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After more than 40 years the 'Paloma spirit' still alive and well in Hillsdale

PMG PHOTO - Mike Roach and Kim Osgood in October 2014. As the head buyer for Paloma Clothing, Osgood makes sure 'we turn our merchandise constantly. No item is in the store for more than three months.'There were rumblings around Hillsdale this winter that that the co-owners of one of the neighborhood's most successful long-time businesses and one of Portland's best-known boutiques might be considering the "R" word.

"Our customers are saying, 'Thank you for being here. Please don't retire. I don't know where I'd go for clothes,'" said Pam Osgood, who with her husband Mike Roach has owned and operated Paloma Clothing in the Hillsdale Shopping Center since the early 1980s.

Osgood and Roach are almost as well-known for their community involvement as they are for the women's clothes they sell. Which might be why the retirement talk started.

Mike Roach stepped down at the beginning of the year as head of the Hillsdale Business and Professional Association, Hillsdale's version of a chamber of commerce. He served as president so long few can remember when his predecessor stepped down. (Answer:Rick Seifert, columnist and founder of the Southwest Community Connection. 1975.)

Shoppers wanted to know whether he would now step down.

"When we have our seasonal sales, I'm the greeter." Roach said. "A number of customers, as they're leaving, I'm thanking them for coming in and they're saying, 'Please don't retire.' They look at my grey hair and my grey beard and they know we're getting older and it's like, 'Please don't retire.'"

Osgood and Roach agree. Message received.

Their business is thriving from the same retail space on the south side of Southwest Capitol Highway it's occupied since Roach and his mom Phyllis opened the store in the 1975 to sell Mexican imports. What women in Southwest Portland really wanted, Phyllis soon figured out, was Mexican fashion. So out went the clay pots and art pieces at La Paloma (the store's original name) and in came clothing, jewelry and accessories under the name Paloma Clothing.

"Paloma has gotten to be way more than Mike and I and our energy. I feel like it really has taken on a life and spirit of its own" said Osgood, who started out in 1981 as the store's buyer before marrying Roach in 1984 and buying out his mother's share of Paloma when she retired in 1986.

Roach, who passed official retirement age four years ago, said, "We've been around a long time. We sort of have a place in the community that I would like to see us continue to try to fulfill, albeit with a little less personal energy put into the business and community."

Roach and Osgood came up with their business model pretty much on their own, but with some help from business courses at Portland Community College. A pretty good indication of their store's current customer base can be seen in the number of quarterly post cards they send out for seasonal sales — 26,700 — and the number of customers on their email list — 11,000. The seasonal sale post cards, by the way, feature the art work of Osgood, an accomplished painter with shows at the top art galleries in Portland and Seattle.

"These are people we've kept track of all these years. As long as they've still got valid addresses we send them a post card. One customer told us she has saved every one she ever received in a scrap book," Osgood said.

Roach recalled the days when he, Osgood and his mom ran the store as a team.

"Originally, the idea was to preserve the indigenous arts and crafts of Mexico," he said. "Now it's trying to preserve American-manufactured clothing. That's one of the major things that motivates Kim to do this and not just do her art full-time."

Osgood grew up in Claremont, New Hampshire, which was once a thriving manufacturing town.

"Claremont was the second-largest city in New Hampshire. We had textiles, shoes, paper, even a Pendleton Woolen Mill," she recalled. "Pendleton was on the Sugar River, upstream from town. You could tell what color shirts they were dying that day by what color the river ran."

"People want to buy American-made but sometimes it's hard for them to search it out or go the next step to find it, so we make it easy for them to buy American-made by finding high-quality brands that are affordably priced," said Roach.

"Portlanders think when they're buying something local they're giving local businesses a chance," Osgood added. "If you just do the quickest and easiest thing — which is to buy something on Amazon — you've missed a real opportunity to support your local business, which is supporting your local community with donations to the Girl Scouts and the local high school."

"You need to have stores that are selling goods as part of any business district," Roach explained. "If it's just nail salons and coffee shops, it's going to be a pretty boring and unattractive business district, unlike Hillsdale."

Due in part to the Amazon effect on retail, a lot of local women's clothing boutiques like Paloma Clothing have gone the way of those textile mills. Roach says his answer to that has always been his staff: 15 women from ages 19 to 75, some of whom have worked at Paloma for decades.

"What our staff is charged with doing is helping a customer find things they're confident they look good in.," he said. "Customers get feedback from staff. If they bought it on Amazon they're not even sure if it looks good on them. But they've got to wear it because they saved a few bucks or — more importantly — saved some time. That's really our staff's job, to help our customers be the best they can be by looking the best they can look."

Osgood and Roach have a 28-year-old daughter who lives in Los Angeles. Isabelle Osgood-Roach grew up playing in the dressing rooms of Paloma Clothing. Asked why they never opened a second store they said, "We had a daughter instead."

"Kim recently kind of provocatively threw this question at (Isabelle), 'You know, what would you think about dad and I retiring and just selling the business or closing it?'" Roach said. "Isabelle didn't bat an eyelash but didn't answer immediately. She took five to ten seconds and said, 'I think those are really bad ideas. Here's what I think.' What she didn't say when Kim asked that question, and we thought she might, she didn't say, 'Yeah you might as well do that because I don't think I'm ever going to get interested.' She didn't want to close out that option, right?" asked her hopeful dad.

Bill Gallagher

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