Sara Wiener on finding community in Bend and running a small business.
Sara Wiener does not sit still for long. An athlete and entrepreneur, Wiener thought Bend seemed the perfect place for her to settle with her partner Joanne and their daughter Bella. Often recognized for her variety of businesses, first Sara Bella, then Sara Bella Upcycled and now her new project Sara Wiener Consulting, she is not one to be kept down. Whether leading the charge to provide a safe and equal place for all community members, starting the Procession of Species parade (now the Earth Day parade) or becoming a CASA volunteer, Wiener has begun to find that perfect grass she had been looking for is the one she planted here when she started her journey in Bend more than twenty years ago.
On Finding Community
When I met Joanne in 1991, I didn’t know what Bend was, but Joanne had come to Bend as a child to ski. We were living in Olympia, Washington and would come here on vacations and long weekends. We were training for triathlons a lot and we were done with the rain. I got pregnant and then we decided to move here. I looked in the yellow pages under the words “gay” and “Jewish” to see what type of community I would find here for both of those pieces of my life. When we got here, there were a few gay people here who were willing to talk to us, but not interested in being outed. They made that very clear. Not that that was my plan, but we were coming here as an out couple—and pregnant! There is a Jewish community as well, but there was no temple and they met in the basement of a church. That has since changed and grown. I think we were a little bit threatening to people because we were out and not interested in anyway of going into a closet just because we moved to a Central Oregon town, which was about 25,000 people at the time. So, there have been some big, big changes since we moved here.
On A Changing Town
I like that there is a larger gay community in town that is more out now. We don’t have to be the pioneers anymore. I feel like we were in a lot of ways, from moving here pregnant, having a child and Joanne adopting Bella. It was the first birth by a known lesbian in town, and it was the first same-sex adoption in Deschutes County. Nobody seemed to know anyone else who had done it. But in any case we were very consciously wanting to make a path that would be easier for people who followed. As were raising Bella, there was a hate crime at The Grove, a restaurant and bar. It was a big, terrible shock. We were regulars there. We would take Bella all the time. We loved that there was a place that was overtly gay friendly in town. The hate crime led to a lot of changes. I was on the special committee to work on changing our Equal Rights Ordinance. That was a big deal and a bit of an eye opener. I gave testimony, and many other people gave testimony, pro and against. Someone gave testimony that the mountains were smoking because of us. I thought, “Well, thank you for that power.” But it changed things.
When people hear I live in Bend, they immediately think it must be a progressive place. I have to correct them, sadly, that on any vote, on any candidate, any issue, it’s often fifty-one percent to forty-nine percent. That tells you something. That is not what people understand about Bend. If they are coming in from Los Angeles or San Francisco or Portland, they are funneled into a particular part of Bend and they only know that part, whether it’s the west side or the beer culture or the ski culture.
On Bend’s Next Generations
One of the really cool things that has happened is with PRIDE, which is something that has grown wonderfully along with the growth of the town. It’s not the families who are moving here that are getting involved, but rather it’s our kids! It’s the kids who have grown up here. Whether they are gay or straight, they are getting it. These kids are getting it on all levels of gender diversity, fluidity, non-binary and trans, and I am loving seeing what is going on here.
On Why They Stayed
Moving from Olympia to Bend, it really felt like we were going backwards. I hated that feeling, but at the same time, what we decided was that we were going to stay and make something of it. We stayed because we loved it here, and we made some great friends. We are not necessarily looking for people that look like us. We’re just looking for good people. We are also athletes and outdoors people, major hikers, bikers (mountain and road). We skate ski, so we love the Nordic center and Meissner. We love taking our dog to Wanoga, where it’s off leash for skiing. We love hiking at Smith Rock and in the Three Sisters. We’re in love with the outdoors and the environment here.
On Starting A Small Business
I started Sara Bella in the early ’90s and named it after my grandmother because she was the most important and closest person in my life. She taught me how to sew. It’s funny, I spent many years in Bend as Sara Bella people did not know that I had a different last name. Being a small business owner for the last twenty years here in Bend, I loved being in the public eye. And being the extrovert and a manufacturer, artist, retail person, it was always important to me to be in a downtown core. I loved being part of the downtown core, before I got priced out. I started with the fleece and then I closed when I kept getting priced out of rent. I was burnt out. Then I was working on developing a cyber cafe in a small village in Kenya. Around that time, my friend told me you could iron plastic bags. I was so enthralled with it that I went into my studio and started ironing plastic bags like crazy and then Sara Bella Upcycled was born.
On Changing Careers
I’m excited to start my new business, Sara Wiener Consulting, coaching teens on executive functioning, time management and organizational skills. I have a masters in social work with a focus on school social work, and I have a teaching degree. So, I feel like this combines all of my education and skill set with what I can do today. I am excited and nervous and not very confident, but I feel like that is the exact right place to be in right now.
On The Grass Always Being Greener…
As much as I get frustrated with Bend for a variety of reasons, and I’ve said this for twenty-one years, where would we go? Where is the grass greener? I was always that person looking for the greener grass. I noticed within a year of being in Bend, as much as I questioned raising a kid here, I said to Joanne, “I don’t know where the grass is greener.” I can’t come up with a place that would be better that I would rather be, and today, I cannot do that either. At any point in the last twenty-one years, I have not thought of a better place to be. So, that really says something about this community.