As summer begins, The Dalles businesses hope for tourism boost

As summer kicks off many head to the Gorge for a fun getaway.
Published: Jun. 23, 2023 at 10:30 PM PDT
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) -As summer kicks off many head to the Gorge for a fun getaway.

From waterfalls to wineries, river recreation to hikes, there’s a lot to explore. The summer season is very important to local businesses and businesses in The Dalles say while they may be a little further from the Portland metro area, it’s worth the drive to see all the area has to offer.

Inside the historic Elks Building on East 3rd St in The Dalles, you can find the National Neon Sign Museum.

David Benko, the museum’s Executive Director, uses his own collection of artifacts to walk visitors through the storied history. He says he started collecting antiques when he was around 8 years old.

“I went from telephone insulators to telephone signs to gas pump signs to gas pumps,” said Benko. “I think I had around 100 gas pumps before I graduated from high school. I always had a fascination for neon.”

That fascination led him back to the Pacific Northwest. Another collector told him the Elks Building in The Dalles was the perfect spot to showcase his signs. When he saw a picture of the building for the first time, he said it was beautiful. He got in touch with the realtor, who later introduced Benko to people with the city and The Dalles Urban Renewal Agency and they got to work.

“It really became something where a lot of people from downtown had a lot to do with it,” said Benko. “What’s so special about The Dalles, and I’m not from here, is that it’s a community that supports itself. It’s not a landlocked community. Being on the river you have a tremendous amount of people coming by. There’s just something about this community. They believe and support others in the community in a very strong way.”

The National Neon Sign Museum opened for tours in 2018. They are open Thursday-Saturday from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. during cruise season.

“The Dalles, like many thing along the river, is a wonderful day trip or even a couple day trip,” said Benko. “The Dalles has tremendous history. People support people here. When people leave here, I tell them about the restaurants in town and I send them to other places around town. There are so many amazing businesses in this community, like Klindt’s Bookstore, which I believe is the oldest bookstore in Oregon. Downtown supports the downtown. Being here is very special.”

A short three minute walk from the National Neon Sign Museum and you’ll find The Workshop on 2nd Street.

“We have several things you can do here,” said Shanna Blumenthal, an Associate at The Workshop. “We have a DIY area where you can do arts and crafts, we have some premade kits, all kinds of painting activates you can do. We also have a lot of Dalles gear, the Gorge gear, Pacific Northwest hats, stickers, lanyards, sweatshirts, t-shirts. Magnets, key chains, I could go on and on.”

Blumenthal says they work hard to ensure their products are locally made in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.

“We try really hard to support those small makers,” said Blumenthal. “It’s so important and we really enjoy the community part of it as well. We do Maker Markets once a month where we have small vendors come in and the community supports us so well.”

After growing up and living in The Dalles most of her life, Blumenthal can’t say enough good things about the area and encourages people to take the extra time to get out and explore the town.

“We have so many amazing businesses that are open downtown now,” said Blumenthal. “You’re so close to other things like hiking, biking, fishing, you can go on the river paddle boarding. You are literally within minutes of everything. Skiing, the mountain, everything. And it’s beautiful. It’s a small community, but we have lots of different things that are available here.”

To learn more about the National Neon Sign Museum:

To learn more about The Workshop: