Tieton, WA (pronounced TY-uh-tun) was once a prosperous town. The village green was surrounded by a variety of businesses such as a five-and-dime, movie theater, bowling alley, a few bars, a bank and several churches.
A thriving apple processing and packaging trade was the backbone of the town’s economy and provided jobs for many local residents. That changed when companies in the fruit industry began to automate crop growing and storage processes.
Around the same time, “big box” stores moved into nearby Yakima making it difficult for small businesses to compete. Companies moved to larger cities throughout the Yakima Valley. Residents moved away, and boarded-up storefronts soon dominated downtown Tieton.
Anyone who saw Tieton a decade ago wouldn’t recognize it today. New businesses inhabit once-empty buildings, the apple industry is thriving, and new housing developments are under construction. It all started because an entrepreneur with a vision got a flat tire during a bike ride.
A small town slowly dying
Seattleite Ed Marquand owned a mountain cabin outside Tieton with Michael Longyear, his partner and a Seattle attorney. One afternoon, he was riding his bike through town and hit a patch of goathead thorns.
While fixing his damaged tire in the town square park, Marquand saw shuttered storefronts, derelict warehouses and a town that was once a desirable place to live and work. Most people would have seen a lost cause, but he saw what could be — an attractive town surrounded by gently rolling hills covered with fruit orchards.
Marquand owned Seattle-based Marquand Books, publishing exhibition books and catalogs for artists, art galleries and museums. He knew many creative entrepreneurs and small companies that wanted to expand, but couldn’t find affordable space in the expensive Seattle commercial real estate market. What if he could make vacant space in Tieton available to entrepreneurs and growing Seattle companies, and those companies created jobs for local residents?
Marquand discussed his idea with Longyear, and they recruited artist and architect friends from Seattle to transform Tieton into an incubator for small businesses and entrepreneurs.
The Tieton Renaissance
Marquand and his team launched a “Hands Across the Cascades” strategy that ‘married’ creative Seattle companies with underused resources in Tieton.
“We hired and trained local talent to do work that was too expensive for urban companies to do locally,” he said.
They bought two vacant apple-packing warehouses, a former church, and six empty storefronts surrounding the town square. The first warehouse, which had been vacant for 12 years, was converted into 14 live-work loft condominiums. They sold them the following year, and many of the original buyers still occupy them.
The second warehouse became Mighty Tieton, an incubator for entrepreneurs and light manufacturing companies.
Making Tieton mighty again
Mighty Tieton started as an empty warehouse and now houses 10 companies. They’ve improved Tieton’s economy by creating over 25 badly-needed full and part-time jobs, revitalizing buildings, and instilling a sense of hope among residents.
Marquand started a few of the companies. Marquand Editions produces hand-made, fine-press volumes that are collaborations with artists and designers and sold to museums’ private collection libraries and private collectors.
Paper Hammer makes specialty stationery products such as calendars, planters, sketchbooks, and journals.
He helped start Tieton Mosaic, which creates glass murals for commercial developments and public art programs. It has produced 27 mosaics for Sound Transit, the greater Seattle light rail system, and six double-sided mosaic murals for Miller Park in Yakima. It also created seven murals for the City of Tieton that pay tribute to local fruit labels and orchard families.
As Serena Martian, Lead Project Manager, explained, “The mosaics commemorate old apple labels and companies, and many were commissioned by orchard families who still live and work in Tieton.”
Mighty Tieton service companies
Mighty Tieton offers services helping small business owners stay focused.
Paper Hammer Fulfillment stores product inventory and fills and ships orders. One of its biggest customers is Tim Burton, a filmmaker and animator famous for films like Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands and The Nightmare Before Christmas. He sells several books he’s written on his website and Paper Hammer Fulfillment processes and ships the orders.
Mighty Tieton Construction offers project management, design, construction and maintenance services for companies under the Mighty Tieton “umbrella” and will soon provide these services for Tieton Cabin Company.
Mighty Tieton Events rents space for weddings, quinceañeras and parties. It also hosts workshops and annual events such as the Cyclekarts “Grand Prix” in June, the 10x10x10 Art Exhibit each August, LiTFUSE, a poet’s workshop, in September, the Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festival each November and a Holiday Crafts Bazaar in December.
Small businesses thriving in Tieton
Empty, boarded-up buildings no longer surround the town square. Marquand Editions and Marquand’s Paper Hammer Studios occupy a space where a pharmacy and soda fountain once were.
Next door is Wallflower Social, a café that opened in June 2023 and is fast becoming a community meeting place.
Nomad Kitchen and Mercantile is a contemporary café with a menu that constantly changes depending on which fresh fruits and vegetables are available locally. Fernando’s serves Mexican food, and Don Mateo serves Salvadorean and Mexican cuisine.
Boxx Gallery is a non-profit art gallery promoting artists from creative professions that typically don’t get much support, such as textile design, archaeological photography, and fashion design. Its primary mission is to support the local food bank that serves Tieton and nearby Cowiche.
Tieton Farm & Creamery is a solar-powered farm on the outskirts of town that makes award-winning goat and sheep milk cheeses without using artificial fertilizers or chemicals. Its products are sold in restaurants and grocery outlets throughout the Yakima Valley and Seattle.
In the mountains, Harmony Orchards produces organic apples for Tieton Cider Works, the eighth-largest winery by volume in Washington state. Its processing facility and tasting room are in Yakima, and its hard ciders are available for sale in the tasting room, online store, bars and grocery outlets nationwide.
Once on life support, Tieton now attracts businesses and visitors because an energetic group of creative entrepreneurs saw its potential. Their willingness to take financial and personal risks coupled with residents’ “can do” attitude transformed a dying town into a thriving community.