On a drive through Philomath, motorists heading west on Main Street toward the coast almost certainly have taken note over the past several months of the historic building to the left while approaching Ninth Street.
Most of those in the community remember it from earlier years as the Phil-O-Rink and then the "Rainbow" building. Owner Alan Ayres worked his restoration magic to bring the aging structure back to life and it now serves as the production and retail home of Softstar, which handcrafts minimal footwear.
But work at the site has continued and one of the latest additions has intrigued those motorists to the point that they're pulling over to get a closer look.
"We have people heading to the coast stopping, especially on Saturdays, just stopping and getting out and touching the parking lot and then coming in and asking us about it," said Tricia Salcido, Softstar owner. "They don't care what we're doing here, they just want to see the parking lot ... it's kinda funny."
Permeable paving was used to construct the parking lot, the first of its kind in Philomath.
"A permeable parking lot is a deep gravel parking lot to allow water filtration to go through so you don't have a lot of runoff in one given place," Salcido explained. "You have a lot of just natural filtering, but it has a plastic interlocking grid system that's bounded on all sides that holds the gravel in place. So you can put really fine gravel in on the top level."
The process filters pollutants out of the water, replenishes groundwater and even provides better traction in icy conditions.
"It's actually rated for even walking on it in high heels, so it's very safe," Salcido said. "It has a lot of the functionality of an asphalt parking lot, but it's a lot more eco-friendly from a water perspective as well as the energy that you need to create asphalt — you're avoiding all of that."
Softstar's central tenet of everything it does revolves around the eco-friendly approach.
Salcido said Ayres "was really excited about putting this in and the city really worked with him to make that happen. It was something new for them, too. It was kinda neat to be leading in this in our community."
Along with the parking lot, there have been improvements with landscaping and a fence. More work is coming, including signs going up later this year.
Beyond permeable paving and those other exterior improvements, Softstar has been active on several other fronts. Katy Bowman, a well-known movement teacher, biomechanist and author, staged a two-day event this past weekend at Softstar.
Participants spent Saturday making their own leather moccasins, a day that included a walk over to Gathering Together Farms for a farm-to-table lunch. On the second day, participants, Salcido included, went on a 15-mile hike in McDonald-Dunn Forest.
“Katy has become a good friend to the Softstar crew over the years, which is not surprising, since we're all working toward the same goal of encouraging our fans to get on their feet, restore natural function to their bodies, and get moving," Softstar's Martin Doellinger said. "When Katy approached us about the possibility of working together on a movement retreat, we enthusiastically said yes."
Bowman authored the 2016 award-winning and best-selling book, "Movement Matters: Essays on Movement Science, Movement Ecology, and the Nature of Movement."
“The retreat is designed to help us all see how to weave their fitness or athletic feats back into our own communities and into other parts of our lives, like making products we use every day," Bowman said. "Each of us can use our own steps, literally, to make a difference. I bet most of the people who join us would never have imagined they could walk 15 miles across varying terrain, but we can accomplish more with our bodies than we even dare to imagine.”
Salcido said Bowman's philosophies fit right in with Softstar's shoes.
"She does a lot of different conferences throughout the West Coast and she picked our business," Salcido said the afternoon prior to the event. "She has 34 people coming in from all over the United States and they're staying for the whole weekend, so they're bringing in all those dollars into the economy."
In other news involving the company, Softstar received a Strategic Reserve Fund award from Business Oregon to upgrade the company's website. Described by Salcido as "a grant with strings attached," it covers $70,000 of a $150,000 investment in a new website engine schedule to launch in mid-May.
Those "strings" include Softstar providing business mentoring in the community, which Salcido enjoys and has already done, along with job creation.
"They are investing in businesses throughout Oregon where they can see a clear strategy as part of your grant proposal for adding jobs," Salcido said. "In our case, having the best in e-commerce infrastructure is critical to continued growth. Being milliseconds faster on your website actually really translates into more sales and that translates into more jobs."
The new website will also favorably impact search engine optimization.
"In order to come up in search engines high, it's not only speed but it's also how your whole site is structured and that's something you're constantly reinventing in doing," Salcido said. "If you don't have the best infrastructure behind you, you're never going to be able to stay at the very top."
Softstar currently employs the equivalent of 26 full-time employees.
And in another piece of news, Larkin Holavarri sold her ownership shares in the company to transition into the field of midwifery and spend more time with her family. Salcido and Holavarri were business partners for 12-1/2 years and remain very good friends.
"She still wants to be a part of the business ... and she has stayed on as an employee and will help keeping up grow but with less hours in a week," Salcido said.
Demands on those in charge have increased since the business launched, something that became even more apparent once the move from Corvallis to Philomath was completed. Salcido said it was "like wow, we've really grown a lot and it's a different business than it was 10 years ago when we started and it requires more."