Montavilla’s Natural Furniture Set to Close

By Daniel Perez-Crouse

“People have been asking me where will we go when you’re gone? And there’s really nowhere else like this,” Rick Slagter, owner of Natural Furniture in the Montavilla neighborhood on SE Stark St., said as he prepares to retire, closing a business that has been in Portland since the 1970s. They specialize in unfinished furniture-a term for wood furniture that can be purchased without a finish already applied (although, they can help customers apply a finish if they’d like). He’s greatly enjoyed running the store, but is looking forward to all the freedom and fulfillment of retirement.
Slagter is originally from Arizona, but was motivated to visit Oregon after a number of family members moved to Salem. “They said how clean the air is and the water is so good compared to down there (Arizona).” He felt compelled to make it his home after venturing to Portland. “Right when I came up and drove over the bridge and saw downtown and everything and thought this is where I want to live.”
Slagter’s first job in Portland was at a gas station down the street from Natural Furniture at its original location on NE Broadway St. Eventually, someone he knew got a job at Natural Furniture and invited him to work there. One thing led to another, and Slagter would go on to own the store himself.
Slagter said the area was nice in its early years. Multiple outdoor recreational stores were around, and most notably, a video rental store was across the street. “That’s where my wife worked and we met and fell in love in the early ’80s.” Slagter said, “It was a great street then, but now all of those places are gone and it’s really sad.” This is also due to the rise in graffiti, broken windows and more in the area the store used to occupy.
It was initially frustrating when the building Natural Furniture was housed in for decades was sold seven years ago, forcing the business to move. But Slagter loves its current location in Montavilla. “It was one of the best things to happen to us,” he said. It’s six blocks away from where he lives, there is “tons of foot traffic” and he genuinely enjoys the area.
Even up until six months ago, Slagter thought he was going to renew the lease and keep going. However, his brother and sister had retired around then and were talking about how great it was. “They said it’s like six Saturdays and one Sunday every week.” A few months later, he decided to join them and not renew another multi-year lease.
He’s looking forward to traveling, relaxing, waking up whenever he wants and enjoying himself, starting with an extended beach stay once he’s officially clocked out. It’s something he’s very excited about. “I feel like a child a week or two before Christmas, because I know the day is coming, so time is going really slowly.”
Despite the excitement, there are also mixed emotions with all the well wishes and emotional stories customers have shared with him relating to the store’s furniture. One story in particular that resonated with him is a lady who bought a rocker for her mom who would pass away sometime later. When reading her mom’s journal, she discovered anecdotes about riding the bus, passing by Natural Furniture, and mentioning how she’d always wanted something from there.
Slagter also remarked on the ebb and flow of popularity for pieces over the years; that rocking chairs used to be incredibly popular, but stopped for a while, and are now picking back up. He also mentioned that people almost never ask for bunk beds anymore. However, something that has never wavered is the popularity of bookcases. “I thought they would go away a few years back with Kindles and all that, but people still have their books and love to read. They’ve been our number one seller so we keep a lot of them in stock,” he said.
Slagter hopes that maybe somebody will come by and buy the store from him, carrying on its name and legacy. He always prided himself on it being a low-key store without any “hard selling” where the quality speaks for itself. But for now, the store will permanently close in mid-September.
This is a great time to visit since they have a big closing sale. But you might want to stop by sooner rather than later. Slagter said they’ve done twice their normal business and they may close earlier than September if they run out of furniture.
Natural Furniture is located at 7960 SE Stark St.

Montavilla’s Natural Furniture Set to Close

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