Where do islanders go to get away? Here.


Make no mistake, I added my voice to the chorus of complaints about our “June-uary” weather. The Seattle Times told me that city was literally colder than Siberia this spring. Even as a California transplant (Hey, put down those rotten tomatoes, I’ve been here almost 12 years! That counts for something.), I still maintain there is no better place than Bellingham in the summer. Or the winter or the fall or the spring.

My husband, John, and I took a trip to Orcas Island in June. We spent some time talking to folks selling their artwork at the Saturday farmers market there. For a small island, the market has an impressive array of booths selling produce, delicious smelling prepared food, flowers and an abundance of local art and handmade goods. We chatted with some of the vendors and did our part to contribute to the island economy.

I love farmers markets because they provide a unique opportunity to get to know the people whose hands created what I am buying. One thing that took us aback was how much people who live on beautiful Orcas Island love to visit Bellingham. It’s their destination of choice when they travel “off island.” It was a Goldilocks revelation — not too big, not too small … just right.

They hit up Costco, Trader Joe’s and the Community Food Co-op, they told us, explaining that while they support the “buy local” concept, island mark-up and more limited selection often make that an unrealistic option.

But they aren’t just coming here for cheaper cereal and patio chairs. They like it here. A lot. A cool guy from whom we purchased a metal salmon sculpture made out of a recycled oil barrel told us he had just visited for one day to hear a musical performance at Western Washington University’s Performing Arts Center. A couple who sold us some lovely pottery talked about Trader Joe’s and the Co-op as though they were making a holy pilgrimage to a land of amazing food selection whence they would load their trunk full of dry goods and their coolers full of delicacies. They don’t come here just for the shopping, either. We were surprised at how many islanders were familiar with our favorite parks, hikes, restaurants and coffee houses.

These islanders see Bellingham as “the Big City,” but also recognize it as one that is relaxing, safe, clean and full of cultural opportunities. What’s not to like? It’s pretty cool to be a destination spot for people who live in a destination spot and to be recognized as a place that is livable but with amenities.

While there will always be contentious debate about growth, development and preservation in our community, our trip to Orcas underscored two ideas that are rarely far from any Bellinghamster’s mind: 1) We got it good. 2) It’s important to it that way.


Carolyn Nielsen is The Bellingham Business Journal’s summer editor-in-residence. She teaches journalism at Western Washington University.

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