Coffee is a good neighbor,” said Bray. “Our businesses will be able to complement each other, which is a big bonus.”

Matt Brislawn, owner of Briz Loan & Guitar, is located just around the corner, at 506 Washington Street. He has been there since 1995, and has watched the growth of the area with interest.

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“New businesses will draw more people,” said Brislawn. “The communal aspect of it is cool.”

He said that when he takes the dog out for a walk, he often meets Stevens, or meets with people at Torque to talk business.

“It’s nice to know all your neighbors,” Brislawn said. “So many years those buildings were vacant.”

Different stories, same feel

Each of the businesses has a little different story to tell, as far as how they got started and how they landed in the neighborhood. However, all of the stories weave together to form a common theme of a love for their local scene – Vancouver.

Palmer, for example, was simply walking through a parking lot when a “for rent” sign literally fell off a building and hit him on the head. After rubbing his bruise, he scratched the opaque paint off the old auto shop’s window and thought “this is perfect.” A little over a year later, Torque (playing off the building’s former purpose) opened.

Palmer said his shop takes “buy local” fairly seriously, as part of his overall goal of providing a higher level of customer service and a high-end drink. He also thinks it’s important to support his neighbors. For example, because Stevens’ shop has no retail space, Palmer sells NW Shirts products in his store.

Bray has been brewing beer for more than ten years, and began contemplating opening a brewery about five years ago. He found the warehouse space on Columbia, which now features both a brewing area and a tasting room. When asked why he chose to locate where he did, Bray replied, “Portland is a mecca for beer fans. We felt Vancouver was under-represented. We have a lot of pride in our city, and want to have something to offer to the community.”

Valenta, whose food cart offers “ingredient conscious” meals at various locations in Vancouver throughout the week, said it took seven months to build his truck out and get approval from the state and county authorities.

“It’s as hard as people say it is,” said Valenta. “It would have been easier to do in Portland, but it was important for us to keep it local.”

Valenta helps promote his fellow business owners by having his employees wear t-shirts featuring different businesses, such as Loowit Brewing and Torque Coffee. Such promotions, said Valenta, creates a synergy that “helps them, and helps us.”

Brislawn, whose business has grown over the years from a one-man show to four employees with medical benefits, said that the advent of businesses like Torque, NW Shirts, Mighty Bowl, and Loowit Brewing means “more consumers, more business, and more jobs.”

Local business owners, said Palmer, are more invested in the community, compared to larger chains, and can adapt faster to the needs of the community.

“All the money has a higher impact level, by staying in the community,” said Palmer.
Stevens summed his neighbors’ thoughts by saying, “We urge Vancouverites to buy as local as they can – It’s taking care of your own, and a way to make your community stronger.”