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Congressman Blumenauer hears Woodstock business concerns

by: DAVID F. ASHTON - WCBA President Damon Philpot, a banker and consultant, at left, opens the roundtable with Congressman Earl Blumenauer. The staff of Fenders Moto Café put tables together and arranged chairs, on the afternoon of January 22, as they awaited the arrival of Oregon U.S. Congressman Earl Blumenauer.

“Regardless of your political affiliation, it’s good to have an open forum with Congressman Blumenauer, here in Woodstock,” remarked the restaurant’s owner, Michael Thomas, as members and guests of the Woodstock Community Business Association (WCBA) filtered in.

“This is an amazing community,” Blumenauer commented to THE BEE before the meeting began. “Woodstock is has historically been important to me. I used to bring my son to Davidson's Ice Cream Parlor, shop at Otto's [Sausage Kitchen & Meat Market], and bought furniture at The Joinery.”

To the thirty businesspeople and neighbors who’d come to meet with him, after his arrival Blumenauer said, “I pretty much talk for living. So I'm here this afternoon to be listening to you, to learn what’s important to you, here, in the Woodstock Community Business District.

“The ideas that work best, are ideas that can focus on doing the things that make the business district work best for local residents,” Blumenauer continued. “It’s a powerful concept; a great way to develop the neighborhood – the important concept of the ‘Woodstock Revolution’ is to be keeping the character and scale of the district.”

Gazing out at S.E. Woodstock Boulevard, WCBA President Damon Philpot pointed out the many cars passing by. “What we’re trying to do is find ways to get the cars that drive through the district to stop, and shop here.”

Philpot suggested that the shopping district needs to look more attractive. “Jobs like taking care of the street trees and keeping the boulevard clean have been pushed off on a local merchants – more accurately, on their business associations.”

Commercial building owner Angie Even chimed in, “In a way it’s like neighborhoods like Woodstock are more or less forgotten. We've been doing the work of the city for about three decades now. There are no grant programs that are available to us, we believe, because Eastmoreland is immediately to our west.

“Woodstock has always been one of those neighborhoods that has had a tremendous infrastructure of volunteers, and people that care,” Even continued. “The village center, and the community as a whole, doesn’t need a complete overhaul. But we do need a ‘hand up’, in terms of programs to help us respond to some of our continuing challenges.”

For decades, and for generations, families owned commercial property. “Now that many of the owners are getting older, and closer to retirement, and they’re considering selling,” Even said. “We hope that the new buyers appreciate how the scope and size of the neighborhood has been maintained.”

Woodstock Neighborhood Association (WNA) Land Use Committee Chair Terry Griffiths recalled how, years ago, the neighborhood had lobbied to keep the retail zone from expanding. “The proposal was to go a block and a half deep, on either side of Woodstock Boulevard, from S.E. 39th out to 52nd Avenue. Part of what we do is about ‘preserving scale’ in our neighborhood.”

Griffiths added that part of what gives the Woodstock business district appropriate scale is that “it’s not loaded up with a bunch of ‘big box’ and chain stores.”

Part of WNA’s good fortune is to have “institutional memory among the volunteers of our neighborhood association,” agreed its chair, Becky Luening. “This is important, as we’re seeing a lot of young families coming into the neighborhood.”

Summarizing what he had heard, Blumenauer referred to the Woodstock business district as the “magic kilometer”: “Within the area there is a mixture of neighborhoods, ranging from working-class people to Eastmoreland. I think this district has many people who respect this care about the area. That’s why people move here, when they have many choices of places to live in the greater Portland area.”

Blumenauer concluded, “Some of these things you can’t legislate, but you do have the opportunity to encourage people to maintain the nature of the neighborhood.”