CAMAS, Wash. (KOIN) — The southwest Washington town of Camas is celebrating its history along with a new business on its historic Main Street and a vision for the future that harkens back to the past. And now that COVID restrictions are lifted, Camas residents are looking forward to sharing the feeling on First Friday.

At Natalia’s Cafe on 4th Avenue, the regulars are gathered at the hub of a place that celebrates its small town vibe. Owner Erica Slothower is expanding into the space next door, a space her 15-year-old daughter Bailey provided the inspiration.

It’s a new 1950s-style malt shop.

“I think it brings back the fun, the ’50s. People are craving to go back into history,” Slothower said.

Carrie Schulstad with the Downtown Camas Association said the town has “amazing entrepreneurs here, and to be able to celebrate where we are, and to celebrate a new opening of a great new business — we’re just thrilled.”

The community 14 miles east of Vancouver on the Columbia River began with the paper mill that dominates the west end of downtown.

  • Where We Live: 'Amazing entrepreneurs' of Camas
  • Where We Live: 'Amazing entrepreneurs' of Camas
  • Where We Live: 'Amazing entrepreneurs' of Camas
  • Where We Live: 'Amazing entrepreneurs' of Camas
  • Where We Live: 'Amazing entrepreneurs' of Camas
  • Where We Live: 'Amazing entrepreneurs' of Camas

Henry Pittock, who founded The Oregonian, built the mill in 1883 to make newsprint.

“It used to be the largest specialty mill in the world,” Schulstad said. “There was no town here. The mill was built and then the town was built for the mill.”

At its height, the Camas mill employed 2600 people. Today, Georgia Pacific employs about 180 people in Camas making bathroom products.

Carrie Schulstad with the Downtown Camas Association, March 28, 2022 (KOIN)

But when Camas leaders saw the decline of the paper industry, they redesigned downtown to make it more walkable and inviting. They also later diversified the economy to attract entrepreneurs and high tech.

“The mill is still very important,” Schulstad said. “But our town is not completely reliant on it.”

“My heart is that we were a paper city and a paper community. We’re a mill city,” Slothower said. “We just all have each other’s backs. And I love being part of Camas.”

The theme for this First Friday on April 1 is “Spring Into History.” It runs from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. in downtown Camas with a street fair, music and family activities.