By Karen Hery
Drivers coming off the Marquam Bridge towards Central Eastside in the first block of Yamhill, can glance through the giant doors and large windows of Cargo’s newest warehouse space. The store is filled with modern and mostly vintage and antique curiosities.
Cargo’s tale began twenty years ago, when owner Patty Merrill and her husband Tim purchased the tall pink building at the corner of 55th and SE Belmont.
The building started out as the first telephone and telegraph exchange on Portland’s Eastside. Merrill had a dream and a plan in the mid 90’s, as she moved into the building, to bow out of a management role at Powell’s and open an imported goods store.
Her original plan was to open up shop in the bottom of the Masonic building, but by the time she set up her business loan and got back from her first buying trip overseas, Merrill had too many curiosities to fit in such a small space.
Cargo opened in 1996 to high praise from home designers and curiosity collectors on Martin Luther King Jr Blvd. between SE Salmon and Main.
A move to the Pearl in 1998 gave room to expand and grow but rents kept rising and the Central Eastside was more affordable than the Pearl. Last October, all the Cargo crossed the river from a 10,000 square foot space into the new 20,000 square feet space on SE Yamhill St. in partnership with Beam Development and Urban Works.
Merrill established herself and her store before the internet and a myriad of shipping options made importing easier. Everything was done in person and by mail and fax. From Mexico to China and India and many places in between, artists and dealers know Merrill as “Miss Patty”.
Bridgid Blackburn, who agreed originally to help with a buying trip to China, has been working side-by-side with Merrill for almost 10 years now.
Blackburn calls Cargo the interior designer’s secret source for authentic furniture and folk art. She has kept her own interior design business, Blackburn-Connolly Interiors, active as she partners with Merrill to run Cargo.
The duo work with local artists, mostly women, as well as import contacts all over the globe to fill a niche at every price point.
Baskets of brand new small dice and funky old mahjong tiles offered for dollars and cents compete with cherished handmade treasures from here and abroad at tens or hundreds of dollars, all laid out in funky display cases on two floors of the old warehouse building once used for burlap sack manufacturing.
Last week the two women and 30 or so business neighbors from over a dozen home furnishing providers and artisan restaurant businesses sat at an imported table inside Cargo and talked about what this part of Portland is becoming.
Already the light industrial blocks between Powell and 84, the river and 12th are filled with a wide variety of things for the home from places that make custom furniture, artisan tile, made-to-order woodworking, plumbing and fixtures at a quality level and variety that big box stores will never reach.
Cargo provides one more reason for all of Portland to wander around on this side of the river and find what you need or even something you didn’t know existed.
Cargo is located at 81 SE Yamhill St. 503.209.8349 www.cargoimportspdx.com