Moving from a home-based location to a brick-and-mortar storefront is a momentous occasion for any small business owner.
Earlier this year, 10 of these entrepreneurs celebrated the milestone when they became the first tenants in Gresham’s Rockwood Market Hall in East Multnomah County.
The Market Hall is part of a development in the heart of the Gresham neighborhood of Rockwood. Started in the 1950s as a place for soldiers returning from the war to buy starter homes using G.I. Bill and V.A. loans, Rockwood eventually became a landing spot for low-income families forced out of North and Northeast Portland by rising housing prices. In recent years, roughly 38% of families in Rockwood have lived below the poverty level — higher than any single West Coast neighborhood between Seattle and Los Angeles.
The development fills a roughly five-acre site in the heart of Rockwood that the city purchased after a Fred Meyer store on the property closed — eliminating much-needed jobs and creating a food desert — in the early 2000s.
Originally called Rockwood Rising, the Rockwood development was designed to create employment and job training opportunities, help aspiring entrepreneurs kickstart businesses, and provide much-needed affordable housing and fresh-food options.
The development first took shape with the completion of one of two apartment buildings — the second is currently under construction — and a building that contains a restaurant, child care services and health provider offices. The building also provides office space for Mt. Hood Community College’s Small Business Development Center and Worksystems — two resources providing workforce development and employment opportunities to help Rockwood residents move into jobs providing living wages.
The Market Hall is the most recently completed phase of the development. Storefront suites for retail and food micro-businesses owned by BIPOC, women and low-income entrepreneurs ring the outside of the building. More food vendor suites are located inside the building, arranged around the perimeter of an area with tables and seats for customers.
BIPOC-owned grocers will fill larger spaces on the ground floor. The building also offers a community kitchen space and a commissary kitchen that the Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center (POIC) uses to prepare young adults for food-related careers.
Although the pandemic delayed the completion of the Market Hall, the first wave of food and retail vendors was in place by the beginning of the summer. But even with several months to settle in, some of the new tenants say they can’t believe they’ve finally been able to move their micro-businesses into an affordable storefront space.
“Sometimes I go stand outside and look at this place,” said Mary Denise Lincoln, who opened her restaurant, Hank’s Place Southern Cuisine, in one of the building’s suites. “I have to remind myself that this is really mine. It hasn’t sunk in yet.”
May Denise Lincoln is the owner of Hank’s Place Southern Cuisine, on of the new vendors in the Rockwood Market Hall. – PMG PHOTO: STEPHANIE BASALYGA
ROCKWOOD MARKET HALL
457 SE 185th Ave, Portland
11am – 7pm daily (individual vendors hours may differ) For more information, visit the Rockwood Market hall website online at rockwoodmarkethall.com
HITTING A SAMLL BUSINESS HOME RUN
Lincoln has two passions in life: cooking and softball. In her Market Hall eatery, she’s found a way to combine the two.
Growing up in Louisiana, “my two cousins and I would play softball. When we were done, we all went and cooked,” Lincoln said.
Her eatery, located in suite #101 on the outside perimeter of the Market Hall, offers some of the best of those dishes she and her cousins learned to cook, from fried catfish and collard greens to red beans and rice and banana pudding with vanilla wafers.
The eatery’s name is a tribute to baseball legend “Hammerin’” Hank Aaron and a reflection of Lincoln’s softball nickname. When Lincoln was playing in women’s and mixed softball leagues, her skill at the sport led one of her teammates to start calling her Hank. The nickname stuck.
Despite her talents in the kitchen and on the baseball diamond, Lincoln’s career path led her into the travel industry. When she finally decided to retire, she began to toy with the idea of finally indulging her cooking genes by opening her restaurant. She lived in Portland for a time before moving back to Louisiana for a bit before returning to Portland. She did some catering and then began cooking at Cason’s Food Market, where she had free rein to create daily dishes featuring top-quality meats and fish. She had opportunities to open her own restaurant along the way, but the timing never felt right — until she heard about the vendor suites opening up at the Market Hall.
Hank’s Place has already found a fast-growing fan base at the Market Hall. Although Lincoln has a set menu, she often features dishes requested by her customers. As she prepares a customer’s dinner order of red beans and rice, chicken wings and salad, she says she feels she is right where she’s meant to be.
“Working for Mr. Cason prepared me for having my own place,” Lincoln said. “I did it all there: prep, cooking, serving. I knew I was ready to have my own place where there were people who needed good food.”
PLANTING SMALL BUSINESS ROOTS
Nanthawat “Nat” Jiranuwatana didn’t discover he had a green thumb until a couple of years ago when the Home Owners Association for his condominium complained about the state of his yard.
Jiranuwatana decided he wouldn’t just fix up his yard; he would turn it into a plant paradise. He took a deep dive into learning all he could about plants.
“It started out as a petty thing, but I turned my yard into the best yard in the neighborhood,” he said.
In the process, he also found the seed that has since bloomed into a full-blown small business called The Other Side Nursery. In the early days, he focused on selling plants at farmer’s markets. Then, when 2020 hit, demand for house plants skyrocketed as people were spending more time at home and looking for ways to improve their surroundings. Jiranuwatana started selling his plants on Etsy and soon found himself spending almost all of his free time filling orders.
“2020 was crazy,” he said. “I was working my full-time job and then coming home, and in the evenings and on the weekends, I was spending all my time packing and shipping orders.”
Eventually, Jiranuwatana quit his day job and focused full-time on his plant business. Moving into a vendor suite at the Market Hall has allowed him to step away from the non-stop pace of e-commerce and selling online and enjoy selling from a storefront.
He admits the road to running a business out of a brick-and-mortar space hasn’t always been smooth. The Market Hall vendor tenants and the Market Hall owner are trying to find a compromise for signage to let people know that vendors are active in the Market Hall. In the meantime, Jiranuwatan has created signs for his business that he’ll post on parking strips and near sidewalks to attract customers.
He is also revamping the website for his plant business to add e-commerce back into the mix to create resiliency for his business. In addition, he has learned some lessons about the importance of creating a paper trail when it comes to lease agreements.
He sees those lessons as providing a solid foundation for the future of his business. He currently purchases about 90% of the plants that make his store inventory from local growers and grows the rest himself. However, he would one day like to find a place for his business that will allow him to produce almost everything he sells.
“Five years ago, I never thought I would own my own business. Now I do. I want to make plants accessible to everyone,” he said. “It’s cool to be able to do that.”
MEET THE MARKET HALL VENDORS
Alleamin Products – suite #105 – Fresh Somalian sauces and catering
Callies Custom Hat Wigs – suite #115 – Ready-made wigs, handmade hat wigs and headband wigs, accessories, beauty products for men and women
Cox Hanal PDX – suite #107 – Yucatan cuisine
DB Dessert Company – suite #116 – Custom-made cakes, cupcakes and other sweet treats
Flavors of India – suite #110 – Fresh Indian cuisine
Hanks Place – suite #101 – Southern cuisine
Kuya’s Island Cuisine – suite #104 – Filipino cuisine
La Michoacana Dulce -suite #120 – Ice cream parlor
Momma Gs Soup – suite #108 Artisan, international, gluten-free and vegan soups and baked goods
Neo Donuts – suite #113
Pinto Thai – suite #106 – Thai cuisine
Sea & River Sushi- Suite #112 – Sushi and sashimi
Taste of Casablanca – suite #109 – -Moroccan cuisine
The Lamb Boutique – suite #114 – -Apparel
The Other Side Nursery – suite #103 – Plants and plant care items
Tralice Lewis’ small business Callie’s Custom HatWigs, a retail vendor at Rockwood Market Hall, is one of the only Black-owned wig business in the Portland metro area.
PMG PHOTO: STEPHANIE BASALYGA
Nathawat “Nat” Jiranuwatana is the owner of The Other Side Nursery, one of the first vendors to open in the Rockwood Market Hall.
PMG PHOTO: STEPHANIE BASALYGA
A SHOP TO HONOR HER MOM
Tralice Lewis never set out to become a small business owner. She just wanted to pay tribute to her mother’s legacy.
Her mother, Callie, spent 35 years balancing her role as a single mom raising four kids with a career as a hospice nurse. Lewis remembers her mother providing her clients who had lost their hair due to chemotherapy with custom-made wigs attached to hats and headbands to help them feel beautiful as they struggled with their terminal conditions.
When Lewis decided to follow in her mom’s footsteps, becoming a certified nursing assistant working in hospice, she also continued the tradition of providing hat-wigs for those in her care. As Lewis gained expertise in making hats- and headband-wigs for her clients, she began to attract interest from others in her community. Before too long, she found herself with a side business.
When Lewis lost her full-time hospice job due to the pandemic, her sister, Michelle, suggested she go to Micro Enterprise Services of Oregon, a nonprofit that provides small business technical assistance and access to affordable capital, for help turning her hat-wig skills into a full-time micro-business. Michelle and her husband, Charles Hannah, had worked with MESO to start and grow a successful Black-owned independent bookstore in Portland.
With MESO’s help, Lewis completed a basic business education series, creating business and marketing plans and learning bookkeeping basics that soon led her to open her Black-owned home-based micro-enterprise business named in honor of her mother, Callie’s Custom Hat Wigs. The business holds the distinction of being the only Black-owned wig shop in Portland.
Lewis continued to add to her business skills, learning to use social media and digital marketing to promote her e-commerce business. When in-person events were again allowed, she began participating in pop-up shops, expanding her customer base. She also added accessories, from earrings to scarves to fashion handbags and lip gloss, to her inventory.
When Lewis heard about the vendor spots opening up at the Market Hall, she wasn’t sure she was ready. But she eventually decided to take the leap and pursue her dream of opening a storefront location for Callie’s. Like all applicants, Lewis went through a rigorous interview process before being chosen by a selection committee for one of the coveted suites.
She moved into the space in late April. The summer weather has brought some unexpected challenges. She ensured her lease included the opportunity to install an air-conditioning unit since the space for her store is on the south side of the building and gets full sunlight during the summer months. However, she’s faced challenges because the unit doesn’t work with the building’s ductwork.
She’s also had to continue participating in pop-up events to get the word out that Callie’s now has a presence in the Market Hall in Rockwood, where customers can pick up orders instead of making the former drive to Lewis’ home in Portland.
Despite those challenges, Lewis says she’s happy she decided to move to a brick-and-mortar location. As part of opening her shop, she’s started a monthly drawing where she gives away one or two wigs. She also sees the shop eventually allowing her to grow her business to the point that she can step up the giving back to her community that has been a cornerstone of Callie’s since she started the micro-business.
“The storefront is a blessing that I’m ready for …,” Lewis said. “I’m going to take this opportunity and run with it, and use it to give back to my community.”