Local Businesses Bring Special Charm to La Grande
9 May 2022
La Grande is an eclectic mix of diverse individuals and families who share a love for their community. Their wide range of experiences and talent have resulted in that love transcending into a growing presence of intriguing small businesses serving visitors and residents alike. As a result of their endeavors, La Grande continues to stake its claim as an economic and community hub of Eastern Oregon.
The Landing & The Local
Karin Tsiatsos wanted to give folks a reason to visit and get to know what La Grande has to offer. She has lived that experience, coming to La Grande in 1989 for her brother's wedding and never leaving. She attended Eastern Oregon University (EOU), where she met her husband, and their children attended as well. Over the years, they have become entrenched in local development and construction.
The combination of a love for their community and the development/construction experience led them to purchase an old apartment building in downtown La Grande about five years ago, with plans of turning it into a boutique hotel.
“We saw it had good bones,” she said. “We wanted to retain the historical characteristics and charm of the building and turn it into a unique hotel that would make it fun for folks to visit La Grande.”
Today, that unique hotel is The Landing Hotel & Dining, a boutique hotel and restaurant In La Grande’s award-winning historic downtown. The freshly renovated hotel breathes new life into the gateway corner of La Grande’s Main Street District with a modern scheme that embraces the history of the Grande Ronde Valley.
“We felt there was not enough downtown lodging that was unique and local, unlike typical chain hotels,” she said. “The location close to the university and a short drive off I-84 is perfect to attract visitors to benefit the downtown area.”
The experience led the Tsiatsos’ to continue on their development path, purchasing an old Texaco gas station across the street and renovating it into The Local, a specialty coffee shop/ cafe that serves handcrafted ice cream. Just four blocks from EOU, it has become a warm community gathering place for many, such as students looking to study or bring their parents to when in town.
“We have also been pleasantly surprised to see the multi-generational customers who enjoy our shop, from Little Leaguers to retirees,” said Tsiatsos.
The City of La Grande Economic Development was an integral partner in these adaptive reuse projects and provided critical funding for both projects through the City’s Urban Renewal Call For Projects grant program, which allocates $350,000 annually for economic development projects within the Urban Renewal District.
Another LaGrande business that offers a unique service and displays a strong sense of community appreciation is Community Merchants, a shop for local makers and micro-producers to sell their wares. The quaint shop located in La Grande’s historic Main Street district has been run since 2012 by owner Jenny Bartell with an amazing variety of diverse products from more than 60 different local vendors. The kitchen supplies, jewelry, home decor pieces and locally-grown foods showcase the diverse artisan makers community in La Grande and surrounding Union County.
“The talent here is phenomenal, and I am happy to help these individuals find an outlet for their products,” she said. “The importance of shops like Community Merchants is to keep more money in the local community and offer a bit of extra charm to the area at the same time.”
Bartell has expanded her store to different locations three times as her business grew.
“The community has kept my business going, both by understanding the importance of shopping locally and having so many different talents,” she said. “Having their support makes me want to continue offering them this venue.”
Community all can enjoy
Both Bartell and Tsiatsos believe the appeal La Grande has for small business owners begins with the genuine wish to make the community a great place to live. The population is a diverse mix of people, from those working at or attending EOU to ranching and farming families based in the area for generations. Being a town of 13,000 people makes it small enough for everyone to know each other, yet large enough to offer plenty of amenities to meet all needs.
“Families are invested in the town and come together to support each other,” said Tsiatsos.
Several factors explain its reputation as the hub of Eastern Oregon. The university offers higher education opportunities and helps support various cultural amenities not typically found in a rural community of 13,000 people. The presence of nationally-ranked Grande Ronde Hospital gives residents the peace of mind that comes with excellent healthcare. Its location along I-84 draws visitors from Portland and Boise as they explore the majestic Elkhorn and Wallowa Mountains. The services provided by business owners like Bartell and Tsiatsos make La Grande an excellent home base to explore surrounding towns and the abundant outdoor recreation opportunities throughout Northeast Oregon.
La Grande is poised to continue to grow with more businesses like The Landing, The Local and Community Merchants with a dedication by small business owners and organizations like La Grande Economic Development and the City of La Grande Urban Renewal Agency.
“We have enjoyed being part of the movement to revitalize La Grande,” said Tsiatsos. “We feel that nothing we do is extremely extraordinary, but it is what every small town needs to showcase the unique talents that make us so special.”