BANDON — Oregon myrtlewood, a slow-growing broad leaf evergreen tree native to southwestern Oregon and northern California can grow up to 150 feet tall and 5 feet in diameter, though few reach that size. When grown out in the open, the stately tree can resemble a large pincushion.
The tree's shiny leaves give off a pungent aroma similar to camphor when bruised and are sold by spice companies as "bay" leaves.
Martin Keller demonstrates wood turning equipment in Pacific Coast Myrtlewood's shop. Keller creates 90 percent of the shop's myrtlewood items.
Myrtlewood gift shops used to pepper U.S. Highway 101 along the South Coast but many of those have closed as interest in the art of crafting myrtlewood has waned, sources have dwindled and roadside attractions and shops have seen fewer visitors.
Pacific Coast Myrtlewood is one of the shops that has remained in business. Named Zumwalt's Myrtlewood for 30 years, the shop in the Laurel Grove area south of Bandon was purchased by Esther Williams in March 2018. Williams, a retired nurse, owned Brewed Awakenings in Bandon for 10 years, served on the Bandon Parks and Recreation Commission for 10 years and is still serving as chairwoman of the Southern Coos Health District Board, a position she's held for 12 years.
Pacific Coast Myrtlewood offers hand-crafted myrtlewood items that are made on site in the large wood shop adjacent to the store. A 100-year-old myrtlewood tree sits between the wood shop and the retail store, which faces the highway. In the shop, Bandon resident Martin Keller creates 90 percent of the items offered for sale at the store.
"Martin has been woodworking all his life," Williams said.
Keller has been learning the unique craft of turning myrtlewood from Kevin Waltrip, who did woodworking at Woods of the West for many years, a popular stop just down the highway from Pacific Coast Myrtlewood owned by Tom Olive. The shop sold a few years ago, then recently the new owners went out of business after they were unable to sell it, Williams said. Woods of the West finally went to auction and is now shuttered, as are other once-popular myrtlewood stores along Highway 101.
Myrtlewood urns are one of the Pacific Coast Myrtlewood's best selling items, and are shipped all over the Pacific Northwest.
One of the more prominent businesses was the House of Myrtlewood/Oregon Connection in Coos Bay, a large well-known store once owned by Joe and Trish Bennetti and Les and Barbara Streeter. They sold the store to the Star of Hope, an organization that helps people with disabilities find work and housing in the community. The House of Myrtlewood/Oregon Connection closed its doors Jan. 1, 2018 after 88 years of making ornate myrtlewood products and being a destination for visitors and residents.
There are still a few myrtlewood shops along the South Coast between Brookings and Florence, but both Williams and Keller said it's a "dying art." Fewer young people want to learn the craft and customers who once browsed the shops now can purchase wood items on Amazon for half the price.
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"That's the problem, really," Keller said. "And there are only a few (myrtlewood) woodturners left."
Pacific Coast Myrtlewood features one-of-a-kind gifts, made from locally grown and harvested myrtlewood. Keller said there are no longer commercial groves of myrtlewood in the area. The shop sources its wood from a person in Coos Bay who has access to trees and has been supplying it for years to local artisans. A former grove owned by John Boatman on North Bank Road is no longer a commercial source for the wood.
Pacific Coast Myrtlewood offers wooden artwork, kitchen utensils, cutting and cheese boards, clocks, lighthouses, bowls, salt shakers, pepper grinders, walking sticks, home decor, some furniture and more.
Its best-selling item, however, are the cremation urns, which are shipped to 40 funeral homes in the Pacific Northwest.
The Bandon Chamber of Commerce held a ribbon cutting on Nov. 14 at Pacific Coast Myrtlewood, located at 47422 Highway 101 south of Bandon. Own…
The gift items are also sold at other shops, including in Bandon the Sassy Seagull, Face Rock Creamery, Big Wheel General Store, Bandon Fish Market, Misty Meadows and Bandon Dunes Golf Resort gift shop, and at the Myrtlewood Factory in Hauser and the Myrtlewood Gallery in Reedsport.
Keller is having a good time creating pieces and Williams is enjoying her new venture. Retirement just doesn't seem to be in the picture for her. She even has an espresso maker and two tables for people who stop by to kick back and have a cup of coffee.
"I like to keep busy," she said. "I get bored if I don't have something to do and it gives me a reason to get up in the morning."
Pacific Coast Myrtlewood is located at 47422 Highway 101 in Bandon, 541-347-3654 and is open from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. daily. Williams and her friendly pooch greet every customer.