Paula Bue loves her job.

She gets to meet people from around the world, her office has a breathtaking view, and on an average of twice a week, she gets to squeeze in a little morning exercise.

That’s because Bue is the manager of the Astoria Column gift shop, her office is the visitor’s center and her exercise comes from twice-weekly trips up the 164 stairs inside the monument for the last 10 years.

“Every day takes on its own personality,” Bue said. “You can start at 8 a.m. with a tour bus or you’ve got Boy Scouts who want to come up and fly gliders because they’re on their way to Fort Clatsop. Or you stay late because another tour bus is coming and they’ve lost their way and you stay late for them because it’s their one and only time in Oregon or Astoria.

“The whole day is kind of sandwiched with a variety of people that you meet and greet from all over the entire world. So it’s a mix. And that’s not counting the time you spend answering phones and questions,” she said with a laugh.

But a big part of Bue’s day is also spent putting gliders together to be thrown off the Column – 500 to be exact. Every day.

Another part of her job is to raise money to maintain the Column. So far, she estimates, the gift shop has netted half a million dollars, not including donations or the granite pavers on the plaza.

“That’s always been our mission. We’re the friends, we’re under the Friends of the Astoria Column, and our job is to raise the money to help maintain the Column,” she said.

During the summer months, the gliders are the No. 1 selling item. Then comes shot glasses, magnets and anything made of fruit.

“Anything they can take away,” she said. “We employ a lot of food vendors with products made in Oregon, jams, fruits, cranberries. Our food line has expanded a lot in the last five years, just by demand.”

Changes at the Column have been “disconcerting,” Bue said.

No longer handled by the Friends of the Astoria Column group, the city’s Parks and Recreation Department is taking over.

That means a shift in management.

“We’re pretty confused. We didn’t know anything was going to happen until we heard about it on the radio and read about it in the paper. So we’re not sure what the plans are,” Bue said. “We’ve been out of the loop, which is pretty disturbing, not understanding what’s going on. And it’s a little disconcerting that – and I’ve talked to the mayor about this as well – is the reason the Friends got involved in the first place, because the city has a decade’s long history of not taking care of the Column and not taking care of the grounds.

“We’re just a little upset and confused that that’s going to transfer to them and what is going to take place up here. If it changes the dynamics and uniqueness and sense of place of what this is all about, that would be a pretty big tragedy. I think sometimes the best thing you can do to a site is if in 50 years, my grandkids can come back and say ‘Wow that’s just like I remember it.’ I wouldn’t say that about all places because progress is great to a certain extent. But it’s the best thing we can do.”

The changes also mean a shift in security.

“Not having a caretaker is not a good idea,” Bue said. “We’ve never not had one up here. People do wild and crazy things when we’re here, much less when we’re not here.”

But Bue will see it through, meeting and greeting people and helping them to understand what the Column is all about.

“You never know what the day is going to bring,” she said.

—Chelsea Gorrow


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