I recall first encountering the village of Edison, Washington by accident, after taking an alternate route to Bellingham, Washington one sunny afternoon. I was driving with my family from Anacortes and my wife started telling me how much she loved this little place, but that she was unsure when the stores were open for business.
Once a thriving shingle factory town, Edison is now home to art galleries, a custom cabinetry, a printer, a high-end art curio shop, a locavore bakery, an ultra-hip café, an authentic Mexican restaurant, a textile gallery and shop, a home and garden boutique, and an artist co-op styled shop that promotes reconditioned artistic renderings. All of this on a short stretch of road that is barely two blocks long bookended by two roadhouse pubs frequented by local bikers and cyclists out for a tour through Skagit Valley.
“When we first came here,” says Charles Atkinson, who owns and operates Tweets Café with his partner David Blakesley, “I think there were maybe two other businesses here that are still going?”
Together they also own Mariposa Taqueria and Shop Curator. All three businesses are emblematic of the transformation you will find in this tiny rural community hemmed in by a school at the east end, and the Edison Slough at the western edge.
Coming in from the South, you immediately jog right and are forced to slow down to make the left turn into the main drag, passing Mariposa and Tweets you will want to be aware of strolling visitors making their way from one shop to another, if you aren’t diverted through the small residential block to make way for an event, for example the annual Bird and Chicken Parade festival that kicks off the tourist season which makes this little place hum from Spring to early Winter.
Now if you make the mistake of going thru Edison from Monday thru Thursday, you won’t find much of anything happening. Breadfarm, a reknowned local bakery, is usually open daily from 8 am to 6 pm. The roadhouse pubs are also open most afternoons and evenings, but the rest of the town will very likely be closed, though in the middle of the summer sometimes you’ll find shops open on a Thursday.
“I came here as a matter of choice,” says James Reisen who owns the Lucky Dumpster and is open noon to 4 pm Friday through Sunday. “It’s a place where you can do unique businesses that offer an alternative and still can make a go of it.”
Lucky Dumpster is probably the most innovative of the stores in town, offering a variety of handmade creations on consignment that usually transformed from refurbished items, recycled and reclaimed wood, clothing, or just handcrafted items that will undoubtedly make you say, “wow, I never would have thought of that,” while admiring a bottle opener, table, or wall plaque made from something you might find in a free box outside a frat house or while routing around an estate sale.
Wander across the street to Shop Curator and you might be intrigued by a butterfly in a framed box, a stick of ceremonial sage, a Taschen Anatomy or Botany Book, or an animal skull mounted and restored for a unique mantel display.
Catty corner you’ll find Smith and Vallee Gallery which does a new show every month or so, offers a wide range of artists and media and always welcomes large crowds to their opening and closing events. Opened by Smith and Vallee Woodworking, this reconditioned church structure is also a kind of showroom for the custom cabinetry you can order across the street.
And there is food. Slough Food (a difficult wordplay on the geography and their commitment to locally grown ingredients) offers affordable wine and beer that is selected by proprietors trained in the culinary craft of food and wine matching. Their cheese counter is also worth a look while sharing a unique bottle of fermented grape juice with friends.
In fact, the size and style of Edison reveals an interwoven community spirit. Everyone knows everyone and each support each other. It is very much like an extended family of people who work hard, contribute their own unique flavor and deliver something very special in a region that has its own flare.
“This is really home,” says Atkinson who managed a Seattle restaurant before making the move north, running a shop with Blakesley in Bellingham before finally settling in Edison 12 years ago. He often takes up one cause or another on behalf of the community. For example, a recent incident of gay bashing in town inspired him to provide rainbow flags to the community.
“This way we can simply send a message that we are a tolerant community to those who pose a threat of hatred and intolerance among us.”
As such you will see rainbow flags throughout the village and a culture of support and personal agency permeates the businesses and residents of the area.
There’s little doubt when people come to Edison that there is something special happening here,” says Atkinson. “And we are very proud of that.”
Snaps from the Annual Bird Festival and Chicken Parade held the last weekend of February to kick off the tourism season.
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