35 Years and Counting at Northwest Nature Shop
Northwest Nature Shop (154 Oak Street), one of the most popular stores in the downtown area, has been in the Uhtoff family for 35 years. In 1985, Kathy and Mike Uhtoff were looking to move from Portland to a smaller town where they could open a shop that encompassed their love of nature, their passion for wildlife conservation and education. Their children Pat, Chris and Marie, were 18, 17 and 10 at the time.
“They narrowed their choices to Sisters, Odell Lake and Ashland,” said Marie, who is now co-owner of the store with Kathy and Chris. “When the historic home on Oak Street opened and offered for sale, they took the leap, moved their belongings in a friend’s horse trailer and opened Northwest Nature Shop, while our family of five lived in the one-bedroom apartment upstairs.”
The Uhtoffs were legends in Ashland, as Mike was the director of the Portland Audubon Society and Kathy founded the Audubon Nature Store in Portland. Both were educators and believed strongly that environmental education specifically helped people develop a deeper understanding of our natural surroundings and motivated people to conserve natural areas. They saw Northwest Nature Shop as an opportunity to create a place to offer products that would inspire and educate about the natural world.
Chris went on to the UofO to study biology. A short career stint in biology field work led him to want to seek a drier work environment that didn’t involve long commutes on windy dirt roads to field plots.
“I found I loved talking with customers about where to go hiking and camping, what birds they were seeing, and how to identify mushrooms, trees and flowers,” he said. “I’m passionate about selling quality products that will educate and improve your experience in nature or by bringing nature to your backyard with birdfeeders.”
Marie grew up in the shop, even tending the cash register with her dad on the opening day when she was 10 years old.
“I thought I would pursue a job in nursing upon graduation from OHSU,” she said. “But family business and retail were in my blood and when my husband Smit and I decided to move from Oaxaca, Mexico, where we were living, I was drawn to come home to Ashland and work with my parents and live near my brothers.”
Northwest Nature Shop is committed to providing high quality affordable products that will educate and inspire a curiosity for the natural world.
“We go over every product’s virtues, how it fits into our store, how it is made, where it is shipped from, why it is useful and how it will bring joy to our customers,” Marie said. “The result is a shop filled with locally made and fair-trade gifts, beautiful rocks and minerals, high quality optics for bird watching and plant identification, local field guides and maps, educational toys that encourage unplugged, creative play and an entire room filled with backyard birdfeeding supplies.
The recent fires affected everyone, and the Uhtoffs donated 10% of sales for the month of September to relief efforts in the valley and will continue to donate because the road to recovery will be a long one.
For more info, call 541-482-3241 or go to northwestnatureshop.com. You can also see them on Facebook.