Once an under-resourced industrial area, SE Foster Road has evolved into a scrappy, tight-knit small-business community with major sustainability cred. Foster Road has a reputation for being gritty, and as a result, it lacks both the twee Victorian rose garden charm of West Portland and the stately Craftsman allure of the inner southeast streets. Still, its reputation has cultivated a haven for artists and all the other people who keep Portland weird.
These days, many of the bars and strip clubs in the neighborhood have either changed with the neighborhood or moved farther east. Now the road is dotted with bespoke speakeasies pushing signature cocktails that use words like “herby” in their paragraph-long descriptions.
Most locals are walking or biking away from their homes, and unless they work outside the district, many haven’t been west of 52nd in weeks. That lifestyle has generated several sustainable businesses that visitors can enjoy as they step or roll along Foster.
Reduce, Reuse and Rent Outdoor Gear in Portland
What SE Foster Road misses in million-dollar mansions, it makes up for in hyper-local spirit. “We try to keep our money on the street,” says Mike Turner, co-owner of Foster Outdoor, a consignment outdoor gear sales and rental shop. Here they sell lightly used outdoor gear in a beautifully lit antique building and rent everything from backpacks to kayaks at their annex down the street.
The husband and wife team behind Foster Outdoor moved their main showroom a few blocks away into the recently restored, historic Phoenix Pharmacy, an iconic wedge-shaped brick building from 1922. The name Phoenix is apt, as it was rumored the original owner set the previous location on fire at least four times to collect the insurance.
Local craftspeople and artisans made nearly everything in the building, from the new handrails to the woodwork to the art on the walls. Mike’s sentiment about the restoration is “shine, but don’t remove.”
Curated Second-Hand Art Supplies in Portland
A similar sentiment is seen up and down SE Foster Road, but especially at the turn-of-the-last-century auto-garage turned art shop and art supplies museum, I’ve Been Framed. Their motto is “for artists by artists,” and they sell new, used and rare art supplies. If it’s not raining, there’s usually a “free” cart of supplies outside on the sidewalk.
“We’re pretty old school,” Prairie Clark told me. She started working for the founder in 1992, then his son, before taking over in 2020. Thanks to support from the neighborhood, the previous owner and her own ingenuity, she kept everyone on staff and working through the worst of the pandemic.
Still known in the neighborhood as I’ve Been Framed, even after they moved their frame shop to another location, it is where you donate school supplies to a local teacher, and the teacher in question lives just a couple blocks away. Sometimes two of the exact same item will have different prices on them. “I’m not going to charge someone more than I paid just because I paid more in the past,” is Prairie’s reasoning.
The store is well known in the art community for having things nobody else carries, like discontinued products and one-of-a-kind finds. In addition to selling gently used pallettes and potter’s ribs, they also sell partially empty tubes of paint and paper by the sheet for when you only need a little bit. Sometimes in line, you meet the most interesting people. Once, a septuagenarian told me about her first lover, a French tutor she had in Paris. She was renting an uninsulated attic room in the 5th arrondissement. “She taught me with a French translation of Sappho’s poems, and we kept each other warm,” she told me with a jaunty butch wink.
Consignment Kitchenware and Cooking Classes in Portland
Today, it’s a little easier to woo the person of your dreams. The only language one must speak is pickles. Down the street, another expert in her field, Traci Hildner, owns a kitchenware consignment store called Kitchen Culture. She’s also a certified food preservation expert teaching preservation around Portland under the name Lucky Larder since 2012. After hours, Kitchen Culture’s minimally refinished art-deco space transforms into a working kitchen where Lucky Larder takes over.
I recently took her Intro to Waterbath Canning for this article and had a wonderful time. Traci expertly commanded the room despite all our wildly different levels of experience. We had people who had been home canning for decades alongside people like me, who can’t cook, don’t cook and are intimidated by kitchen implements.
During class, when someone mentioned a different cooking class they’d wanted to attend before the pandemic closed it forever, Traci happened by. She informed us the instructor for that same class would be teaching an upcoming knife skills class at Kitchen Culture, while another instructor would be heading up next month’s Indian cooking class.
At the end of the jam-packed three-hour class, I came away with one jar of carrot pickles, two tiny jars of blueberry-lime jam and the confidence to can things without giving people botulism. I haven’t tried the jam because I already had a large jar of jam in my fridge, and the carrot pickles take about three weeks to fully pickle, but I’m optimistic. Sadly for this story, both me and the woman who sat next to me only had eyes for delicious pickles. But we may meet again in knife skills class.
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