This holiday season, Portland city and neighborhood leaders want shoppers to venture out beyond downtown and the central city.
In fact, they hope people will cross the Great Divide, also known as 82nd Avenue.
"We're a small business town," says Commissioner Nick Fish, who secured $100,000 to launch an East Portland pilot project this fall.
"The statistics blow me away: 98 percent of neighborhood businesses (in Portland) employ five or fewer people ... We have lots of great neighborhood small businesses, but it's no secret we haven't invested the way we have in other parts of the city."
Portland's neighborhoods include about 19,000 businesses and nearly 250,000 jobs.
Venture Portland, the nonprofit umbrella organization for Portland's neighborhood business districts, helped kick off the year-long pilot project last month with the six districts that touch 82nd Avenue or I-205.
They include: 82nd Avenue, Foster Area, Gateway Area, Midway, Montavilla/East Tabor and Parkrose.
Each has its own revival underway, whether it's the glow from the new Mercado and eco-district on Foster Road, or popularity of anchor businesses like Rossi Farms in Parkrose and The Country Cat in Montavilla.
"If we're successful with this pilot, I'll have an even stronger case to make for additional investments in East Portland," says Fish, the City Council's liaison to Venture Portland. "Ultimately we want East Portland business districts to have the same cachet and identity as some of the successful business districts closer in."
The $100,000 from the Portland Development Commission goes to pay for three outreach staff to work with the six districts.
Their goal is to launch "catalytic" programs that will
increase membership in their district, boost revenue, develop leaders in their districts and establish a strong business district identity.
"Branding is extremely important," Fish says. "We want to have same the same vibe about heading to Montavilla or Parkrose" as there is about Mississippi or Hawthorne.
The aim is to develop leadership within each district, Fish says. "We're not presuming we know what they need. We're customizing the approach."
In Montavilla/East Tabor, for example, business leaders are working on letting people know what resources they have in their own neighborhood, whether it's a hardware store or an undiscovered lunch spot.
"In the 15 years I've been in Portland, most of the love from the city goes to the downtown or inner Portland area," Steve Rice, president of the Montavilla/East Tabor Business Association. "It's nice to see some of that love being focused on East Portland now."
Montavilla/East Tabor just held a successful family-friendly Trick-or-Treat on Glisan Street event during Halloween, aimed at getting people to walk around.
Rice wants to bridge the gap between downtown Montavilla and the other side of 82nd, and sees enormous potential in organizing many of the small businesses on East Glisan Street, many of which are minority owned.
He's also looking forward to the Montavilla Food Co-op launching soon so residents will have someplace to walk and pick up groceries.
"As the city grows and becomes more dense, we're becoming inner Portland," Rice says. "Having that extra availability of funding so we can really grow our neighborhood into a community gathering spot is amazing."
Despite the efforts, the Great Divide is still visible.
Efforts like Little Boxes — Portland's annual Black Friday and Small Business Saturday shopping promotion — have 220 participating businesses this year, but just three are east of 82nd Avenue or I-205.
Those are Portland Nursery, Fabric Depot, and a creative glass etching studio and warehouse called Bread & Badger.
By participating in Little Boxes, "we're hoping to spread the word about our location, and hope to bring in some locals who are curious about seeing our process space," says Amanda Siska, artist and co-owner of Bread & Badger, at 12003 N.E. Ainsworth Circle. "If even five to 10 new people discover us, that would be really exciting."
But why so little representation in East Portland?
Will Cervarich, co-founder of the fifth annual event, says it's not for lack of trying.
"We reached out to over 900 folks associated with local businesses during the sign-up phase of Little Boxes, including shops and organizations east of 82nd Avenue," he says.
"We have room, logistical capacity, and enthusiasm for Little Boxes in all neighborhoods of Portland."
For whatever reason, businesses choose to sign up or not, but Cervarich hopes to work at bridging the gap.
He notes that Little Boxes is a private company, not affiliated with the city of Portland, but does receive sponsorship dollars from Venture Portland and works with it to get the word out to its members in Portland's business districts.
In all, the initiative is expected to draw more than 20,000 shoppers to Little Boxes stores Nov. 27-28, exceeding last year's total of $323,500 in revenue for those businesses.
'Tis the season for grants
Venture Portland recently awarded $36,000 in grant funds for 12 neighborhood business districts.
Many of the projects focus on the districts' retail efforts to localize the season and support small businesses.
According to Venture Portland, shopping local returns $68 to the local economy for every $100 spent.
The latest grant funds include:
• Jade District — 3rd Annual International Night Market (August 2016)
• Central Eastside Industrial — New website
Division/Clinton — Shop local promotion (Nov. 27-Dec. 24)
• Foster Area — New website
Hawthorne Blvd — Food and drink guide
Mississippi Ave — Holiday shopping passport and food drive (Nov. 28-Jan. 15)
• Montavilla — New website
• Nob Hill — Shop local promotion (Nov. 16-Dec. 24)
• Pearl District — Business awards luncheon (Nov. 2)
• St. Johns — New website
• Beaumont — "Dash to Donuts" 3k fun run and obstacle course (March 20)
• Nob Hill — Series of track and field themed challenges (March 19)