You may have been to Tieton to see the Grand Prix (the world’s only cyclekart road race), or to watch the Tour de Tieton bicycle race, or buy Christmas gifts at the Holiday Crafts and Antiques Bazaar. But have you visited this quiet, agricultural town when there isn’t an event going on? I’m guessing for most of you, the answer to that question is no. Well I’m here to tell you why your answer to that question should be a resounding “YES!”

In the last year three new businesses have opened. They add new amenities to what the town already offers and also bring with them a new feel, a new clientele and a new reason to make the short trip to the country.

“These businesses started by trying to bring some life to two dilapidated Tieton Square storefronts. They were both in bad shape, but their locations were great — right on the corners of Tieton’s two main intersections,” said Ed Marquand, co-founder of Mighty Tieton and owner of Paper Hammer.

“My partner, Mike, and I have owned both buildings for many years but didn’t have clear visions of what kinds of businesses could work in them — nor the money to fix them up properly without a clear sense of what we wanted them to become. Last year the city put in nice fresh sidewalks and streetlights. Now we needed to live up to their challenge! That’s what civic improvement is all about.”

Enter Edward Armstrong.

“Edward, one of the key talents around here, kept nudging us to put in a wine and tapas bar. He wisely insisted that until Tieton had a nice watering hole our larger Mighty Tieton vision would never coalesce,” Ed said. “We knew it would take awhile for the wine bar to grow into a sustainable business, but for us this is all part of a larger vision of a successful future for Tieton.”

Ed took Edward’s advice and thus, 617 on Tieton Square was born. The restaurant, run by Ed and Edward, has been open a year now. They have limited hours but also rent the space out for parties and private gatherings. Their menu changes weekly — which adds a fun, distinctive flair.

“We serve items that are unusual for the entire Yakima Valley — not just Tieton,” Ed said. “We’ve served pasta with fresh truffles, polenta, fondues, stuffed squash blossoms, savory rhubarb dishes, Thai curry, and our take on udon. We have meat and cheese plates, and a curry rice and bean bowl that is almost always on the menu. Most of the wines and beers are local but we mix it up —and Tieton Cider is always available.”

There are other elements that make 617 distinctive: Instead of individual tables scattered all over the space, there are two long communal tables that bring locals and visitors together to meet and enjoy each other’s company and to build friendships that may have never been sparked had everyone sat at separate tables.

The other distinctive element is the idea wall, which consists of a large sheet of steel decorated with local photos, happenings and projects that artists and business owners in the community are working on. Ed and Edward have found that this wall not only sparks conversation, but can inspire friendship and possible partnerships.

“We’ve come to know so many amazing people because of 617. The local orchardists show up like clockwork on Thursday afternoons at 4 and hang out. Many of them show up again on the weekend with their wives, kids, and visitors. We’re the connectors. I know hundreds of people from here and from out of town,” Ed said.

“All it takes is a brief introduction between a couple of strangers and they are off for an evening of interesting conversation and connection. It’s helped Tieton become more of the community we all aspire to.”

After Ed and Edward had 617 up and running, Mike and Ed decided to renovate the second building they owned in the square. Around this time, they started a conversation with Craig Singer, manager of the Direct to Consumer Operations at Owen Roe Winery.

“I grew up helping my father out with his fly fishing shop in northwest Arkansas, so early on, I fell in love with the outdoors and developed an affinity for quality gear and outdoor goods,” Craig said. “This fire was rekindled while visiting my family last Thanksgiving when I visited an old friend’s store while in Dallas. My friend had started a store based around the ever popular and growing van life movement. This prompted some conversations with Ed as well as taking a serious look at the need for this type of modern retail shop in the Yakima Valley.”

Just months after they began renovating the space, Tieton’s newest shop, Nomad Mercantile & Tieton Made, opened during the Highland Country Fair in May. “I was extremely happy with the support by locals and travelers from the Seattle area,” Craig said. “Everyone has been very complimentary and stunned by the quality, selection and just the space itself.”

But beyond offering world-class adventure gear, artwork and handmade items from Mighty Tieton and Paper Hammer, Ed, Edward and Craig are also devoted to helping the community and other good causes.

“We are working with our vendors to donate products, gear and advertising for cleanup projects in the National Forests, local roads and to provide clothing for people in need,” Craig said. They also hold events like wine tastings, photography workshops and cooking classes.

“Both 617, Tieton Made and Nomad Mercantile are pieces of a larger puzzle we have been assembling at Mighty Tieton for 13 years now. How do small, struggling agricultural towns manage to survive in the age of corporate agribusiness? What does a successful future look like when the traditional retail businesses from past decades can no longer survive competition from malls and big box stores? How can the community itself participate and help build a bright future? It’s a conundrum thousands of small towns grapple with,” Ed said.

“Fortunately, Tieton has excellent bones. We have a plaza and park right in the center of town. It’s beautiful here. There are talented, creatively ambitious people all around us who want Tieton to have a bright future.”

When I walked out of Nomad Mercantile & Tieton Made for the first time (with an extremely cool gift for my husband to use on our upcoming camping trip), I stood there on the sidewalk, taking in everything I could of this town that is just 10 minutes from my home. A feeling of calm and silent beauty enveloped me and I smiled. These businesses are exactly what this town needed.