Barb Campbell: The quirky aunt with a passion for public process

Photo by Matt Fox
Photo by Matt Fox
By Erin Rook, Source Weekly

Like the rainbow-hued array of toys, games and costumes in her downtown shop, Wabi Sabi, Barb Campbell is colorful, playful and quirky. When I walk into her Japanese toy store a week before Christmas, she is enthusiastically helping a customer select the perfect gift.

Back in her office, where the door reads “Planning Division,” Campbell invites me to have a seat at her second desk, newly procured for the Council work ahead. She hands me a piece of jet black caffeinated gum and bemoans the fact that the new packaging no longer describes it as having a “high technical flavor.”

“What do you want to know?” she asks matter-of-factly. Campbell isn’t the type to beat around the bush. And for all her eccentricities (she compares her facilitation of a Pokeman meet-up to drug pushing and poses for a photo wearing a full-body costume), she is exceedingly practical.

She’s been studying for her upcoming Council term like a high schooler prepping for the SATs, and says she recently asked outgoing Councilor Jodie Barram who will inherit her binders containing years’ worth of Council-related information.

Still, as unlikely as it may seem to have a toy store owner on Council, Campbell says it’s really a return to her roots. In high school, she was active on student council and the debate club.

“I have gone back to my high school self,” she says, recalling fondly her fiercely feminist debate partner. Campbell says they frequently came in second place, only missing first because the boys on the competing teams knew how to push her partner’s button. “The boys would piss her off by calling her a ‘girl.'”

Campbell says the two imagined they would grow up to be partners in a law firm called “B.S.” (for Barb and Susan) and even had business cards made with their future tagline: “We take the B.S. out of law.” Though she never pursued a career in law, Campbell seems to be taking a similar approach to politics—a tendency to call it like she sees it, but with a healthy dose of humor.

She says it’s all in service of increasing interested and involvement in public process. To that end, Campbell’s been mulling over gimmicks to increase attendance (and remote viewership) at City Council meetings, from trivia to acronym BINGO. In particular, she’d like to see more young people invested in local politics.

Campbell moved to Bend in the early ’90s after spending five years in Washington, D.C. Because she’d previously taught in Hines (near Burns) she says it felt like coming home. Originally from Pueblo, Colorado (a hometown she shares with sitting Councilor Doug Knight), Campbell says she sees her home state as a “cautionary tale of sprawl.”

The former middle school science teacher opened the shop in Bend five years ago after sensing a gap in stores and hangouts catering to tweens and teens. She’d visited a similar store in Los Angeles, and after a few years of mulling it over, took the plunge. In much the same way, Campbell says she hopes to fill a void on Bend City Council, representing those who are on society’s margins.

She says she understands what it’s like to be skirting poverty, just a paycheck or two away from homelessness, because it wasn’t so long ago that she was there too.

“When you get to a place of security, it can be hard to remember how you’ve struggled,” Campbell explains.