When I first arrived in South Bend, loving it was the last thing on my mind. Little did I know the small town where I ran out of gas was to become our saving grace.
I came to America from Berlin 30 years ago and lived in eight states from Arkansas to Hawaii before I ended up in the great Pacific Northwest. I tried several Washington cities — Federal Way, Tacoma, Olympia, Montesano — looking for a barber shop, anyplace I could make enough money to support myself and my little Jayden.
As my car stuttered into South Bend one ugly, rainy, cold day in March 2008, the Willapa River caught my eye. Even in the rain, it looked almost mystical. And the green boxy building with the two shop windows blended right in. I stepped out to look around, and across the street were the most beautiful views of the water and mountains.
No way, I thought, could I afford a shop right on Highway 101.
The Realtor next door called Ruthie, the sweetest little old lady with purple hair; and while she was unlocking the door to my new life, both ladies talked about how the community needed a hairdresser and more small businesses with courage — gals like me.
And oh, what a community it turned out to be, with the love and support of so many customers who became friends. Their families, their stories — you get to know them all in a small town.
… Where you know your grocery clerk personally, and in 10 years you move up from being the impatient, annoyed customer to the one chatting about both your sons’ summer adventures and church events.
… Where all your haircut customers tip you extra so you can save up to open a German store.
… Where the whole community cheers you on over a three-year remodel time, because they want to eat at your new deli.
… Where my son, now 16, is thrilled that his second-grade teacher lives just two doors down from our house.
This, my friends, is the good stuff in life.
There is no replacing that feeling you get when I-5 turns into fields and the winding, wooded road opens to show the peak of the bay and the Willapa River. Our sunsets on a warm summer day make up for the rain, and for the deer eating all the apples they can reach.
While my big, boxy building is painted red now, not much else has changed around here since 2008. I think it is quite accurate when the tourists I serve look over the water and describe our small town: “Aww, it’s like a Hallmark movie.”
Joelle Springer is the owner of Jayden’s German Store and Joelle’s Deli Haus in South Bend.