Few as five or six years ago, North Williams was merely a commuter corridor through North Portland—a sad strip peppered with dilapidated buildings, vacant lots and very few thriving businesses. Today this zone is a favorite destination for eating, drinking, shopping and, of course, biking. The lightning quick transformation of this neighborhood has been impressive—there's still ample room for growth—but it's staying true to its bike-centric origin, while evolving as a showcase for small architecture firms and developers, and deepening its roots as a hub for local artisans of all stripes.
Bike-centric Commercial District With a Boutique Architecure Twist
According to the Portland Bureau of Transportation, the North Williams bike corridor is responsible for thousands of daily trips directly through the heart of this emerging commercial district—a unique feature that many tout as a factor in the neighborhood's explosive development. Others, such as T.J. Juon, construction superintendent with RJR Construction, Inc., note the reason for the development explosion in much more simple terms: “Land was cheap, and builders saw an opportunity.”
Developers are always looking for the next opportunity, of course, and with its proximity to the rapidly expanding Mississippi and Alberta business districts, North Williams was (and still is) ripe for development. Vacant buildings and lots (from, roughly, Failing to Fremont) attracted the attention of developers and start-up business owners alike, which has resulted in a tremendous commercial growth spurt.
In 2008, Adaptive Development transformed the former Oregon Food Bank Storehouse into a commercial space dubbed The Hub. This popular destination—with its lovely covered patio and pop up garage door walls—features local retailers, restaurants and services. Jon Kellogg (who partners with Thad Fisco on Adaptive) was originally attracted to the North Williams area because of its inherent bike culture and because it was "affordable to get in...there's great buiilding stock here, amazing fundamentals, and lots of rooftops [business patrons] nearby." Their success wtih The Hub sparked additional projects that span the building that houses Queen Bee Creations and United Bicycle Institute, along with the recently disassembled, relocated and [in the process of being] reassembled Cyan PDX sales building right next door. Kellogg beams that they are "thrilled to have Queen Bee and United Bicycle in our building for many reasons. Most of our tenants [including The Hub] feed into the bike customer base that is prevalent here."
RJR Construction, Inc. has enjoyed the action, too, with their multi-purpose live/work space project, Hakoya Lofts (with local developer Sakura Group), on North Williams and Shaver. The street-level units offer retail space; upstairs are condos. “This is the model [live/work] that offers the greatest potential,” says Juon.
Another fab mixed-use project that recently broke ground is the ecoFLATS apartment building at 3935 North Williams. The project by local developer Jean-Pierre Veillet will offer ground floor retail in a "unique location to provide viable, socially conscious and affordable community oriented living." Another goal of the project is to be a "NetZero operation" and the group is working with Energy Trust to ensure this sustainable standard is met.
Doing Business Differently: Onsite Artisanship
Rebecca Pearcy, owner of celebrated Queen Bee Creations, recently moved her operations to North Williams and Shaver. The retail and production space is visible to the public, enabling direct interface with customers and neighbors. Pearcy is thrilled that people cruising the busy corridor are able to see Queen Bee’s process, including the ability to visit and talk to the in-house team. “With 6000 bike riders on the corridor each day, we get terrific exposure now.”
But even more exciting to Pearcy is the fact that Queen Bee is an integral part of a new wave of small business owners—those who are producing their goods onsite. “We enjoy being located around other small creative business endeavors...and this corner is a great match for what we do and how we want to conduct business.”
On-site artisanship spans crafting brew at the Old New Lompoc's 5th Quadrant, baking at Pix Pâtisserie, creating cards at Lark Press and more. “So many of us are making and selling our products onsite. We all love what we do," exudes Pearcy, "and the local, small batch, handcrafted mode creates a rich testing ground for new ideas to emerge, too." Developer Kellogg saw this opportunity, too, when Adaptive set out to create spaces that offer a home-grown feel and a great "opportunity to connect people with their own businesses with hand-crafted goods made and sold onsite."
Queen Bee’s grand opening celebration was held on May 2, attracting neighbors and passersby to its new location that offers what Pearcy describes as "exciting energy." She and her employees are excited to move into the neighborhood at this point, when so many like-minded businesses are established but there’s still room for more growth.
With its proximity to other local artisan businesses. Pearcy realizes that Queen Bee customers now have more reasons to visit North Williams, and she and her staff hope to "contribute significantly to the feel of the neighborhood."
Cheap Eats, Caffeine and Foodie Delights
Soon after Bob K. and his wife moved to neighboring Piedmont (just north of Killingsworth and Williams) in 2004, they were thrilled to have New Old Lompoc open its 5th Quadrant pub location, one of the first wave of hip establishments in this emerging zone. “We were so happy to have them nearby, that we walked there three times a week just to support their efforts, and to make sure that they stayed.” 5th Quadrant did just that—and inspired plenty of others to follow suit.
From Broadway to Killingsworth, North Williams is now a delightfully walkable stretch replete with cheap eats. This is obviously popular with the neighbors, but employees and clients from nearby Legacy Emmanuel Hospital and the Matt Dishman Community Center also have an ever-expanding list of options for a quick lunch or speedy snack—pizza a go go for a slice, The Waypost for a delicious fried egg sandwich, Cha! Cha! Cha! for tacos or a po boy at EAT: An Oyster Bar—all just a short jaunt away.
And what Portland neighborhood would be complete without a coffeehouse? Not North Williams, certainly! Ristretto Roasters opened its second location on North Williams, and offers hand roasted artisanal coffee that fits in with the burgeoning home-grown scene. Vergnetti's Coffee is a collective of carts (like yummy Sol Pops and Che’ Cafe) offering micro-roasted coffee, local food choices, a ped-thru window, and more.
Many of you already know that the food choices this hot zone offers up include some of Portland's finest with Lincoln, Tasty n Sons (in The Hub), and Pix Pâtisserie (conveniently located across the street). Lincoln chef/owner Jenn Louis was named Best Chef Northwest 2010 semifinalist by the prestigious James Beard Foundation. Aside from being able to enjoy a fabulous meal in the restaurant, Culinary Artistry, its catering operations, can make magic for any offsite event you've got planned. Tasty probably needs no introduction as it's been buzzing steadily since opening this spring, but for the uninitiated, it's John Gorham's latest brunch outpost. 'Nuf said. After dinner (or, after brunch—what the hell) you've got no choice but to stroll across Williams to amuse your bouche with a handmade chocolate or elegant dessert wine (or both).
Need More Reasons to Stop?
As you cruise down North Williams this summer, heading home from a Waterfront Park festival or work, why not stop for a peek into Little Edie’s Five and Dime for a special vintage treasure or a handmade, quirky wallet from Tiny Meat? Get a deliciously inexpensive Ethiopian meal at Dalo’s Kitchen or enjoy a seasonal specialty beer tasting with your pals at Sidebar.
Whatever your tastes, whatever your pleasures, this summer, don’t just zip on by—make a point of stopping in some of the many establishments who’ve happily landed on North Williams, adding their local flavor and energy to this vibrant hub of creativity and cuisine and commerce. With all this hot zone has to offer, you’re bound to discover a new local favorite or two.
View the slideshow for more images of North Williams Street or visit our Flickr gallery: