Ogden • Mikaela Shafer calls her adopted northern Utah hometown "little Portland."
Like the hipster mecca of the northwest, Ogden has funky small businesses, a local music scene and a tight-knit community.
If that’s not your image of the Ogden, Shafer, the 25-year-old founder of the year-old blog Indie Ogden, is out to change your mind.
"I think a lot of people think Ogden is stuck in the ’90s. It’s really not like that, there are really rad events, there’s always something happening. People don’t always know about it," she said.
She’s doing her part to make sure people find out about goings-on with Indie Ogden, which just celebrated its first anniversary in December and attracts about 8,000 unique views a month.
Wearing cats-eye glasses with a striped top and silver nose ring for a recent Tuesday-night writers’ meeting, Shafter is an unabashed alt-cheerleader for the town.
She wasn’t always so happy to be an Ogdenite.
When her husband’s employer, a mountain biking company, announced plans to transfer him to the Top of Utah, she was loath to leave her beloved Portland.
"I cried a lot. I think I cried for a month straight," she said. But then she visited during 2010 Ogden’s Harvest Festival, checked out the Snowbasin Resort and met a few people.
"It was really fun and beautiful," she said. "Everyone was friendly and nice to me."
Still, when she first arrived in Ogden with her husband and now 4-year-old daughter, she didn’t know anyone. She did keep a blog chronicling her family life, and soon started branching out, using the skills she honed as band promoter in Portland to find things to do in Ogden. She started posting the events on her blog, and soon other people started catching on.
"I’m very socially awkward, so I thought, ‘I can meet people on the Internet without having to talk to anyone,’ " she said with a laugh. Readership grew, and the project took a more journalistic turn when she wrote a post about the death of a "local eccentric," Bruce Carlson.
Last fall, she brought in a co-editor, Jenny Shaw, and Shafer now has a staff of 13 volunteer writers.
One of those writers is 26-year-old Kristin Brandt. Also a transplant from the northwest (Bellingham, Wash.), Brandt said that when she was house-hunting, people steered her away from Ogden, saying it was "huge disrepair." Drawn by low housing prices and the unique local shopping on 25th Street, her family picked Ogden anyway. She initially had trouble finding friends, but when she joined another group organized by Shafer, Rad Moms, she said she knew she’d found her niche.
She recently spent hours online researching Ogden history for a story and she touts the maple-bacon cupcakes at a local eatery.
"It feels like a way smaller town, but not in a bad way at all. It’s a community," she said.
The staff writes a few posts a day, including business spotlights, DIY tutorials, outdoor sports coverage and more. In addition to the 8,000 unique visitors a month, Shafer said they get another 2,000 to their Facebook pages and Twitter accounts.
Despite those numbers, the stay-at-home mom isn’t thinking about turning a profit yet. The site welcomes sponsors, monetary or trade, and features a column of "friends of Indie Ogden" business in non-paid spaces. She said she knows small Ogden businesses often don’t have large ad budgets and she doesn’t want lack of cash to keep any business off the site.
She’s not thinking about entering the print world just yet either, except for possible "mini-zines" to be published a few times a year.
In the meantime, she’s got a Dew Tour to cover, bartenders to interview, DIY sparkle vases to craft and a shooting range to try out.
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