When four of the eight Washougal Business Association (WBA) officers, including president Kathryn Dudley, resigned in the fall of 2021, three of the remaining board members — Bolt Minister, David Stuebe and Chuck Carpenter — named Paul Greenlee as the nonprofit’s next leader.
Greenlee said the decision caught him by surprise. He had ties to the WBA after serving as an ex officio board member during his longtime stint on the Washougal City Council, but Greenlee said leading the association hadn’t occurred to him.
“It was not something that I sought, let’s put it that way,” Greenlee said. “On the other hand, I look at this as an opportunity to rethink, ‘What is the WBA, what does it do, what can it do and why does it exist?’ The question becomes, ‘What’s the next transformation?'”
A failed mayoral bid in 2021 left Greenlee without a council position, but more time to devote to other volunteer work.
“I have not only more time, but a bit more freedom,” said Greenlee. “(Being) an elected official involves putting on a muzzle, or at least it did for me. My range of possible action is different than it was as an elected official.”
Over the next several weeks, Greenlee and his fellow officers will discuss a variety of big-picture topics, including the fundamental purpose of the WBA, what it can do to promote Washougal businesses, its relationship to the city of Washougal, the importance of tourism in its efforts, possible partnerships with the Camas Downtown Association and Camas-Washougal Chamber of Commerce, and the association’s social media presence.
“This is a new chapter, and maybe even a sequel, especially when you throw into that the transformation of the economy and the community and our ethos as a result of the pandemic,” Greenlee said. “It’s a new world out there.”
Under Greenlee’s leadership, the WBA will soon bring new board members into the fold.
“(We need) to rethink our mission and our vision,” Greenlee said. “What is the Washougal Business Association? The only concrete thing that I have in mind is that by mid-February we’ll have worked out quite a bit of detail on a mission and a vision and what we’re about.”
Grenlee admitted that the WBA has not been an active force in Washougal during the now nearly 2-year-old COVID-19 pandemic.
“We, in fact, had not collected dues since COVID struck,” Greenlee said. “We had enough of a bank balance to keep operating, but other than a chalk-the-walk and concert with the school district or Unite! Washougal, the three ‘Movie Night in the Plaza’ are the only things that pop into my head.”
One of association’s biggest challenges is its lack of business-owner representation on the board. Currently, Minister — the owner of 54 40 Brewing –is the business owner on the WBA board of directors.
“And that’s been true pretty much since it changed from the Downtown Washougal Association to the WBA,” Greenlee said. “The problem is, how do you get a business owner to take an hour and a half out of their day to go to a board meeting? That’s an hour and a half out of their business. The time constraints mean that it really just doesn’t work. I will certainly talk to the Downtown Camas Association and the Chamber about that.”
Greenlee said he plans to reach out to other local business advocates and business owners over the next month to see if there are any possibilities for partnering with the WBA.
“I’ve had some short conversations with Jennifer Senescu and Bob Barber and Lori Reed at the Chamber of Commerce, and the Downtown Camas Association people have offered to sit down and talk,” Greenlee said. “Ten years ago, from Camas’ point of view, Washougal was the red-haired stepchild. A lot of that has gone away. There is much more willingness on the part of Camas — the business community and the city administration — to think about partnering with Washougal, (although) there certainly is some friction over the fire situation. The question then becomes, ‘Where can we go with that? What can we do with that?'”
Greenlee said he would like the WBA to take a more active role in publicizing Washougal’s businesses, citing a recent conversation with Forest Moon Yoga Studio owner Pam Rollins, who told him the differences she’d discovered after opening a yoga studio in Washougal versus opening one in Seattle.
“(When) she had a business up in Seattle … within a few weeks, everyone in the neighborhood knew there was a new business,” Greenlee said of Rollins. “More than nine months (after opening a yoga studio in Washougal), her next-door neighbor didn’t know she had a business.”
Greenlee also would like to find out if there is anything the WBA can do to boost the city of Washougal’s tourism efforts. He believes the Pendleton Woolen Mill Outlet Mall and the Port of Camas-Washougal’s planned waterfront development will serve as the area’s two main “draws,” but only if they can be properly promoted.
“I’d be happier if we had landscaping in the middle of the roundabout at Washougal River Road and have a nice blue and yellow sign that says, ‘Landscaping provided by the Pendleton Outlet Store,'” Greenlee said. “Then, over at the west end of the parking lot, you put some huge flag poles with an American flag, a Washington flag and a Pendleton flag. People do not realize that that outlet store is there and what a treasure it is. Once you can get people off of Highway 14 and into that store, now maybe they can think about, ‘Oh, I’d like lunch.'”
“Right across Main Street, on the east side of River Road, is actually a mini-park, with a winding trail and bench and some landscaping,” he said. “If it were me, I would take that out, pave it and make it into a turnout for a ‘Welcome to Washougal’ kiosk. You can’t see the restaurants from River Road.”
Washougal’s downtown business community has taken several hits during the pandemic. At least two downtown businesses on the city’s Main Street — OurBar and Chameleon Vintage and Vinyl — closed for good, while several others, including Alex’s Smokehouse, Logsdon Farmhouse Ales and 3rd Heart Tattoo, decided to move to Portland or to other Clark County cities.
Greenlee said the vacant storefronts in the city’s downtown core obscure the fact that other areas of Washougal’s business community are thriving.
“I think the biggest point I would make is that, if you think Washougal business is about Main Street, you’re missing the point,” he said. “If you think about the WBA, Main Street is a very small piece of that and will be for the foreseeable future. The interesting thing is if you look at the ‘E’ Street businesses and the Evergreen Shopping Center, they’re actually doing quite well. There’s vacant space on Main Street. I can’t think of much vacant space on ‘E’ Street. Everybody thinks that when you say, ‘Washougal Business Association,’ you’re talking about downtown, but there’s as many restaurants out next to Safeway as there are downtown, and the (city’s) real business district is ‘E’ Street.”