For decades, Portland’s North Mississippi Avenue served a thriving community, largely African American. Then Interstate 5 plowed through and the area ran down. But in the 1990s, deep-rooted residents joined city planners to lure new merchants, and young singles and couples trickled in. Now the street is up again, with uncommon shops and eateries spread along five blocks.
"You feel you’re in this special little found place," says Michele Reeves, a local Realtor. "It’s central and hidden at the same time." No store embodies the local ethos better than the ReBuilding Center, a sprawling salvage emporium crammed with old sinks and doors. In front, near a facade of earth and native plants, stands a waist-high railing forged from twisted wrenches and rusty saws. And inside, somewhere, is the brass doorknob you’re seeking.
ALL WOUND UP Pounded out in just
three weeks, Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road (1957) tracks the
wild exploits of "Beats" Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty. In his spirit
of improvisation, Kerouac typed on a 120-foot-long scroll, on view at
the San Francisco Public Library January 14 to March 19. information:
(415) 557-4400, www.sfpl.org.
But suppose you really need some 1950s-style Christmas lights. Check out Sunlan Lighting, where Kay Newell, known as the Light Bulb Lady, stocks 15,000 kinds of bulbs. Or pop into Pistils Plant Nursery and watch the bantam chickens Rosa, Ruby, and Shiso scratch amid the native maples and bleeding hearts. Poke your nose into Salty’s Dog Shop to find whole-wheat pet treats and catnip-packed cat toys shaped like dogs. Then head over to Blue Gardenia, where fresh cinnamon rolls complement "microregional" coffees brewed from house-roasted beans. Or hang out until dinner so you can savor a grilled pork chop with guava-chipotle glaze at Lovely Hula Hands, a torrid pink but splendid restaurant named for a sentimental 1940s song.
Nearby are Amnesia Brewing (memorable beers and ales), Gravy (serious meat and potatoes), Laughing Planet Café (healthy fast food), Lorenzo’s (classy pastas), and Por Qué No? (irresistible tacos and flautas). "There are other streets with more foot traffic," says Michael Ring, who sells graphic novels at Bridge City Comics. "But here there’s a sense we’re all in it together."
WHERE IT IS In northeast Portland’s Boise section at North Fremont Street.
WHO WILL LIKE IT Shoppers and food lovers with offbeat tastes.
WHEN TO GO Morning through evening any day. Clubgoers may occasionally rule the street late at night.
Illustration by Michael Klein
This article was first published in January 2006. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.