Port Townsend, Washington

Port Townsend, Washington has been on my bucket list of towns to look at for many years. Its size, abundant beauty, and creative energy were all things that I could appreciate from afar and led me to put it on my list, but its location at the top of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State has made visiting a challenge.

There are many towns that look promising when I do my preliminary research, but don’t really pan out in real life —most commonly because the community has not yet been able to coalesce to develop and deliver a common vision. But after finally reaching Port Townsend, I discovered one of the most progressive and connected communities I have come across thus far. Vibrant and creative, the community stood out from others not only because of its stunning beauty and marvelous recreation, but because of its cooperative culture and the creative economic solutions that support it.

Located on the northeastern tip of the Olympic Peninsula, the historic, Victorian seaport of Port Townsend is surrounded by water on 3 sides, is a convenient 40 miles northwest of Seattle, and sits in the Olympic rain shadow, thereby experiencing drier and sunnier weather than Seattle. These reasons alone make Port Townsend worth a visit, but aside from the recreational beauty of the place the town provides excellent inspiration for creative economic problem solving and community building.

First, there is the fact that Port Townsend is home to more non-profits per capita than any other township in the U.S. The Re-Cyclery bike shop and the Boiler Room Coffee Shop are but two of the many businesses which have creatively formed as 501c3s.  Additionally, there is a strong collective culture supporting and building the local, Port Townsend economy, as seen in everything from the vibrant Food Co-op which supports its local farmers, the Co-Lab working space —a cooperative office sharing model which can increasingly be found in larger cities, but are rare in smaller towns— and the artsy Rose Theater which was purchased 24 years ago with private, local investors and has expanded twice since the original purchase —all with local dollars.

When Rocky Friedman —a film professional from L.A.— moved to Port Townsend 26 years ago, he knew immediately that a movie theatre would be a great asset for the town, but he needed to find funding for the project. After finding a building and forming a corporation, Rocky went from living room to living room in the town to share his vision, pitch the idea, and sell stock to investors. People saw that he had done his homework — that he was serious about his plan and had the talent to see it through— and they decided to invest in him as well as their community. For all the time that the initial phase took him, Rocky says that the easiest part was raising the money, and today, he is one of 35 owners of the business which has expanded to three screens, given countless young people their first jobs, and hosts a film festival every September.

The development of the Rose Theatre was the inaugural project in what is now the well-known LION group —Local Investment Opportunity Network— of Port Townsend. Believing that “what is good for the community is good for me personally” the members of the group formed an innovative strategy to keep the local economy resilient and flourishing by loaning money to community entrepreneurs. People looking for funding write a project proposal which is then passed around and reviewed by the LION members as they decide whether or not they wish to participate. This streamlines the process of having to go from living room to living room and positions donors who are interested in local investing together in one place. After the market crash in 2008 many people (if they had anything left) wanted to get their money out of the market and invest it locally. LION has helped countless businesses in the county, and The Rose is a perfect example.

With everything from its abundant natural beauty — majestic mountains, sweeping seascapes, and Victorian charm— to the community spirit and sharing economy, Port Townsend has much to offer casual travelers and community leaders alike.

Quick Facts

Population: 9,210
Elevation: 120 feet
Avg Temp in January: 45/38
Avg Temp in July: 70/53
Known for: Olympic Peninsula, Victorian Seaport, Hiking, Biking, Water Sports, Large number of non-profits and cooperatives, Arts, Local Foods