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District Spotlight: Sellwood Moreland
Where can you shop til’ you drop, have a great meal, swim in a river, jog in a park, go bird watching at a wildlife refuge and ride a roller coaster, all in one place? Sellwood Moreland! Portland’s southernmost business district runs from SE Holgate Boulevard in the north down to the Milwaukie border in the south and is flanked by the Willamette River to the west and SE McLoughlin Boulevard to the east. Formerly an independent town, Sellwood was founded in 1883 and saw an influx of residents and visitors with the completion of the Sellwood Street Car line in 1892. The town was annexed by the city of Portland a year later and the adjacent neighborhoods of Westmoreland and Eastmoreland followed soon after. These days the Sellwood Moreland Business District maintains its small-town charm with two lively commercial areas that offer an array of independent retailers, restaurants and services surrounded by older, well-maintained craftsman bungalows and tree lined streets.
Venture Portland sat down with the leaders of the Sellwood Moreland Business Alliance (SMBA) to talk about what they love about the district and why they are proud to call Sellwood Moreland home.
Lee Cannon is President of SMBA and Agent at American Family Insurance, which offers auto, home, life, and business insurance. Tom Brown is Past-president of SMBA and Owner of Brown Properties, which owns and manages multiple properties in Sellwood Moreland. Debbe Hamada is a former SMBA board member and owner of Tilde, a boutique and art gallery that sells locally sourced jewelry, handbags and homegoods. Rachel Ginocchio is the owner of Rumpus Events, a full-service event planning, community building and fundraising business and helps to coordinate SMBA events.
What is your favorite thing about Sellwood Moreland?
Debbe: I like how it still feels like the little town it once was. It still has a lot of older buildings and is very walkable. You can walk to any type of business you want and then to the park or the riverfront very easily. There’s no need to drive.
Rachel: I can get everything I need right here in the district. Everything from services, retail, schools and restaurants. We also have a number of natural areas in the district – Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge, Sellwood Park and Riverfront Park.
Tom: I think we might be the only district in Portland that has an amusement park. Oaks Amusement Park is a real tourist attraction. Another great thing about the district is the business owners. We have a lot of women-owned businesses and they do a great job of communicating and working together. It has made such a difference.
Lee: I love being able to take my bike and cruise around the district!
Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge was named Portland’s first wildlife refuge in 1988 and was designated the city’s first migratory bird park in 2004. More than 185 bird species have been recorded in the refuge. At Oaks Bottom’s southern boundary is Sellwood Park and Sellwood Riverfront Park, which are known for their summertime Movies and Music in the Park events that draw thousands of attendees.
Oaks Amusement Park opened in 1905 and is one of the oldest operating amusement parks in the country. The park features rides, midway games, a historic 1912 carousel and Oaks Roller Rink, which has a pipe organ that hangs above the skate floor. The rink is the home of the Rose City Rollers, Portland’s women’s roller derby league.
Cyclists can access the district via the Springwater Corridor which follows the old Sellwood Rail line. The district has 2 bike shops – Sellwood Cycle Repair, which opened in 1991 and is one of a handful of Portland bike shops that deals in reliable used bikes and Bike Gallery Westmoreland, which opened in 2017 and is the newest Bike Gallery location. The first Bike Gallery opened on Sandy Boulevard in 1974.
How has Sellwood Moreland’s identity changed over time?
Tom: In the early 80’s Westmoreland was dominated by two large variety stores – one where Bike Gallery is and one where Star’s Antique Mall is. They sold everything but groceries. SE 13th Ave was known as ‘Antique Row’ and had many antique stores, some of which still remain like Unique Antique, Rusted Rooster, American at Heart and 1874 House Antiques. Both streets offered two very different experiences. Over time, the business mix diversified on both streets and led to a more cohesive feel. When Starbucks opened, it finally provided the district with a community gathering space.
Debbe: I opened Tilde in 2006, in what was once a former antique store. Many of the other antique stores in the district were closing to do business online which gave way to more specialty stores moving in.
Rachel: When I moved here in 2002, they were talking about closing Llewellyn Elementary School due to low enrollment. It’s a good thing they didn’t because the district became a magnet for families shortly after and now both elementary schools are bursting at the seams.
Stars Antique Mall opened in 1990 and has expanded into 3 different malls in Westmoreland. The malls represent more than 200 antique dealers and are one Portland’s largest resource for antiques, collectibles and home décor.
Unique Antique, Rusted Rooster, American at Heart and 1874 House Antiques are all part of Sellwood Moreland’s ‘Antique Row’, which has been a destination for vintage gems on SE 13th Avenue for more than 40 years. Look for ‘historic site’ plaques on the sides of Antique Row buildings with information about the history of Sellwood.
How has Sellwood Moreland stayed the same?
Tom: Moreland Theater has been going strong since 1925!
Debbe: Our annual Decemberville event kicks off there every year with a free movie and popcorn.
Tom: We still have a hardware store which is super important – Westmoreland Ace Hardware. They’ve got a great neon sign. I remember when the original owner used to have his pet parrots flying around the store!
Rachel: The Sellwood Pool is a landmark that has been around since 1910. The SMILE Station is also another landmark building. It was built in 1926 and was originally Sellwood Moreland’s firehouse. Today it is the headquarters for the Sellwood Moreland Improvement League, a neighborhood association which also allows us to hold our SMBA meetings and events there.
Debbe: Kay’s Bar has been around since 1934, they have great food and very well priced drinks.
Decemberville happens on Saturday, December 2 from 10am-4pm and features arts and crafts, double decker bus rides, caroling, games, prizes and a clothing drive to benefit Rafael House.
Moreland Theater originally presented vaudeville acts as well as silent films but is now one of the few historic single-screen theaters in Portland that screens first-run movies.
The Sellwood Pool was built to replace the Jefferson Street Bathhouse, a floating structure in the Willamette River used for swimming that was closed due to an increase in river pollution. The pool was the first structure of its kind in the city.
The SMILE Station was Portland Fire Station #20 until 1959 when it became home to the Boys and Girls Club. SMILE purchased and renovated the building in 1990, transforming it into a community hub that is still used today.
Kay’s Bar serves up dinner with a side of live music plus brunch Friday through Sunday. The bar has been the site of repeated paranormal activity, including strange noises and restaurant equipment moving on its own. One night a former bartender heard voices when closing up and ran out of the bar, never to return.
What is your favorite time of year in Sellwood Moreland?
Tom: Any time it’s not raining!
Rachel: There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing! I love the fall because of Halloween and our annual Monster March event where we get families from all over Portland to come and march in the parade and trick or treat in the neighborhoods.
Lee: Fall is great because the weather is crisp and it is really enjoyable walking around the district.
The 17th annual Monster March was Sunday, October 29 and featured a parade of hundreds of costumed kids taking over the streets of Sellwood Moreland in search of sweet treats. Summer is also a great time to visit the district during the annual Summer Sidewalks event in July, a district-wide sale with games, crafts, music, classes, demonstrations and more.
What would be your perfect day of food in Sellwood Moreland?
Lee: I’d start the day with coffee and a bagel at Rose City Coffee Co. Then I would head over to the Piknik Park Food Cart Pod. For lunch I would get the Inche Kabin bowl from Straits Kitchen. For dinner I would go to Polli Tico. The Peruvian Chicken platter is my favorite. Finally, I’d get dessert at Village Patisserie next door which has delicious pastries. There’s even a beer cart! SMBA often holds business mixers there and provides samples of all the different offerings.
Debbe: Arugalarium for breakfast. They have great crepes and baked goods. For lunch I would get a sandwich at Bent Whisker. They are known for their chickpea sandwiches and they make their own bread. For dinner I would go to Jade Bistro. People come from all over the city to eat at Jade. It’s Pan Asian cuisine and they make their own bread, noodles and pastries. I like the lemongrass tofu sandwich. After work I would stop into Reverend’s BBQ for happy hour. They have really become a family-friendly gathering place. Finally, for dinner I would go to Gino’s and get a Cesar Salad and an order of Shells (mussels and clams).
Rachel: I would go to Limelight for breakfast. It’s a bit of a hidden treasure. Their Chef’s Salad is great. For lunch I would go to Zenbu. It started as a sushi food cart and they just opened a brick and mortar with a lovely garden in the back. I would go to Simon’s Office for dinner. They are very kid friendly and the food is quite good. Afterwards I would get a drink at Corkscrew Wine Bar. They have live music on Wednesdays!
Rose City Coffee began in 2012 when two recent college grads began roasting beans in their car port, where they built a small-scale kiln from scratch. The company quickly gained popularity at the Moreland Farmers Market and a brick and mortar location opened on SE Milwaukie Ave in 2013. The Moreland Farmers Market opened in 2006 and is open every Wednesday from 2-7pm.
Piknik Park Food Cart Pod opened in 2015 and features 8 food carts and 1 beer and wine cart, a covered, heated seating area, live music and movie nights.
Straits Kitchen opened in 2015 and dishes up cuisine influenced by the Baba-Nyonya cooking found along the western coast of Malaysia.
Polli Tico serves Peruvian chicken cooked in a custom rotisserie oven shipped in from Lima, Peru.
Village Patisserie is a bakery food cart that serves lunch, dinner and dessert – including holiday offerings like Halloween-themed cupcakes, pumpkin pie and an assortment of cookies.
Arugalarium is a farmers market vendor-turned brick and mortar restaurant that specializes in crepes and even offers vegan and gluten-free options.
Bent Whisker Sandwiches started serving their artisan sandwiches at the Gresham Saturday Market and made the move to Sellwood Moreland in 2017.
Jade Bistro is owned by Lucy Eklund who immigrated to Portland in 1975 from Pakse, Laos where she learned about Thai cuisine as a young child. Later in life, she traveled to the South of France to study baking and returned to open Jade Bistro in 2008.
Gino’s Restaurant and Bar opened in 1996 and sources its ingredients from sustainable local farms. The bar has had its share of famous visitors, most recently, Grammy award winning singer Lady Gaga.
Limelight is known for its eggs, specifically Benedict and Florentine and it’s made-from-scratch hollandaise sauce that you can only get on Saturdays and Sundays.
Zenbu began as a food cart serving sushi, sake, beer and wine and expanded to a storefront in 2017 that features 13 different Japanese whiskeys.
Simon’s Office serves up scratch-made soups, sandwiches, burgers and more and is home to the Tiny Timbers Army, a kid-version of the Portland Timbers fan club.
Corkscrew Wine Bar opened in 2010 and features a carefully curated wine list from around the world and a wine club that offers discounted pricing, free tastings and priority access to classes, dinners and more.
What are some hidden gems in the District that most people might not know about?
Rachel: Sellwood Pet Supply! They have their own dog clothing line and pet adoption days where I like to take my family to look at all the pets.
Debbe: Speaking of pets, we also have Cats in the City which is a cat hotel that also offers grooming. Another thing people don’t know about is Classical Ballet Academy. They are nationally known and many of their students go on to be professional dancers. They are right next to Dance with Joy which offers classes for other types of dance like Hip-Hop, Jazz and Flamenco. Many people also don’t know about Dead Aunt Thelma’s Studio because from the outside it doesn’t look like much but national acts like Pink Martini have recorded there. The owner used his inheritance from his Aunt Thelma to open the studio in the 90’s.
Lee: Kim’s Tae Kwon Do is a martial arts school that requires its students to give back to its community. They partner with SMBA on a variety of events and help distribute our district maps. We also have a large number of health and wellness businesses like Cypress Beauty and Wellness, Moreland Neighborhood Dental and Rivet Athletic Club.
Rachel: Many people don’t know that you can get a lot of free cookies in the district. Umpqua Bank gives them out on Fridays, and QFC and New Seasons also offer them in their bakeries. Sometimes I will just walk the district and do a cookie crawl!
Sellwood Pet Supply offers pet products, training classes, adoption and even carries a wide selection of pet Halloween costumes.
Cats In the City is the feline version of a bed and breakfast in a converted 1916 bungalow. Each cat receives its own private room along with time in the hotel’s playrooms and family rooms.
Classical Ballet Academy has trained dancers that have gone on to accept scholarships at The Alvin Ailey School and Marymount Manhattan in New York, Ballet West in Utah, Houston Ballet in Texas and The Bolshoi Ballet in Russia.
Dance with Joy is owned by Rachel Lidskog, a dance instructor since 1989 and a two-time Bronze medalist in the 1992 USA Nationals and 2005 World Championships dance competitions.
Dead Aunt Thelma’s Studio is one of the Northwest’s primer boutique recording studios and has hosted musicians such as Everclear, Cheryl Crow, Wilco, Curtis Salgado and more.
Kim’s Tae Kwon Do was started by Master Kim who is originally from Kim Chun City, Korea and has taught more than 30,000 students over the course of his career.
Cypress Beauty and Wellness opened in 2004 and offers chiropractic care, counseling, acupuncture, massage and esthetics.
Moreland Neighborhood Dental opened in 1971 and offers more than 60 years of combined experience, plus a kid’s play area.
Rivet Athletic Club offers Crossfit, SC30 and Mobility and Flexibilty classes and regularly organizes outdoor events like trail workouts, river paddles and ski/snowboard days.
Other Sellwood Moreland destinations to satisfy your sweet-tooth include Papa Haydn, which opened in 1978, had one of the first espresso machines in Portland and offers a menagerie of desserts including pies, cakes, tarts and more; Piece of Cake Bakery, which opened in 1978 and Owner Marilyn DeVault competed on the Cooking Channel show Sugar Showdown in 2015; Grand Central Bakery, which offers freshly baked bread and pastries plus a kid’s play area and Atlas Scoops, a gelato food cart owned by Randy Schulman, who is known for his former role in the Portland-based show ‘Grimm’.
What would be the perfect souvenir for a visitor to Sellwood Moreland?
Rachel: Buy a brick! Rumpus Events is selling pieces of the old Sellwood Bridge as a fundraiser and has so far raised $10,000 for Sellwood Middle School. We also took the rebar from the bridge to Oaks Bottom Forge and they turned it into things like bottle openers and fire pokers that are also for sale. Now the last remaining piece of the bridge railing is on display at the SMILE Station and people can purchase bricks that will be engraved and used as the walkway leading to the bridge memorial.
Debbe: Another Sellwood Moreland business that is popular with tourists is Sock Dreams. They are one of the biggest sock sellers in the US and their only brick and mortar is here in Sellwood Moreland. They are huge in Japan!
The Smile Brick Program gives residents, visitors and businesses a chance to be a part of Sellwood Moreland history by purchasing engraved bricks that will be used as part of the Sellwood Bridge memorial. Proceeds will go towards maintenance of the historic SMILE Station and sponsorship of neighborhood events.
Oaks Bottom Forge creates hand-made knives for cooking, hunting and camping plus offers classes in blacksmithing, leather crafting, blade smithing and more.
Sock Dreams began selling socks online in 2000 and opened their Sellwood Moreland location in 2009. Profits from sales of their ‘charitable socks’ benefit a variety of non-profit organizations.
How does Sellwood Moreland embrace arts and culture?
Debbe: Over half the things we sell at Tilde are made in Portland, many made right here in Sellwood Moreland like Vitreluxe Glass. They make beautiful large-scale pieces for museums but for us they make smaller things like bowls and vases. Gary Hirsch is a local artist that does robot-themed murals and little painted robots that you can find all over the world. They are little inspirational talismans you can carry with you. He has a whole wall of them at Dorenbecher’s Children’s Hospital for every child that goes through surgery. We are the only place that sells them. Don Lee is another local artist we carry. He creates wooden maps of the Willamette River.
Rachel: We have a resident led group that has been finding public spaces in the district to paint murals and they recently completed one on the side of Sellwood Market by local artists Jon Stommel and Travis Czekalski.
Lee: I’m a big fan of local design company Grafletics. They printed a Sellwood Moreland shirt to raise money for Llewellyn Elementary School and right now they are selling hats to raise money for relief efforts in the Columbia Gorge.
Vitreluxe Glass was founded in 1999 and uses a system to melt glass with electricity that is generated from 100% renewable energy.
Gary Hirsch is an artist, illustrator and co-founder of On Your Feet a non-profit that uses improvisational theater to help businesses succeed. He is best known for his robot dominos, which he has created more than 37,000 of.
Don Lee is known for his woodmapping, a process where he takes locally sourced wood and laser engraves map graphics multiple times to create depth and texture.
Jon Stommel and Travis Czekalski are the Portland-based artists behind “Rather Severe” which has created murals and illustrations for Coca-Cola, Trimet, Boston Marathon, Weiden Kennedy and more.
Grafletics was founded in 2013 by graphic designer and sports enthusiast Rick Gilbert. In addition to his Sellwood Moreland shop, his clothing can be found at the Portland International Airport and both the Trailblazers and Timbers Team Shops.
Sellwood Moreland is also home to the largest mural in the US – a football field-sized painting of native bird species on the side of Wilhelm’s Portland Memorial funeral home and mausoleum. The 43,485 square-foot mural towers above the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge and can be seen from the Springwater Corridor.
Tom, as past President what is your favorite Sellwood Moreland accomplishment?
Tom: Getting the bridge done! In 2004, the city needed to replace the Bybee bridge which crosses over Highway 99 and is one of the few roads you can use to access the district. They tore it down and closed the road for 9 months. During that process, myself and a few other business owners got together and started the Westmoreland Business Alliance to make sure we had a voice in case anything like that happened again. A few years later they announced that they were going to replace the 90 year-old Sellwood bridge, which is the only way to access the district from the West. I sat on the citizens advisory committee and stressed that they not close the bridge. Through a lot of work we came up with the brilliant idea of sliding the old bridge over so people could still use it while the new one was being built. The bridge ended up being closed for only a week much to the relief of residents and businesses. Beyond all that, another milestone for the district is when Debbe approached me with the idea of combining the Sellwood Business Association with the Westmoreland Business Association.
Debbe: Because the two groups were finally working together, it brought a lot of energy back to doing things for the businesses again. That’s when we started doing our annual events – the Monster March, Decemberville and Summer Sidewalk Sale.
The original Sellwood Bridge was constructed in 1925 to replace the Spokane Street Ferry, which shuttled passengers across the Willamette River between Sellwood Moreland and West Portland. Over the next 90 years ground movement caused the west end approach girders to crack. The bridge was also not designed to withstand a significant earthquake. In 2009, the County decided to replace the bridge, but not before moving the existing bridge using rails and hydraulic jacks so as not to disrupt the flow of traffic. The new bridge was completed in 2017 and features wider auto lanes and pedestrian sidewalks, improved lighting plus new bike lanes.
Lee as current President, what future plans are you most excited about?
Lee: I’m most excited about modernizing the association so we can have a platform on the web and social media to engage our business owners, visitors and residents. I want visitors to leave with a memorable experience – walkable tree lined streets, a diverse variety of shops and restaurants and genuine interactions with business owners and residents. Rachel is really good at bringing people together and making those connections.
Rachel: Also, I think it is really important that the business association and neighborhood association continue to work together to help businesses thrive and encourage residents and visitors to shop local.
Learn more about Sellwood Moreland at sellwoodmoreland.com.