The Nestucca Ridge Family of Companies reshapes Pacific City.
For nearly two decades, Jeff Schons and Mary Jones worked to build one of the most successful business conglomerates in Tillamook County. Their portfolio included a brewery, housing developments and high-end visitor accommodations in Pacific City.
Then in 2007, the country spiraled into the longest recession since WWII, and before long the couple found themselves on the financial ropes. Knowing banks could call in their loans at any time, they made a momentous decision to sell their dream house.
“We built it thinking we would never move again,” says Jones, 54. “It was a beautiful home with both ocean views and river frontage. We put our whole souls into it.”
“My mom lived with us at the time,” says Schons, 61. “We built her a beautiful suite. How do you tell your 92-year-old mom you have to move?”
But selling their residence, for a not insignificant $2,150,000, may well have saved their business, the Nestucca Ridge Family of Companies. Today, Jones and Schons reign once again as the power couple of Pacific City, a small coastal town with about 1,200 full time residents. The pair are perhaps known best for starting the Pelican Pub & Brewery, but their holdings reach far beyond craft beer.
Success doesn’t come without a price. Economic development has come to Pacific City, and many locals view the Nestucca Ridge group as a proxy for both positive and negative impacts.
Although the couple draws praise for bringing more business to the area — as well as their charitable activities — so too do they endure criticism for the worsening traffic and associated growth challenges.
Most of the Nestucca businesses are centered in the area by Cape Kiwanda — long dominated by the six-story-high sand dune — and many believe much of the tourism activity has shifted in the direction of the Nestucca companies at the expense of small businesses in other parts of town.
“All the action is at the Cape,” says Ielean Rouse, a retiree who, with husband Larry, helped start the Pacific City Citizens Planning Advisory Committee.
“Other businesses are struggling to keep going. We’re trying to figure out how to get people to go to other places here and not just Cape Kiwanda.”
The story of how Nestucca Ridge cornered the Cape starts in 1990, when Jones met Schons in Portland. The couple then moved to his 700-square-foot fishing cabin in Pacific City, where they expected to stay just a few months.
“Over that winter, the more we were there, the more we wanted to be there,” says Schons, who has one son from a previous marriage.
“We just fell in love with the community. The natural beauty and the coast lifestyle grew on us fast, and at the same time we found a tremendous amount of opportunity.”
The first opportunity came at the end of their street, where the pair often walked the trails through a piece of property overgrown with Scotch broom.
When the 35 acres went on the market, the couple, aiming to build a subdivision, partnered on the purchase with John Rupp, founder of Perfect Look Hair Salons. Not everyone thought it was a smart idea.
“It was so overgrown, people didn’t recognize there was a view,” says Jones. “People said no property sold here for years and years. That’s because there was no property to buy.”
It was an exciting time, she says. “We were able to spend the time personally to put height restrictions on every single lot. When you can say to a buyer that this lot has a height restriction, and I can show you what that is, it made people feel like, wow, this is totally figured out.”
The couple spent approximately $3 million to develop the Nestucca Ridge project, which was completed in three phases in 1995.
Next they developed the Shorepine Village, across from Nestucca Ridge, with 2 miles of public walking trails between the two.
Today, their real estate holdings include fractional ownership of the Cottages at Cape Kiwanda, the Inn at Cape Kiwanda and the Pacific Seawatch subdivision, as well as an espresso shop and storage units. The Kiwanda Lodge & Spa is underway, as is a vintage RV park.
The company employs 284 full- and part-time workers, and the head count is expected to grow by at least 50 when the lodge opens.
Not all their ventures have yielded positive outcomes.
In the midst of the real estate development, the couple took a chance on a restaurant — the Sunset West Restaurant — falling for the owner’s assurances that “the restaurant business is simple, and it would be a great opportunity for us,” recalls Jones. “We were kind of rubes and ended up buying it from him.”
The couple gave the structure a face lift, changed the menu and renamed the eatery Fishes, Seafood & Steak.
“In a small town, that was probably the stupidest thing we could have done,” Jones says. “We could not make that business successful.”
Undeterred, Jones and Schons took another risk, this time investing about $1 million in a building that had been vacant for 15 years.
“It was an old brick building that looked like a bomb shelter,” Jones recalls. “Sand had encroached on it. You could walk on the sand dune and onto the roof. All the windows were broken out.”
Today, visitors to Pacific City know it as the Pelican Pub & Brewery. Its craft beers have won nearly 400 medals, and the brewery has expanded to Tillamook and Cannon Beach.
Pacific City boasts an active chamber of commerce, and most businesses welcome the uptick in shoppers and diners drawn by Nestucca’s destination developments.
But as the company’s footprint expands, the locus for tourism in Pacific City has shifted.
Roughly 20 businesses operate in town, including long time establishments such as Sportsman’s Pub-N-Grub, Los Caporales, Village Coffee Shop, The Grateful Bread Bakery, True Value Pacific City Hardware and Lumber and Lori’s Ocean Clippers hair salon. All are situated in what is considered “uptown,” or away from the beach.
The shift has some business owners upset that more tourism dollars are being spent around the Cape Kiwanda area and not in other parts of the town. Others complain about the traffic impacts.
It’s an old story: how economic growth changes community character, and creates winners and losers in the process.
“Some of the longtime residents want Pacific City to be very much more low profile than Lincoln City or any of the other resort communities,” says Sally Rissel, former owner of the True Value Pacific City Hardware & Lumber and president of the Tillamook County Historical Society.
Rissel describes herself as an “admirer” of Jones and Schon, noting “they contribute to and are active in everything.” (Jones serves on the board of Tillamook Bay Community College, and the couple is known for giving money to area schools and hiring local students.)
But Rissel acknowledges that, particularly in the summer, parking at the Cape Kiwanda parking lot and the surrounding streets is “absolutely overflowing.”
A lot of people don’t want the town to develop, she says. “They want it to stay the way it was 30 years ago.”
Rouse of the Planning Committee also praises the Nestucca owners.
“We’re going to have development here, and it is going to be done poorly or done well,” she says. “Mostly I think Jeff and Mary have done well.” Nevertheless, says Rouse: Schons and Jones are business owners “who like their piece of the pie.”
Chenin Carlton, co-owner of Twist Wine Company at the opposite end of town, believes Jones and Schons’ businesses are destinations that draw people to the area, and in the process help small businesses, even those at a remove.
“What they do does drive a lot of people crazy,” Carlton says. “But they give back a lot more to the community than they get recognized for.”
Schons understands people’s concerns, but also believes their projects fit the location and community ethos. The town is fortunate, he says, that the major development didn’t occur until state zoning laws were enacted and then adopted by Tillamook County.
“It allowed for thoughtful development,” he observes.
“All the projects we’ve been involved with fit within the zoning intent. We look at ourselves in the mirror every day and say: Did we do the right thing for the community, ourselves, the employees, the economy? So far we have been able to look ourselves in the eye and say the things we’ve done have been good.”
More projects are in the works.
The couple’s plans for their lodging group center around completing the $16 million Kiwanda Lodge Spa by August 2017, and the RV park. They also aim to continue growing their beer distribution.
Like other residents, the couple wants Pacific City “to remain a beautiful beach community,” says Schons.
They also hope Tillamook County continues to re-invest lodging tax dollars in local tourism management — just as Schons and Jones reinvested the proceeds from their dream house into their thriving family business.
Schons recalls walking into his mom’s suite and telling her they would have to move. “She looked at me and said, ‘Well, everybody needs a change. It will be good for us.’ I thought: ‘If she can take it, I can take it.’ It was a great change for us.”