Jan Richardson recently ignited a controversy in Sequim when he said during an interview, “Sequim isn’t a good place for a young, intelligent, single person.”
The community’s reaction was immediate and intense, with some supporting Richardson’s statement, while others enthusiastically defended Sequim. Richardson isn’t backing off. In a recent interview he asked, "Why would any self-sufficient graduating high school student stay in Sequim?”
He answered his own question: “skilled jobs, business opportunities, higher education.” Unfortunately, he said, those don’t exist in Sequim.
But with tongue-in-cheek he did list two readily available reasons why a young person might stay in Sequim: “hunting and fishing.”
“Those, along with pumping coffee at the corner shop, will assuredly put bread on the table of a starting family — one without a house.”
Richardson also addressed what he called a “subset of social problems that’s one of many reasons youth get out of Dodge.”
“If I may suggest, if one is indifferent to my words, perhaps the youth of Sequim might be polled.”
So we did. Informally, of course, but with interesting, and telling, results.
‘Willing to try different things’
Mark Berneking teaches English as Second Language classes at Peninsula College. After growing up in Sequim, Berneking attended the Master’s College in California and earned a degree in Japanese. After spending two years teaching in Japan, he moved back to Sequim to get on his feet financially and to plan for the future. Berneking says it’s possible to find a good social group in Sequim, but “you have to be resourceful.”
“You’ve gotta be willing to try different things. There’s a ton of fun things to do, mostly outdoorsy,” Berneking says. He adds that there are plenty of outdoors-oriented people, but they stay in their groups. “You kind of need to seek them out.”
People who fit into the Northwestern, small-town lifestyle have an easy time of it, he says, while it might be more difficult for others. One of his friends, Cynthia Wright, found it took six or seven months to make friends in Sequim.
Careers, Berneking says, are a different matter. Sequim isn’t “terribly attractive for young people’s careers; as a matter of fact I don’t think it is at all.” The specific problem with the area, he says, is the lack of well-paid jobs and companies that offer serious advancement opportunities. The economy is largely based on small business and the service and tourism industries.
‘I could see myself coming back’
Noel Laessle, 25, born and raised in Sequim, says the city has plenty to do but lacks career opportunities. Between running, hiking and other outdoors activities with her boyfriend, Laessle says she easily keeps herself occupied. She currently works at the Hi-Way 101 Diner and has taken up endurance running with a local running club. While she doesn’t plan to stay in Sequim, she says she enjoys what she does at the moment, describing it as “part of my journey.”
One of the biggest problems for Laessle is staying afloat financially. While she enjoys the time she spends with her boyfriend and friends from work, she feels like she’s in a rut financially. She plans to move to Seattle next year to find work while she considers going to school. “I definitely want to leave, but I could see myself coming back.”
‘Leaves something to be desired’
Schyler Burrell, 23, moved to Sequim from Vancouver to help his grandmother; he now works as an assistant manager at Safeway. He shares an apartment with his girlfriend, 20-year-old Brooke Krieger. The couple live comfortably, but only with both of them working two jobs with erratic hours.
Burrell also has taken an apprenticeship as a tattoo artist to help pay the bills. After finishing his tattoo apprenticeship, he plans to leave the area and move back to a larger city, such as Vancouver or Seattle, which will provide more opportunities for stable employment. “I like it here, but it leaves something to be desired,” he says.
Burrell says that since he’s not as interested in the outdoors, he has a harder time finding friends in the area. He says he’s met and kept one friend in town and they only see each other every three or four months. “I texted him (Sunday) to see if he wanted to go driving, but he had work, so c’est la vie.”
‘Certain things would make it easier’
Krieger agrees with Burrell’s sentiment: the area is gorgeous but the low incomes aren’t enough to live on comfortably. She moved to Sequim to live with Burrell after spending several years studying business administration at Florida State University.
When she moved to the area, she found three job offers but could only keep two. Now she splits work between That Takes the Cake and Subway, making enough to cover her own expenses and lend a hand while Burrell works his apprenticeship.
Krieger says that there are chances to learn trades here, pointing to her baking apprenticeship at That Takes the Cake. But she said the opportunities are limited by the size of the area’s economy. She plans to move with Burrell when he leaves town. She likes the area’s natural beauty, but at the same time feels Sequim won’t give her enough opportunity.
“I don’t have anything against (Sequim) personally, it was a personal choice to come up here, but certain things would make it easier.”
Her issue with the town is the lack of activities.
“If you’re not going out to eat, and you’re not going out to gamble, and you’re not outdoorsy, there’s nothing to do around here,” she says.
‘It’s advertised as a retirement town’
Jason Taylor, 25, works at Joyful Noise music center on Washington Street and lives with his wife in Port Angeles. He moved to the area from Bellevue to take care of his grandparents.
He discussed Sequim’s anemic nightlife options, saying there’s no real incentive for 20-year-olds to stay in Sequim because the town shuts down so early.
“It’s not a secret why it’s advertised as a retirement town,” he says.
Evening options are expensive, too, he said. A night on the town in Sequim with his wife can cost up to $100.
Taylor says that the area has plenty of recreation sites, but little nightlife outside of the casino.
He added, “If you don’t want to be surrounded by cigarette and cigar smoke, you don’t go there.”
Having previous experience managing a music store in Bellevue, Joyful Noise was a natural choice for Taylor. He says that the local store pays him well enough for him to live comfortably.
He attributes the lower wages that grieve many service positions to corporate cost-cutting at larger stores.
‘You don’t realize how nice this area is before you leave’
Allison Lippert, who has lived in Sequim most of her life, loves the area and plans to stay. After living in Hawaii for a short time, she moved back to Sequim and is developing a career at Thomas Building Center, where she works in contractor support.
She says she makes enough to live comfortably now, but hopes that by advancing her career she’ll be able to make enough to start saving.
“You don’t realize how nice this area is before you leave,” she said.
In her time off work, she enjoys kayaking, hiking and otherwise getting out with her boyfriend and friends, many of whom she met through high school, as well as getting together with people for poker games and golf.
‘What matters is how you perceive’
Lauren Halloway, 24, is a barista at Hurricane Coffee Company and works a second job at Nash’s Organic Produce. A transplant from California, she moved up recently after living in Salinas.
She shares Lippert’s sentiment that the area is a great place to live with plenty of opportunities.
he says she plans to travel away from the area at some point, but this will always be her “home base.”
She says she’s “better suited here than a big city,” for a number of reasons, partially for the outdoors and also because the cost of living is much cheaper.
In California, “I used to live in a studio apartment and I paid a thousand (per month) for it,” she said.
While it took her a few months to make new friends in the area, she says she eventually met many people through her co-workers and has plenty of time to enjoy the Olympics outside of work.
She says she splits her time between outdoors recreation in the mountains and going out to places like the Oasis Sports Bar & Grill and the Islander Pizza & Pasta Shack. She added that she prefers Port Angeles because the area is younger.
Overall, Halloway says that a living situation isn’t as important as how you adapt to it. “What matters is how you perceive, how you react and how you feel about it.”