COLUMN: Looking for reasons to believe
Hoping to find signs of life as we knew it before things changed utterly, I took a walk along Capitol Highway during the noon hour on a Friday in the middle of May.
Otto and Anita's Bavarian Restaurant and the Village Hut have never looked better. It's amazing what a new coat of paint will do. Magpie Metals is moving into the Gruton's meeting space. The Multnomah Station apartment house looks like a ghost ocean liner; ready to set sail but no passengers.
Lucky Lab is lifeless But if you close your eyes you can visualize every seat taken at the pizza picnic tables in the poor man's plaza on a sunny late afternoon.
There are just two Portland Police SUVs and a 12-passenger bus in the parking lot at the newest listing on the National Register of Historic Places: the Multnomah Arts Center. The sign outside Little Big Burger reads, "Open For To Go," which sounds like the answer to, "Why are you open?"
Fat City Cafe and Village Coffee have been beacons of life after COVID-19. But the Prosperity Pie Shoppe/Sacred Money Studios is no more. The furniture is for sale.
There's a storefront available for rent two doors south at 7824 S.W. Capitol Highway. Want to become a shopkeeper? It's a cozy 250 square foot space with big windows and 500 square feet of basement storage. Vinny at 503-515-7746 is only asking $1,100 a month in rent. There are also two retail spaces available at 7856 and 7858 S.W. Capitol Highway. Recently fixed up, they look lonely; like a couple of orphans hoping to get adopted.
Finally, there are signs of life just across Southwest 36th Avenue. JP General, a boutique that's only been in business since September, is open for business. It offers a retail experience as in the old days two months ago: You walk into a store and browse before you buy. Only now, you'll need to wear a mask and squirt some designer hand sanitizer at the front door. Gov. Kate Brown's May 14 order flashed the green light and owners Peter-Tolin Baker and Jay Quiggle were open for business by noon May 15.
They lived in San Francisco in the 1980s, making it through AIDS and a major earthquake. They lived in New York after that, enduring 9/11 and superstorm Sandy. "We've had a few of these," Baker said.
In 2016 they'd had enough of New York and bought a home in the Ashcreek neighborhood, walking distance from Multnomah Village. There they found the perfect spot for their store when the Indonesian import shop Deysa had to close.
The doors of JP General opened in September of 2019. The lockdown order came seven months later.
"Our sales in January, February, March and April have been better than last year when they were zero," Baker said, "because we weren't open then."
"Welcome to our grand reopening. No crowds. So it's nice," he added.
"We're so grateful to be in Oregon and Multnomah Village right now," Quiggle said. "Knowing what it's like to be in the rest of the world, we're feeling really bad for our friends still in big cities when we can still walk on our streets and go to our backyards."
Baker, who attended Lewis & Clark College for a couple of years, has an impressive resume in design. Quiggle was a celebrity hair stylist in New York. They didn't move here planning to open a classy, eclectic boutique in Multnomah Village. But when they took a walk around while staying at a vacation rental, they were sold.
"We had this feeling there was really something here. And there is," Baker said. "It really is a village. Locall- owned and locally-operated. Everyone's on a first-name basis."
Then there's this. The governor's order allowing JP General and other boutiques around Portland to reopen on May 15 doesn't give the green light to Washington Square and all its stores.
Baker and Quiggle had noticed. They've heard from "the old-timers" who are still around that it was the opening of Washington Square that killed more small businesses in Multnomah Village than the pandemic has, so far.
"Now I feel like there's a tipping point. People don't want to go to the malls. They would rather come to Multnomah Village," Baker said.
Stranger things have happened. To say the least.
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