Tuesday, October 18, 2016

2016 Coffeeneuring Challenge 5: pushing back against gentrification

For those of you who read about Stop # 4, you might think that, with a visit to my local 7-11 store, Coffeeneuring has gotten sadder still.
But that's not the case.

This particular 7-11, located at the corner of NE Killingsworth and 15th, is a bastion of grit and truth in the heart of a growing blob of gentrification.

Some history:

The building was erected in 1938. If you look at the photos below, some vestiges of the original Art Deco facade remain at either end of the building. I was unable to research very quickly what the building was originally for, but based on recent pre-remodel memory I suspect it may have been an office or retail storefront of some kind.
In 2008, it was used temporarily as a precinct office for Barack Obama's presidential campaign. Sweetie and I volunteered to do some phone banking there, the last known incidence of my volunteering for anything blatantly political. (Don't ask. Please.)
After the election, the building sat empty for several years, until it was sold in a foreclosure auction to a property owner, who then signed a 10-year lease agreement with 7-11. The Vernon Neighborhood Association tried to stop the 7-11 store from going in, citing potential displacement of three minority-owned convenience stores within a block of this intersection. They lost, the 7-11 went in and opened three years ago; and one by one, each of those three minority-owned independents closed down.

Yes, it's sad. But to be fair, two of those independents were running on fumes and saw very little foot traffic before the 7-11 opened. Plus, the writing was on the wall for the mostly-empty building across the street, which was bought, remodeled, and filled with all manner of little boutique eateries, a bar and a tea room.


Along with a Pizza bakery, a Thai restaurant and the aforementioned Tea room, a realtor opened an office there as well.

Named "Little Beirut" -- for the protest "community" that sprung up in the wake of Vice President Dan "Bird Dog" Quayle's visit and kept on protesting until they grew up, got steadier jobs and had kids -- this realtor joins a number of others with equally precious names: Living Room Realty, Think, Inhabit, and (my favorite) Dwell.

So the fact that a lowly 7-11 store has managed to carve out a niche for itself in the midst of so much affluenza actually strikes a note of hope in my heart.

Sure, neighbors complained about the "bad element" a 7-11 would bring in -- but that element was already camping out in front of the three independent stores, long before this building was a gleam in the eye of the 7-11 Corporation. So I find their arguments slightly late to the party.
Seeing a down-at-heel-looking fellow on a rusty and overloaded Specialized touring bike from the Mesozoic era parked in front of the 7-11, I locked up across the street and went over to fulfill my mission.

No way was I up for a cup of coffee at almost 5:30 in the evening, especially from a convenience store. So I went for the hot chocolate -- which wasn't bad, actually.

Really. It wasn't bad. I'm enjoying the last of it at home as I type.

I took a peek around at the corporateness and saw that 7-11 was getting into health food:
I should ask my GI doc about this stuff.

Seriously, the place was hopping while I filled my cup, with folks buying everything from cigarettes to condoms to bread and beer and a cheese burrito from the "grill". And if not for the existence of this store in a sea of gentrification, these folks would have nowhere in the neighborhood left to go where they could afford to even walk into the building.

So much about the gentrification in North and Northeast Portland is about class and race. People moved here thirty years ago because it was the last affordable part of town. They moved here sixty years ago because realtors wouldn't show black families any houses outside this zip code -- yes, Vernon, Sabin and Woodlawn were "redline" neighborhoods. When I was a teenager, white girls did not go to this part of town alone, even during the day. It wasn't considered safe.
Today, the grandchildren of those earlier residents are being pushed out by rising rents, and by rental houses being flipped and sold to the highest bidder. So if I can give a little money to a store that helps keep longtime residents here at least a little longer, I'm fine with that. It's cool. And I'm happy to buy cheap hot chocolate at my local convenience store.

Evidence photo.

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