2020 will be a year of fixing up and spreading out for John's Marketplace
For its 20th year in business as the best beer store on the west side of Portland, John's Marketplace got a facelift, a new lease on life and a second location.
In late November, the scaffolding at 3535 S.W. Multnomah Blvd. came down to reveal new siding. After the first of the year there will be a new roof, new windows in front and an HVAC system for what is believed to be the home of the oldest business building in Multnomah Village.
Brothers Paul and Rob Petros took over John's Marketplace in June 2016 from Dave Percival, who had transformed the grocery store into a beer store in 1999, thus the talk of a 20th anniversary.
Paul Petros said the owners of the building are descendants of the store's namesake John Feuz. He married the daughter of the man Gabriel Park is named after. The current owner's ancestors converted the building from a railroad station to a general store in 1957 when the original John's relocated from Capitol Highway. The current generation initiated the facelift and upgrade "because they wanted to make the building better," Petros said.
"We've talked to them about their plans. They told us they don't have any plans to sell the building or tear it down at this time and we have a 20-year lease so we know for the next 20 years we'll be here," he said.
He and his brother also will soon be doing business on another of Portland's boulevards, Powell Boulevard, where they are opening a second beer store in what was for years the site of the Original Taco House.
"We're going back to our roots," Petros said. His father, aunts and uncles all attended Saint Ignatius School where "my grandma was the lunch lady."
Because of their connections — Rob still lives in the Creston-Kenilworth neighborhood — the brothers said they wanted to establish a presence on the east side of Portland.
"There's not a lot of crossover from the eastside to the westside. Westside people will go east but it's hard to get east siders to come this way. So we want to take our brand to them," Paul said.
Ten years ago, the John's Marketplace "brand" meant 1,000 different beers, a growing selection of wines, groceries and a snack bar of sorts.
Now John's promotes itself as one of America's (not just Portland's) largest craft bottle shops with more than 5,000 beers, 2,000 wines, the largest selection of beer in kegs in town with a dozen rotating taps and pretty good reasonably priced "grub" at that old snack bar.
RETAIL IN THEIR BLOOD
Paul and Rob Petros grew up in grocery stores in Southern Oregon, where their dad owned 22 Richard's Food Center stores. After working for Zupan's and Fred Meyer and selling beer for Columbia Distributors, Paul had a conversation with his friend and customer Percival, who then owned John's.
"He said, 'I'd love to sell to you.' I said 'I'd love to do this.'"
"We wanted to re-establish the store. This building has always been kind of an anchor for Multnomah Village and we wanted to continue on that path. As a salesman, I saw it kind of veering away from that. I felt it had more life to it than it was being given, so if I got the opportunity I wanted to clean it up, bring it back, get good people working here and make it a comfortable environment for anybody who wants to come," he said.
"My joke is always, 'Come on in, don't be a jerk,'" he added, laughing.
No one knows better than Paul that these are tough days for grocery stores. Stores the same size as his dad's are the ones closing down. "But being so specialized, we're able to hold our own," he said.
JOHN'S MARKETPLACE EASTSIDE
During an interview in his cluttered-but-functional office, Paul was asked if he's nervous about opening a second store.
"Terrified," he said with a grin.
"But we're confident in what we've developed here because of the feedback we're getting from people. We're putting a lot of faith in each other," he said of his older brother Rob, "but we've done our due diligence and now it's time to say OK."
He said the layout of the new store will "pretty much replicate" what we're doing here but will include a patio for outside dining surrounded by up to 10 food carts.
"It's a big deal," Paul said. "We're very aware of how it goes. The ebbs and flows. We've watched a lot of it over the years. One thing I love about working with my brother is that we're both confident. We've been in this business a long time."
He said he expects they'll see the same sales trends at the new Powell Boulevard location, which they hope to open in March 2020. "Beer will be the big puller. Wine should account for about 13% of sales. We are first and foremost a beer store. But we have seen a lift in wine sales recently."
AFTER THE FACELIFT
Phase two of the current construction work will begin after the first of the year. The nearly century-old building will be made water tight and the temperature inside the store will be controlled. "It will be cooler and comfort levels will get sacrificed," Paul said. "People who work here will be wearing coats and sweatshirts. But I always say, 'The beer likes it cold.'"
During the final phase of the project, the 30-space parking lot will be repaved. That work won't begin until the weather is much better; after the annual Nano Beer fest in May staged in the parking lot, featuring local brewers other than the big commercial players.
"We love the Nano," Paul said.
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