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Rachel Belle

Edison, WA: Why So Many Young Artists Are Moving to This Teeny Tiny Town

Jessica Bonin and James Reisen stand next her mural on the side of their house/studio/shop in Edison, WA. (Photo by Rachel Belle)
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When you buy something at The Lucky Dumpster in Edison, Washington, owner James Reison will place your item in a bag he made out of an old map, and sew it shut.

"That sewing machine there is from World War II. It's a Singer that was made for the Navy for sewing parachutes. I once sewed two pieces of quarter inch plywood together with that machine."

If you ask for a receipt, James will type it up on a vintage typewriter, one of the 100 he owns.

The Lucky Dumpster sells art from 80 local artists, many who have escaped the city to become country mice. Edison is located in the Skagit Valley. It has a population of about 133 people, according to the latest census. It is a one intersection town.

"There is not a mayor here. We don't have a town council," James said.

Over the past 10 years, many young artists - from painters to chefs - have moved to the quirky, tiny, utopia, making it the perfect day-trip for someone like me who loves food, art and extremely friendly people.

A few doors down from The Lucky Dumpster, at Tweet's Cafe, David Blakesley and Charles Atkinson are cooking up some of the best, locally-sourced food in the state, with a sense of humor. Plates are heaping, made-to-order, and David stuffs his chile rellenos with potato, manchego cheese and wraps them in prosciutto. It would be a mistake not to stop in.

Charles says Edison has been inhabited for the past 8,000 years by the Upper Skagit tribe.

"This was a canoe building village for them before it was taken over by the Americans and they turned it into Edison in 1869."

James explains what happened next:

"The largest shingle mill in the world was in Edison. It was part of the reason it was established. At that time there were more businesses here than there are today."

But in the 1930's the mill moved, many buildings burned and between the Great Depression and about 10 years ago there wasn't much going on in this beautiful slice of the Skagit Valley.

"This town actually has a little bit of a history of the outlaw," James said. "This was a great hiding place."

Then, eleven years ago, a couple opened an amazing bakery called The Breadfarm and slowly, other young shopkeepers migrated into the one intersection town. Artists like James, and his wife Jessica Bonin, could actually afford a building with living space, an art studio and a shop. A tight knit community established, which it tends to do when you see all of your neighbors every day.

"I really like the fact that relationships become permanent," said James. "I think that there's a part of me that doesn't appreciate so much when you meet somebody and never see them again, in a big place."

Jessica, 33, who is also an artist by trade, loves the community, but constantly craves city life.

"I can't be here for more than a week without losing my mind. So I go to Seattle as much as I can. I like the idea of this being a home base and sort of accessing the rest of the world from here."

But Jessica's huge mural of Edison's most famous son, Edward R. Murrow, is one of the town's most beloved landmarks.

"I felt like it was important to commemorate him. I found this quote [of his] that really grabbed me: 'Anyone who isn't confused doesn't really understand the situation.'"

Creativity, in many forms, is a part of daily life in Edison.

"We run out of things to get excited about around here when it's really cold and wet all winter long," James said. "Around here we have to create something to get excited about and it really nourishes the creative spirit. You end up with people that know how to make themselves happy. Just because they have to. They don't get to just walk down to the movies, or whatever. They have to build something with their friends on a terrible, dark, rainy day."

Which is why James built an indoor skate ramp and why Mandy Turner, Tweet's young sous chef who moved here a year ago from Colorado, has become a Jill-of-all-trades, learning canning and farming from her neighbors.

"I milk a cow in the summertime and I make yogurt with that. I use that as a barter system around town. I'm making sriracha right now which is really good currency. People are really after that."

And if you're wondering what it's like to be be single in a 133 person town, Jessica, who is married to James, speculates on how to meet a mate.

", I mean, there's really only one street. So, you make eyes at someone across the street? I don't know!" Jessica laughed.

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