Is Lake Oswego becoming a Portland microcosm?
Lake Oswego is the place to be.
Don't take it from us — just look at the influx of businesses that have set up shop or pledged to come to Lake Oswego for evidence of how this small, suburban city has attracted big city names.
In the past year alone, two powerhouse Portland brands have opened in Lake Oswego, creating a miniature version of our northern neighbor in the heart of downtown with Salt & Straw and Bamboo Sushi.
In March, it was announced that the second wine lounge from arguably Oregon's most visible vineyard, Domaine Serene, was also coming to downtown Lake Oswego this fall after having opened its first satellite location at the Sentinel Hotel in Portland last year.
And then in April came news that yet another Portland restaurateur had sights set on Lake Oswego when Kurt Huffman of ChefStable announced he would be bringing six of his restaurants to the 15,000 square foot retail space that will be attached to the bottom floor of the Mercantile Village project at Kruse Way and Boones Ferry Road, including Lardo, Grassa, Oven & Shaker, Saint Jack, Loyal Legion and one other yet to be determined.
When the Portland Business Journal broke the news, their story described Huffman's move as bringing a "microcosm" of Portland to Lake Oswego, and when you consider what has taken place with all these businesses coming here, it's hard to argue with that logic.
When Salt & Straw co-founder and CEO Kim Malek started looking at locations for their first suburban location within Oregon, she was quickly drawn to Lake Oswego.
"Our vision was to create a community gathering place where people could run into their neighbors and spend time with friends and family," Malek told The Review. "That's a core value as we grow our company. We look for communities that can help us express those values, and Lake Oswego has been a dream of mine from that perspective."
look and feel'
For Malek and Salt & Straw, it all began with weekend trips to the LO Farmers' Market shortly after they opened in 2011. They began familiarizing themselves with the community, selling their ice cream out of a little cart at the market before making a deal with the late Gene Wizer to sell in the parking lot of Wizer Foods each summer.
"We did that for several summers until the construction of The Windward started, and when that happened we were hoping to secure a location in the new building because we were excited," Malek said.
They worked with developer Pat Kessi and his team, and eventually made a deal happen that allowed them to be one of the very first businesses to open when The Windward was completed last year. All summer — and throughout most of the year — there was a line out the door.
But Salt & Straw remained a unique case because instead of bussing in employees from other locations, Malek made a concerted effort to hire locally. Its downtown Lake Oswego location employs about 30 people, Malek said, and the majority of them are LO residents.
"Lake Oswego was an interesting market because that was a new employment population for us to get to know," she said.
They also partnered with the Lake Oswego Schools Foundation to donate some of the proceeds from their grand opening last year to local schools. In 2018 and again this year, they worked with Forest Hills Elementary to host a competition among fourth graders to create a new flavor to be sold at their local shop, with the proceeds benefiting the school.
According to Malek, Salt & Straw enjoys these type of partnerships because a strong business can only operate within a strong community, and Lake Oswego has proven itself to be amongst the strongest in the Portland metro area.
"We don't think Salt & Straw will ever be a company that has a location on every corner, so as we look to the suburbs, it's hard to find the right location that's not just a strip mall," she said. "Lake Oswego is doing such a good job of creating that neighborhood look and feel so that it can operate more as a local neighborhood shop where you can stroll and run into your friends. The City has been really smart about how they've development their business segment to serve the community."
A vision come to life
Malek's summation of how the City of Lake Oswego has planned its growth, as well as the influx of businesses moving here, is validation for those involved in the process that their planning was successful.
According to the City's Redevelopment Manager Sid Sin, the community is seeing the fruition of planning that was done long ago, but flexibility has also been key in attracting developers and new businesses.
"Times change and you need to be flexible, and I think that's one of the things that's helped the city be attractive," he said. "We try to be flexible, but also keep in mind what the vision is."
That vision is keep Lake Oswego's residential character and village charm, while still being able to bring in big city names like those we've seen either come here or pledge to come here in the past year, and not only to downtown Lake Oswego.
"Looking at the city as a whole, there's been a lot of effort placed on the east end or downtown area, but it's always nice to have balance," Sin said. "We have a great downtown core, but Lake Grove (Boones Ferry Road) is the next great street/corridor, so that to me is a part of the equation on the west end of town because you've got almost 2 million square feet of class-A office space, you have Mountain Park with a great concentration of residential (units), and it's a major corridor that's been basically just a thoroughfare up until now."
With the redevelopment of Boones Ferry Road to become more walkable, and with better access for bikes and pedestrians, public art and improved streetscape, the Lake Grove district is poised to shine just as bright as downtown.
That's part of the reason that Huffman jumped at the opportunity to bring his restaurants to the new Mercantile Village development.
The Mercantile Village project — which is projected to be complete in the summer of 2021 — boasts a "festival street" with shops, restaurants and perhaps a small gourmet market, as well as a community gathering space with covered seating, a fountain, a fire pit and art installations.
The center of the property and the bottom level of the apartment complex will feature retail parking; residents will park in a hidden three-story garage inside the upper floors of the apartment building.
Providence Health Systems began marketing the campus for sale two years ago, and CenterCal responded with an initial plan to build a retail center anchored by a large grocery store on the site. But that idea got a lukewarm reception from neighbors and City planners, who had envisioned high-density housing there.
In response, CenterCal — whose background is in retail centers such as Bridgeport Village — partnered with High Street Residential to bring in additional housing expertise. The result: a "mixed-use village" that would include 206 luxury studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments; retail space intended for restaurants, small shops, a pharmacy and other businesses; 564 parking spaces, including 498 in a four-level garage; and a landscaped public plaza.
Huffman jumped at the opportunity.
"We've been looking at suburban locations for a long time; it's been a challenge to get a lot of my partners to get their head around the idea of going out there, but I finally got it to resonate with them," Huffman told The Review in April. "Lake Oswego has a really interesting demographic, lots of professionals moving out there with interest and curiosity in local food. Those (businesses) who have gone out there have done really well."
Having grown up in Southwest Portland, Huffman spent a lot of time in and around Lake Oswego during his younger years, and he still has many friends who live here.
"When I grew up it was easy for us to go from downtown Lake Oswego to downtown Portland in 10-12 minutes. Today, Macadam (Avenue) is a nightmare," he said. "It's one of those communities just far enough to make the trip a hassle."
According to Huffman, his vision was to bring some of his most successful and well-liked ChefStable brands to the Mercantile Village in an effort to save those Lake Oswego foodies from having to leave their own community at all.
'Now we're a destination'
It's a bold strategy, but even local restaurant owners are seeing that there's been a shift in the dining habits of Lake Oswegans and surrounding neighbors over the past few decades, especially with the amount of growth that the area's seen.
"20-30 years ago it used to be that people lived here, but to eat they'd go (to downtown Portland)," said Riccardo Spaccarelli, owner of Cafe Marzocca and Riccardo's Ristorante. "Everyone went elsewhere for entertainment and dining. There was a migration toward the city. Now it's reversed; we're a destination. The people who live here now love to hang out here. People want to be here because it's home, the neighborhood feels like home."
Over the past 30 years, Lake Oswego and its neighbor to the south, West Linn, have both grown in population by nearly 10,000 people, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
That's almost 20,000 more people looking for great places to eat, drink and shop than there was 30 years ago, and if Spaccarelli's observation is true — and the City's planning was successful — they'll now be looking to stay closer to home than they previously were.
For Mike Buck, Gubanc's owner and former Lake Grove Business Association president, seeing this influx of new businesses helps to reaffirm the ground work he and other local business owners like Spaccarelli have laid down for Lake Oswego to become what it is today. But he's hoping to see these new businesses make an investment in the community that gives back to the local people, those who patronize the businesses and keep Lake Oswego moving forward.
"When businesses want to come here, we hope they're coming here to put down roots for the benefit of the community, not just in terms of doing business. Everything that goes on here is so volunteer based, subsidized by those involved in boards and commissions. That's what we want," he said. "It's great people want to invest and are committed, but we need to see a depth where the roots go into the community."
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