The Northwest Nature Shop is celebrating their 30th anniversary. Mike and Kathy Uhtoff opened the Northwest Nature Shop in Ashland in 1985. They moved from Portland, OR where Mike was the director of the Portland Audubon and Kathy ran the Portland Audubon gift shop. They dreamed of a store that would incorporate their love for natural history into a family friendly business that could also be an outlet for classes and excursions to foster a greater connectedness with our local natural surroundings. For the first few years Mike and Kathy were the only employees of the Nature Shop with the exception of a friend coming in on Monday mornings to give them a half day off a week as well as someone to give them a lunch break some weekdays. They did everything from scout and order products, to bag bird seed, to design ads, to organize and lead field trips to of course tending the shop from open to close. Kathy talks of the early times at the shop when their goals were simply “to survive…and then we really hoped to eventually earn a paycheck.” The community of southern Oregon has always been incredibly supportive of the shop and Kathy believes the move from Portland to Ashland was particularly beneficial not only for the success of the business but for their family. “I love living in a town where not only our business thrives but my family chooses to continue to live and raise their own families here too.” Mike and Kathy had 3 children (Pat, Chris and Marie.) Marie and Chris now co-own the shop along with Kathy. There have been many changes over the years at the NW Nature Shop. When Mike and Kathy first opened the store they lived in the apartment above the shop and the room that now holds the selection of educational toys was where their 2 oldest kids had their bedroom. Kathy mentions how the shop has grown, with more inventory and more employees now but the greatest change is that Mike is no longer with us, having died over five years ago. He was creative, energetic, outgoing and incredibly passionate regarding local environmental and conservation issues. His vision is still very much present at the shop. Marie mentions, “My Dad was a creative force and was constantly thinking of the good of others and specifically of our community. He also had a great sense of humor and kept work fun. When making business decisions I often shrug off that traditional business model mode of thinking and consider, “What would Dad have done? The answer most often leads to a decision that makes for a fun, sustainable business.“ The Northwest Nature Shop continues to grow offering the largest selection of maps and hiking guides in Southern Oregon, garden and bird feeding supplies, educational toys, and locally made and fair trade gifts. Now with Kathy ‘s grandchildren often present at the shop, 3 generations work alongside each other hoping to continue the shop’s legacy for many more years.
Join the Northwest Nature Shop at 154 Oak St. on Saturday June 27th from 4-7pm for a 30th Anniversary Party. We’ll have food, beer, and live music. See you there!