By Karen Hery
First to market can be a fast path to success or a lonely walk.
Stephanie Sheldon, is far from lonely right now. Sheldon is the owner of Noun – a Person’s Place for Things, which carries an eclectic mix of home decorations, gift items, jewelry and glassware on the corner of 33rd and Belmont.
When she opened her store in 2006, it was a gamble to be on Belmont so far outside better- known business districts.
Seven years later, she looks down the street at the steady growth of shops from 30th up into the 40’s giving a happy nod to the recent burst of activity on the street.
“From the beginning, I was warmly welcomed by people in the immediate neighborhood and they helped Noun survive those first couple of years,” says Sheldon.
“Belmont didn’t have a shopping draw until recently so, in the beginning, if you didn’t live in Sunnyside you weren’t likely to know about us. That’s been changing. Maps and travel magazines don’t just talk about Hawthorne anymore; they talk about the Hawthorne-Belmont district.”
With the addition of Twill, Simply Vintage and Flip Side Hats to the long timers, Palace and Za Zen, the biggest Renaissance on Belmont is in retail clothing.
Palace relishes its role as the street’s boutique of secret treasures. Tucked around the corner on 34th, new and vintage clothing, gifts and body care await curious shoppers. Owner Charlette Reich says her clientele mostly walks in from the neighborhood but that too is changing.
After a stint at 60th and then at Division and SE 21st, Twill, known for sumptuous, affordable local clothing, moved to the 3300 block last June.
This is Audra Fleming’s tenth year sharing her love of retail clothing and the first time she’s on a block with lots of foot traffic. She stays open later now so festive pods of diners and drinkers can wander through and discover what her long time customers already enjoy.
“I have a customer who comes in each time asking to be shown only things made in America. That’s her way of shopping well,” says Fleming.
She offers lots of local options, including LUNA clothing by Karina Potestio. Potestio is a native Guatemalan who started making skirts for her own girls growing up in Portland. Now she runs her clothing assembly line in her Portland home.
Fleming and Jacob Wollner (Operations Director for Flip Side Hats), agree there are plenty of ways for Portland businesses and customers to be thoughtful about retail.
“No one should ever feel guilty and there’s no reason to get snobbish about it,” says Wollner. “Our real delight is in educating people.” He and his partner, Kori Giudici, educate with every hat and scarf and warm-up accessory made from the manufacturing scraps of other companies.
Their items were available wholesale only through other retailers until the tiny Flip Side storefront, tucked into the 4400 block, opened a block up from the Belmont food carts.
Giudici and Wollner’s micro office and mini retail outlet will go from tiny to spacious this year as Flip Side expands into the corner space next door that opened when the man behind the Bicycle Collective retired.
ZaZen expanded from a single Saturday market stall ten years ago into a cozy store one block up from Noun and Twill.
Owner Alicia Arney travels to Thailand four times a year to influence her line of comfortable, bold clothing she has paired with the best-designed and most affordable leather purse belts around.
Leslie Bates, manages the store and most of ZaZen’s activities while Arne y travels, likes the addition of more retail here.
“With more on the street to come to, we’re all helping each other,” says Bates.
A Belmont clothing retail alliance is forming this year through the Belmont Area Business Association. There’s talk of joint events highlighting the unique qualities of each store’s clothing while raising money for local causes.
Sarah Deaton-Zaayer, purveyor of Simply Vintage, close to the corner of Belmont and 37th, spends a bit of every day educating her customers on the virtues of vintage.
She acquires her items locally at estate sales and from customers that bring in items for her to resell.
That’s as good for the local economy as reusing clothing is for a lower carbon footprint.