Carrying the torch for Camas

Business owner and downtown advocate Carrie Schulstad

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Carrie Schulstad, owner of The Uncommon Gift and a leader among downtown Camas merchants, was recently named the Citizen of the Year by the Camas-Washougal Chamber of Commerce.

By some standards Carrie Schulstad might be considered a newcomer to the city of Camas. But there is little doubt that she has quickly become one of the city’s most enthusiastic cheerleaders, supporters and promoters.

Thirteen years ago, Schulstad and her husband Craig moved their family to Camas from Portland. She said they decided to relocate to the city across the Columbia River with their two children after visiting and getting a feel for its friendly nature and small town values.

“Camas was the first place we ever came to in Washington,” she said. “We just fell in love.”

That love has blossomed. After spending 15 years as a nurse at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, in 2005 Schulstad and her neighbor Amy Rose decided to find a brick and mortar location for their home-based business and opened The Uncommon Gift on Northeast Fourth Avenue in downtown Camas.

“One thing led to another and we opened a store,” she explained.

That’s when Schulstad really got involved in her community.

Over the years her efforts have included serving as co-founder and board member of the Camas Farmer’s Market, assisting in the creation of the Downtown Camas Association and its association with the state’s Main Street Program, and helping to organize and expand the now popular First Friday events that feature art, entertainment and shopping. She has also helped put on a number of promotional events including the Holiday Home Tour as well as Girls Night Out, which supports cancer charities.

For all of her efforts, Schulstad has been named the 2011 Citizen of the Year by the Camas-Washougal Chamber of Commerce. She and other honorees will be recognized during a dinner and ceremony on Tuesday, June 7, at Camas Meadows Golf Club.

“It feels really great,” she said of the honor. “It’s a very special thing to be recognized for what you love doing.”

Schulstad said she takes pride in the fact that she has helped create a more informed and involved downtown business community, through efforts such as merchant meetings where business owners can express concerns and share ideas. The need for better communication was something she identified when she first opened her own shop.

“I think it’s my personality, and probably my past experience in nursing,” she said. “You have to be informed and know the scoop so that you make good decisions.”

Schulstad said she is most proud of expanding the First Friday special monthly events and establishing the Camas Farmer’s Market, which will open for its fifth season on Wednesday.

“I wanted people to get that feeling that they are part of a small town,” she said. “It’s exciting to see what can happen when people can have a positive agenda and work together. It doesn’t take a million dollars.”

Current DCA President Caroline Mercury said Schulstad’s impact on the downtown is immeasurable.

“It is no exaggeration that the Farmer’s Market and First Fridays would not be what they are today — or maybe at all — without Carrie’s personal commitment to them from conception,” Mercury said. “She has an uncommon ability to be both an initiator and a ‘maintainer’ that creates and then continues to work to nourish activities and events like these.”

Camas Hotel co-owner Karen Hall said Schulstad was one of the people who helped inspire her and her husband Tom to make the commitment to purchase and renovate the historic downtown building.

“Her enthusiasm and her belief in Camas’s potential has been totally inspiring, not only for us, but for many other businesses that have been struggling throughout the current economic downturn,” she said. “She has served as a torchbearer for the community for a number of years.”

Camas City Councilman Steve Hogan has worked with Schulstad as part of the Downtown Vision Coalition and the Downtown Camas Association. He said she was pivotal in getting the DCA through the process of becoming a recognized non-profit organization, and describes her as a “tireless advocate” for Camas.

“Carrie steps up when she identifies issues that need to be addressed to improve our downtown community,” he said. “We are lucky to have her, and other people like her, that call Camas home for their businesses.

“Carrie epitomizes the hard work, dedication and deep-seeded desire that many of our downtown merchants demonstrate daily to make Camas a better place for all of us.”

Schulstad said she continues to be enthusiastic about Camas, its downtown business community and proud to be one of its citizens. She shows off her T-shirt that states “I wasn’t born in Camas, but I got here as soon as I could!”

“I love feeling like I make a difference,” she said. “I love seeing positive growth. Not growth for growth’s sake, but good, effective, organic growth.”