Just two hours southwest of Eugene, Oregon is the coastal town of Coos Bay, or as locals call it, the “Bay Area” of Oregon. While not as populous or far-reaching as California’s Bay Area, there is much to love in and around Coos Bay’s city limits. Filled with little mom-and-pop businesses like vintage thrift shops and homemade fudge stands, Coos Bay embodies the uniqueness of Oregon’s coast is known for, and businesses in Coos Bay greatly proffer from rampant tourism in the summer months.
Peggy Howard, a Coos Bay resident and owner of Sweet Street, a popular local candy shop, mentioned that the tourist wave is soon to overwhelm the coast. According to Howard, Coos Bay has an average of 40,000 tourists during the summertime while the population of the city itself is only around 16,000.
“For those four months during the summer, we triple our sales and rely on that money to get us through the remainder of the year,” said Howard, “We work hard during the summer to make sure customers have a great experience at Coos Bay.”
Howard makes her fudge and many of the sweets in the back of her store, which is decked out with oversized lollipops, cases of various flavors of fudge, and hand-dipped caramel apples. Howard’s son also owns a sandwich shop down the street. During the off-season, Howard and her son donate the food they don’t sell to local homeless shelters; her son even hand-wraps each leftover sandwich.
Another popular tourist locale in Coos Bay is a large antique shop downtown, Antiques 101. Mary Schmidt, an employee, explained that their busy times are also during the summer, however, business picks up again near the holidays.
“A lot of people, including more locals, come through our store in the winter. It makes it tough to work here with [only] one person,” said Schmidt. “However, we’re a tourist town, so we thrive and we all do well.”
While the shops and restaurants in Coos Bay are part of the tourism experience and thrive from the business it brings, the ocean environment often suffers in return. Protecting the ocean and its creatures have proven difficult with 40,000 people visiting such a small city to experience the coast. Trish Mace, the director of Charleston Marine Life Center (CMLC) in Coos Bay, touches on the hard balance of entertaining and welcoming tourists while preserving the environment.
“Monitoring and enforcing regulations is one way to limit impacts [of tourism]. Another is designing low-impact tourism and ways for visitors to appreciate and respect the environment and resources – and communities—they are visiting,” said Mace.
The CMLC was established with the purpose of serving as a marine and environmental educational resource for the region while also serving as an economic stimulus to the local community. But even with the hardships in preserving the environment from the effects of tourism, Mace explains that CMLC and Coos Bay still welcome visitors with open arms.
“We often hear our out-of-town visitors say how glad they are to have come to the center because they recognize things they saw when out on the beach, or clamming, or on the docks,” said Mace. “By sharing the wonder of the many marines and coastal animals that live along the Oregon coast, we hope to inspire curiosity and care among our visitors.”
Tourism in all of its forms can be a huge benefit to small, local economies, but prompt action must be taken by all parties to limit the impacts it can have on the environment and native ecosystems.