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By Bob Welch The Register-Guard.

WALDPORT - I've seen history made before in this town. Walked across the new Alsea Bay Bridge on the day it was dedicated in 1991. Rode my bike down the beach to where the bow of the New Carissa washed ashore in 1999.

But Wednesday morning, I made history here myself.

Not to boast, but I was the first paying customer at Subway, the first franchise restaurant to open in the 96-year history of this town of 2,060 on the central coast.

The receipt for my double bacon and cheese omelet, printed at four seconds after 6:25 a.m., says it all: "Receipt 0000000001."

I hadn't intended to become a foot-long, er, footnote to history when I arrived at Subway just before 6 a.m. to cover the grand opening. But I stumbled into posterity when, after 20 minutes, nobody had shown up other than KORC 820 AM radio's Larry Profitt, on hand to do a live remote, and I realized I was really, really hungry.

`We're here live at the Waldport Subway grand opening,' Profitt said into his microphone. `So far, it's just me and a reporter from The Register-Guard.'

I was sandwiched between journalistic ethics and a rumbling stomach. Someone, I ultimately decided, needed to step forward. So I obliged, though it was only minutes later - 6:32 a.m. to be exact - that Curtis Lake, a 77-year-old Waldport retiree, would become the first official, nonmedia customer.

Marty Bankhead, on hand from the regional office in Wilsonville, phoned headquarters in Connecticut to report Subway's 27,670th restaurant was officially launched.

The light early turnout probably had less to do with any coolness toward franchises - "I've not seen that," Profitt says - than people not knowing that this Subway, like many others, serves breakfast. And with the fact that nearly 300 people - equal to one in seven Waldport residents - had shown up the previous night for an invitation-only event featuring free food.

"The line was stretching clear out into the parking lot," Profitt says. "That, to me, was an endorsement."

Still, Waldport, for nearly a century, has served food with a decidedly home-grown feel, at places with names such as the Salty Dawg Bar & Grill and the Flounder Inn. At the Waldport Seafood Company, you can slurp to-die-for chowder at a table that lists decidedly toward Alsea Bay; no franchise can replicate such wonderfully authentic ambiance.

So, for some around here, showing up at a Subway is slightly scandalous, like two-timing the girl down the street to go dancing with Paris Hilton. One Waldport man told me he thought Subway would help inject life into a community that needed it. "It's new!" he said. But he wouldn't let me use his name, because owners of his regular places might see it and be disappointed.

Regardless, few seem to be hitting the tsunami siren just because a franchise has anchored on Highway 101, just south of the town's landmark bridge. `It's a healthy thing and I don't feel threatened at all,' says Vickie Banes, who has owned Vickie's Big Wheel Drive-In, across the highway, for 17 years.

In fact, Banes came over Tuesday to greet the new neighbors with flowers - and was treated to dinner by owners Tony and Mindy Simon, who also run the King Silver RV Park and Marina up the Alsea River.

The Big Wheel, going back to the pre-Vickie days, has been around longer than Tony and Mindy have been alive. And boasts a five-generation photo of her family, not to mention a customer base as tenacious as barnacles.

`I wish them well," Banes says of the franchise. "It's run by a nice couple. And they offer a totally different kind of food."

After the slow start, lunch-time customers surged like an incoming tide for that food. By 3:30 p.m., the cash register showed 177 sales.

But can this newcomer survive? Or will it, like the New Carissa, only be a here-and-gone curiosity that leaves in its wake all sorts of strange questions. Like, in Subway's case:

Just who did place that first order?
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Date:May 31, 2007
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