Multnomah Village sees business growth despite pandemic
Lights on the trees that dot Capitol Highway are more than just beacons of winter cheer. For many of the small shops in Multnomah Village, they are signs of hope.
The village street tree lighting is among a bevy of annual events and traditions put on by the Multnomah Business Association. From a summertime music festival and street fair, to a fall parade, to a month-long shopping event and a holiday gala in December, the most prominent Southwest Portland events are anchored by the business and shopping district.
Seeing annual traditions hold strong, and others return after a hiatus in 2020, is a hopeful sign of what's to come, following nearly two years of massive economic blows to small businesses.
After losing some members in 2020, the Multnomah Village Business Association reports its membership has actually grown since 2019.
"The village has really gained more than it lost during the pandemic," said Peter Tolin Baker, president of the MVBA. "There was some loss of businesses earlier on in the pandemic, and they were the ones that were sort of on the edge anyway."
Tolin Baker co-owns JP General. The high-end home goods store is a core business in one of Southwest Portland's most notable shopping districts.
The retail shop has hung on, but other businesses haven't been as fortunate.
Casa Vacca, an Italian restaurant in the heart of the business district, closed its doors recently. Tolin Baker called the restaurant's closure "the big loss we all felt."
"They did everything they could, made it through seemingly the worst, and then hit some trouble and had to close up shop, but they're the type of people who will reinvent and re-emerge somehow," Tolin Baker said. "Outside of that, there's been a lot of new (shops) and a real interesting cross-section of standalone businesses as well as home-based businesses and services."
One of those new shops is the Village Ice Cream Factory. The ice cream shop opened its doors about a year ago. The owners said they've felt their share of ups and downs, with some frightening lulls in business as the weather has recently turned rainy and cold, but overall, they've had a good year.
"We've been doing pretty good, hanging in there," said Don Webber, who co-owns the ice cream shop with his husband, Tracy Webber. "I think what kept us getting through during the winter and cold season was the strong community support. Before we even opened up, we were doing some outreach with the apartment community upstairs."
The Webbers have made a point to offer weekly BOGO specials on Mondays and market other promotions online, to further incentivize customers. They quickly learned that just opening the doors for business wasn't enough, especially during a pandemic.
"Multnomah Village likes their deals, but they're also fiercely supportive," Webber said.
Nearby, Mad Sass Soaps also opened in 2020, despite the odds. The boutique-style body care company is now a go-to for gifts, offering online ordering as well as a wide selection in store.
Despite support from shoppers and neighboring businesses, not everything has been rosy. Fat City Café was broken into and burglarized in early November, forcing an unexpected closure and a plea for assistance via a GoFundMe campaign.
Outside the village, other businesses have found ways to reinvent.
Hop Capital Brewing in the John's Landing neighborhood took over the space previously occupied by Etc…Eatery. J Webster, who previously ran Etc…Eatery and now runs the show at Hop Capital, said the closure of the restaurant was painful, but at least the space is still welcoming people.
"I think we're doing what we can to survive and trying to support other people who are trying to do the same thing," Webster said.
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