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Outside magazine, July 1995
A town where you can have a real job, a real life, and still get to move in with the scenery. Several reasons to split the city and head for the Big Outdoors.
Population: 185,600; Spokane County, 392,000
Spokane is a medley of home town architecture, from Turn of the Century to Leave It to Beaver, with one minor false note. The city seems to have a deep, very nineties problem: low self-esteem, brought on by an old rap labeling it an intermountain toad on the wrong side of the state. Spokane, individually and collectively, makes a near-painful effort to please, and the natives
Get used to it, Spokane–you’re a babe. For some years now, Seattleites have quietly been slipping away to resettle here. Brainy little companies that could go anywhere are relocating, too. Taking the pack-up-and-go plunge and finding a decent job puts you in Blue Heaven. Spokane’s South Hill is the leafy neighborhood refuge the whole weary and frightened world is looking for.
Out there: Go home from work, change, and traumatize yourself kayaking Class III-IV whitewater in Riverside State Park, a narrow but lengthy 7,500 acres along the Spokane River that starts right in the city. A small mountain range about 35 miles northeast provides the city with Mount Spokane Ski Area, which has a respectable 1,800 feet of vertical.
Paycheck: Arriving jobless might be merely crazy instead of insane. Spokane has a growing economy that straddles every sector: basic manufacturing, high tech, corporate data crunching, regional services, and the old standbys, agriculture and forest products. Kaiser Aluminum, Key Tronic, and Hewlett-Packard are the top three manufacturers, and
Home: Big updated Craftsman-period cottage, with museum-grade wooden detailing, $160,000, about a mile from downtown on South Hill, where even $100,000 or so buys something decent. Nearly-new ranch house on a few acres in the foothills, 15 miles east, about $175,000. Save by going farther east into Idaho.
Neighbors: Factory rep for outdoor gear, already nostalgic for Spokane’s low-profile days. Banker volunteering business expertise to a women’s shelter. Folks who own an appliance store.
Très Spokane: Know that très goes against the local grain, except for très well adjusted and pleasant; say “you betcha!” for “yes,” “howdy” for “hello,” “take care” instead of “good-bye”; revere the memory of local son Harry Lillis (Bing) Crosby by taking out-of-towners to view the Crosbyana collection at Gonzaga
Please, no more: Teachers. Local higher-ed churns out pedagogues who want to stay in Spokane.
Prices of paradise: True alternativeniks may shrivel in this essentially big small town. Stridently festive parks and public buildings on the riverfront don’t quite revive a tired central business district.
Kindred spirits: Boise, Idaho; Albuquerque, New Mexico.
See also: Find out what readers thought and how Mike Steere responded in our special online forum.