In Praise of Local Business

“Do you know what my wife usually orders?” I asked at the Oak Grove Coffeehouse this morning. I wanted to bring her a surprise. Kris stops there once or twice a week, but I don’t go in very often. I don’t like coffee. I guess I should know what Kris orders (since she orders the same thing every time), but I don’t. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to guess.

Jason, the owner, thought for a moment. “She orders a medium latte extra-hot,” he said.

“Who’s your wife?” asked the kid behind the counter.

“Her name’s Kris,” I said. “Long red hair. Works for the crime lab.”

“Oh, Kris,” he said. “I love Kris.”

“Yeah,” said Jason. “CSI Milwaukie.” Everybody laughed.

“Do you want anything?” the kid asked as he took my money. The coffee was $2.75, but I left $1.25 for a tip.

“Nah,” I said. “I don’t like coffee. Besides, I just walked up the the grocery store, and I have donuts and chocolate milk in my bag.”

I love this sort of thing. I love local businesses owned by community members. (I bumped into Jason a couple of weeks ago as he was leaving his home to go to the coffee shop. I was walking down the hill as he was walking out his driveway to go up the hill.) This is the precisely the sort of thing I want to support over shops like Starbucks, etc.

And yet I rarely frequent the Oak Grove Coffeehouse myself. As I said, I don’t like coffee. I’m not a fan of their hot chocolate. It’s vastly superior to Starbuck’s hot chocolate (which basically tastes like muddy water), but it’s still made the same way: add some chocolate syrup to milk and heat.

All the same, I could be giving the shop some of my trade. At lunch, they serve sandwiches. Also, they have a few breakfast croissants every morning. And they carry Mexican Coke. I’ll bet they have bottled water, too. It’s important to me that Jason and his family are able to make a profit from their shop, yet I don’t do much myself to support them. In fact, I’m sort of a drain on their income.

Today, for example, as I was walking out the door, Jason stopped me and gave me a lemon pastry. “Take it,” he said.

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. “It’s from yesterday, and I’ll just have to throw it out if you don’t take it.” Jason’s given me stuff in the past, including free drinks. I’m grateful for this, but I feel bad. I want to be adding to his income, not taking away from it.

I guess maybe I should make a point of eating lunch at the Oak Grove Coffeehouse once each week. I wonder what sort of sandwiches they have…

Addendum: Kris and I had lunch with Susan this afternoon, and she pointed out that I forgot to end the story. “Were they right?” she asked. “Did they get Kris’ drink order correct?” Indeed they did. Kris orders a medium extra-hot latte.

A Walkable Neighborhood

Dave and Karen are in the process of purchasing a new home in the Sellwood/Westmoreland neighborhood. (Where does Sellwood end, by the way, and Westmoreland begin? I get the divide between Westmoreland and Eastmoreland — it’d be hard not to — but I don’t now where to draw the line with Sellwood.) Part of the reason they chose this new house is that it’s in a “walkable neighborhood”.

I’ve given a lot of thought to what a walkable neighborhood is lately. I have some definite opinions on it.

Last fall, Andrew and I had a conversation about Dave and Karen’s househunting. He mentioned it would be nice if they moved in near him and Courtney. (Dave and Karen are godparents to Andrew and Courtney’s children.)

“Yeah,” I said. “But I think they’re looking for a walkable neighborhood.”

“This is a walkable neighborhood,” Andrew said. I can’t remember if I debated the point out loud, but I certainly did internally. Andrew and Courtney live in a nice place, but I consider it only borderline walkable. It’s just a little too far away from the community center. It’s three-quarters of a mile to the nearest grocery store, and it’s the same distance to the public library. (They do have a park very close at hand, though.)

I mentioned this story to Paul and Tiffany the other night. They were divided on the walkability of the Cronks’ neighborhood. (Tiffany voted “yes”; Paul voted “no”.)

But what is walkable?

The other night, I tried to use our own neighborhood as an example to Tiffany. I forgot to ask her if she ever walks to the grocery store (probably not often), but that would have been the best way to make my point.

Tiffany lives 1.2 miles away from Kris and me. It’s exactly a one-mile walk for her to get to Fred Meyer. (It’s a 0.9-mile walk for us here at Rosings Park.) That’s not much further than Andrew and Courtney have to walk to the grocery store. I don’t think Tiffany would argue that we live in a walkable neighborhood, yet it’s not far off from the one the Cronks live in.

Tangent: This is one reason I think it’s a shame that Oak Grove’s downtown area is dead. There are two bars and two minimarts and a variety of smallish shops. But most of the businesses that open here cannot stay in business. The community cannot or will not support them. People are so car-bound that they don’t bother to walk up the hill to shop for groceries. There used to be a grocery store on the corner of River and Oak Grove, but it died a year or two before we moved in to Rosings Park.

Again, what is walkable?

As I say, I’ve given this question a lot of thought. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been on a personal campaign to use my car less. I’ve been walking to all sorts of places I used to consider unwalkable. I walk the 2-1/2 miles to downtown Milwaukie to visit the comic book store and my favorite taco place. I walk two miles to the mower repair shop (and then push my mower two miles home). And today I walked 2-1/2 miles to the credit union in Gladstone; 2-1/2 miles up McLoughlin to get pizza, to go to Goodwill, to go to Fred Meyer, to stop at the liquor store, and to go to the bank; and then I walked a mile home.

You know what? It’s a hell of a lot of fun. Yes, my feet hurt. Yes, I’m tired. But it feels awesome to not be in the car. It feels fantastic to be listening to the birds and seeing people and actually noticing new roads and new businesses.

But I don’t think what I’m doing is normal. What I’m doing is unusual. Yes, technically it’s possible to walk my neighborhood, but it’s not something many people do. I wouldn’t call it walkable — not like the Hawthorne area or Northwest.

To me, a “walkable neighborhood” doesn’t mean a neighborhood where people could walk to-and-from stores; it means a neighborhood where people do walk to-and-from stores. That’s a subtle but important difference.

According to Walk Score:

  • Andrew and Courtney’s neighborhood is “somewhat walkable” (Walk Score of 68).
  • Kris and I also live in a “somewhat walkable” neighborhood (Walk Score of 65). Our house in Canby had a Walk Score of 83; it was “very walkable”.
  • Tiffany lives in a “somewhat walkable” neighborhood (Walk Score of 52).
  • Dave and Karen’s current house is a little more walkable than Tiffany’s (Walk Score of 54). Their new house will have a Walk Score of 85, which is “very walkable”.
  • Paul and Amy Jo are “car-dependant”. Their house has a Walk Score of 43 — and that’s with the map giving them credit for stuff in Lake Oswego! (The map is dumb and doesn’t account for the river that’s in the way. Or maybe it thinks they can take the railroad bridge.)
  • Chris and Jolie live in a “walker’s paradise” up on Hawthorne. Their apartment has a Walk Score of 97.

Dave and Karen want a neighborhood where people do walk to stores. And they’ve found one.

A Very Small Summer Adventure

I had breakfast with Paul and Amy Jo yesterday morning at Broder on Clinton (which is apparently a sister restaurant to Savoy). Over baked eggs and Swedish pancakes, we chatted about life. I mentioned that Thursdays were my days for walking the 2-1/2 miles into Milwaukie and back. “I go to the comic-book store and have cheap tacos at Cha Cha Cha,” I explained.

“Have you checked out the railroad bridge into Lake Oswego?” asked Paul. Oak Grove is directly across the Willamette River from Lake Oswego, but there’s no easy way to get from one community to the other. It takes about 25 minutes to make the drive. It would be a two-minute drive if there were a bridge.

“No,” I said. “I’ve always wanted to. But it’s illegal to cross, isn’t it?”

“I don’t think so,” he said. “There’s a pedestrian path on the side. And one of our neighbors used to work in Lake Oswego. She walked used the bridge to walk to work every day for years.”

Paul and I decided to check it out. Instead of walking into Milwaukie on the Trolley Trail, I would join him for an adventure into Lake Oswego. When I posted about our plans on Facebook, Tiffany warned: “FYI, It is a federal trespassing charge if you are caught.” We were undaunted.

I was a little more daunted, though, by the actual posted prohibition:

No Tresspassing

I think it’s funny that the Portland and Western Railroad have mis-spelled trespassing as “tresspassing”. Anyhow, because there were wide shoulders along the tracks, we played scofflaw and proceeded to the bridge. Where the rails were elevated above the ground, there was a metal grating along one side — the “pedestrian path” that Paul’s neighbor must have used to get to Lake Oswego.

We walked up to the bridge itself and snapped a few photos:

Railroad Bridge

But then we chickened out. (Well, I chickened out. Paul may have been willing to continue.) We turned around and walked back the way we’d come.

Rather than pull out where we’d started, though, we followed the tracks toward Milwaukie. It’s actually a lovely stretch of land, that mile beneath the bluff and along the shore. (Sorry, no photos.) Paul pulled out at Elk Rock Island, and I continued along the rails, across the bridge that goes over 99e and the lake, and into downtown. I didn’t see a train the entire time.

It was a fun walk, and I intend to do it again in the future. (The “to Milwaukie” part, not the “bridge to Lake Oswego” part. I may do the latter at some point, but not regularly.) On the way home, though, I played it safe and took the Trolley Trail.