With the corona virus shutting all our favorite businesses down, our neighborhood has gotten a lot quieter. Last Friday, we walked past half a dozen boarded up buildings to get take- out food for dinner. It could feel sad and lonely, but Portland artists have stepped up to help.
Yesterday, Auntie Bridgett and I walked down to Belmont Books. She had contacted Joe, the owner, and asked about a particular book on pattern and design, and he had found it! He has re-organized his shop layout so that the counter is just at the door. When he is open, you can walk right up and ask him about books on a subject and he will hunt them up for you.
On the way home, we walked by our old pinball haunt, The Belmont Inn. It is not a high end place, sort of a dive bar…. but it’s OUR dive bar, you know? Pinball and pool tables, and televisions where there was always some game on. Beer on tap and ciders.
Now, the windows are completely boarded up, so we have no idea what’s going on inside. Are they laying new carpet? Painting the walls? Dancing the hokey pokey? No clue.
But what we can see, the art on the boards, is adorable and quirky. There seem to be several artists with very different styles sharing the space. Sweet lambs pose on light backgrounds and geometric colors are on one panel, and just next door is a garish red Wolf telling us to Stay Home and Stay Safe.
Since art usually has a message, are we the sheep? Is corona virus the wolf? I will leave that to the philosophers. I am just glad to have bright paintings to look at.
After getting to chat with our neighbors last evening, I felt less like a hermit who wanted to stay in her cave. Today I got my mask on and walked three pleasant miles around the neighborhood.
I headed east on Belmont, because I knew heading UP hill first would make the return trip easier. I enjoyed the feeling of really warm sun on my face, and the incredible blooms that Portland offers in spring.
I passed Heritage tree #241, a wonderful Japanese Maple at the corner of 37th and SE Alder. It shades about 50 square feet of yard and sidewalk, stands 30 feet tall, and is simply a beautiful thing. It also gave me the metaphor of the day, The Light At The End Of The Tunnel. It’s more about getting past despair than the virus at this point. And it’s coming soon.
Down on Hawthorne Street, I stopped at one of the few places still serving lunch, The Whole Bowl. Its tiny dining room was closed, but they were still serving wonderful spicy bowls for a good price. I was happy to eat, and they were happy for the business!
I noticed all the businesses we love that are closed for now, and wondered how many will be able to open again. Zach’s Shack, Belmont Books, even Powell’s, a branch of the mighty local bookstore. They are all suffering from loss or total lack of business.
Then I saw a bench with words of hope, finished my lunch in the sun, and cheered up. Passing a million more azaleas, lilacs, and dogwoods on the way, I headed home.
You know how much I love books. The hardest things we gave away when we were moving were all those old friends between covers. But now I can see all my old friends and even make new ones: There are two new bookshops in the neighborhood!
I’ve mentioned Backstory Books and Yarn, on Hawthorne. This is a bookshop which has recently changed hands and re-opened. The former owner is in her 80s and has retired, selling the shop to Amanda, the new owner. The former owner still lives in the house in back of the shop, though. It must be rewarding to see the business she built with her late husband continue to grow and thrive.
I hope she can make it happen, since she is just a few blocks away from Powell’s Books on Hawthorne, which is a branch of the bigger Powell’s store downtown and very strong competition.
Closer to our house is Belmont Books, on Belmont Street, which is so new it doesn’t even have a sign yet. We visited the other day and met Joe, the proprietor, and Mitch, his friend and fellow book-scout. Belmont Books is smaller than Backstory, but the stock is very well-chosen. We chatted with Joe about his process of collecting books, and he mentioned the Belmont library “Friends of the Library” book sale, which sounds like something I will need to look for.
Both these bookshops are independent, which means they aren’t part of any bigger company. They are run BY people who love books, FOR people who love books. You know, people like me!