Friday, June 25, 2010
Montavilla from 1980 to 2010
I recently had an interesting chat with long time board member and even longer time neighborhood resident Beth Kluvers (the woman on the left in the photo) about the evolutionary and revolutionary changes that have taken place since she first called Montavilla home. Beth and her husband bought their home a couple of blocks from the market site in 1980 at a time when all the cool kids were abandoning Portland to live on the Westside and further into Beaverton. Beth and Paul intended for it to be a starter home, but 30 years later, a family raised, a small business established, here they remain with deep roots into the community.
When I asked Beth what drew them to the neighborhood she said it was because of the potential that she saw on Stark Street. Beth grew up in the neighborhood and attended Madison High School. She had fond memories of that time. In 1980, there were a few familiar places a current resident of Montavilla would recognize – Mr. Plywood and Flying Pie Pizza were already fixtures in the community. But beyond that, not much. Bipartisan Café wouldn’t show up on the scene for another 20 years. Businesses would come and go, but not many would last. Storefronts were mostly vacant or underutilized. There was even a Montavilla Department Store that seemed to have held onto its 1950 inventory well beyond its fashionable lifespan, smelling musty and faintly like mothballs.
One of the most noticeable absences was the utter lack of children. All of Beth’s neighbors were in their 80s or 90s and on more than one occasion their passing meant that a house would be torn down and replaced with a “snout” house. While change happened over time, it happened slowly. But it took many years before families with small children regained a foothold. Beth certainly didn’t think it would take over 2 decades for momentum to build, but build it did and roughly 6 years ago, things just exploded with new restaurants and shops opening up….and staying open, drawing crowds and earning regular customers. Even in the past couple of years, the influx of new storefronts has been astonishing and SE Stark Street boasts a retail lineup to rival any other around the city.
Beth has always been interested in cooking and eating well, perhaps in part due to the fact that family dinnertime when she was growing up meant a box of macaroni and cheese or a frozen chicken pot pie. She recalls the days when being a part of a food buying club meant meeting in people’s basements to divide up a 20 pound brick of cheese or opening up big vats of peanut butter that had to be stirred with big paddles and then divyed up into smaller, usable containers. The Daily Grind on Hawthorn (now the site of an under-construction New Seasons) was one of the few close places to go for buying in bulk or sprouted bread. This was before Natures NW, Wild Oats, New Seasons or Whole Foods ever stepped foot on the Portland food scene. You definitely had to be creative and take charge of your food buying to eat sustainably or locally. And organic? I don't even know if that was a vocabulary word.
On one fateful morning just over 4 years ago, the Montavilla/East Tabor Business Association called a meeting at 9 am on a Saturday at the Flying Pie for anyone interested in talking about the possibility of starting a farmers market. 50 people showed up. The Portland Farmers Market, veterans in the industry, cautioned that at best it would take 2 years to be able to pull it off. A mere 4 months later, the first Montavilla Farmers Market was held. And the rest, as they say, is history. A history that is still being written, and one in which we each play a role.
I'd love to hear from the rest of the community...how long have you been in the neighborhood and what have you seen?