Sustainable Life • Like-minded retailers sell range of niche goods
Eight years ago, Brian Wilson sat down to a breakfast of ham and eggs and experienced an unexpected epiphany.
'I realized I didn't deserve it because I didn't kill it,' he says.
The Nevada native stopped eating meat that day and, a month later, became a vegan. Wilson, now 32, runs his business, Scapegoat Tattoo, as a vegan business. That means he makes sure that there are no animal-based glycerins in the inks he uses, or in the soaps.
'A lot of people, when they think of veganism, they don't think anything past diet,' he says.
Wilson just moved his business to the northeast corner of Southeast 12th Avenue and Stark Street. An unmarked building sits there, about the same color as the December-gray sky.
But that seemingly sleepy site, across from the soon-to-be-redeveloped Washington-Monroe High School site, is becoming the new home for a handful of Portland businesses offering everything from hot dogs and cupcakes to wallets and sweatshirts to Chinese medicine, all free of animal products.
It is, in essence, a vegan mini-mall, occupied by a group of like-minded business owners.
'We all share a lot of the same customers, and we're all friends,' says Chad Miller, who owns Food Fight Vegan Grocery with his wife, Emiko Badillo.
Food Fight closed its location at Southeast 41st Avenue and Division Street (Wilson was tattooing next door there, too) for more floor space and the opportunity to locate in a cluster of vegan businesses.
The concept is basic: vegan one-stop shopping. Complementary businesses are likely to do well when they are grouped together, especially in a niche where political beliefs are so tied to purchasing power.
'It's a good business decision, but we kind of just wanted to see each other most days,' says Josh Hooten, who owns Herbivore with wife Michelle Schwegmann.
Herbivore publishes a magazine by the same name and sells vegan clothes and accessories (no leather, no wool, no silk). It moved to its Stark Street storefront from Northeast 30th Avenue and Killingsworth Street.
Hooten and Schwegmann met Miller about five years ago in the vegan community. Recently they all had been kicking around the idea of centralizing their businesses together.
Lisa Higgins, owner of Sweetpea Baking Co., also was in on the discussions.
Higgins started her bakery, which will anchor the corner spot when it opens in early January, three years ago.
When the Stark Street space became available, it was the right time and right place for everyone.
Nonvegans are welcome, too
Since Food Fight opened at its original spot five years ago, it has become a hub for the city's nonmeat eaters, with a reputation for carrying the finest vegan junk food.
Amid the small selection of fresh produce and a dozen or so bulk bins full of granola and grains, shelves are stacked with butterless cookies and tofu jerky in flavors like 'Cajun chick'n.'
Next to the cash register, meatless hot dogs and dairy-free nachos are self-serve.
'I think Chad's goal in life was to be a 7-Eleven manager,' Hooten says.
Hooten and Schwegmann are both vegan, as is their 3-year-old daughter, and, Hooten says, their dog.
Attitudes vary among the tenants.
'I'm not going to be the hard-lined one that's going to be, like, everyone needs to be a vegan,' she says. 'You pick and choose your battles.'
Her openness may be a comfort to neighborhood meat-eaters like Julie Jenkerson, who owns Salon Thirteen, a block up Stark Street from the vegan convergence.
Jenkerson believes the venture is great for the neighborhood and will be successful, although she has no plans to go vegan herself.
Soon-to-be-licensed acupuncturist Aisha Madrone is the only nonvegan business owner of the bunch (so far - there is one more space for rent in the building).
Moving Seven Star Acupuncture into the space behind Sweetpea, Madrone says she will be running her practice and apothecary with vegan values, substituting herbs for the more traditional rhinoceros horn or chicken gizzard remedies that are sometimes prescribed.
Art elevates vegetables
Ryan Mason, who works at Scapegoat on contract, says he probably has more customers who aren't vegans than who are.
One afternoon at Food Fight, Mason is pumping fake cheese onto his nachos at the self-serve station. On the wall behind him hangs a newly installed mural featuring a downtrodden Ronald McDonald and a handcuffed Hamburglar amid anthropomorphized -and angry - fruits and vegetables.
The 24-year-old vegan tattoo artist has just put the final ink into Jeffrey Wilson's arm next door.
Wilson (no relation to the Scapegoat owner), a self-proclaimed 'food junkie,'doesn't ascribe to any diet limitations. He says he eats just about everything - animal, vegetable or mineral. His passion is symbolized by his new produce-themed tattoo, a skin mural nine months in the making, of vegetables such as freshly dug beets and ears of corn, which swirl around his arm.
The next morning, one of Food Fight's most loyal customers, Karen Boelling, is in from Tigard on her weekly shopping trip. She says she'll check out Herbivore and will definitely support Sweetpea, but has no plans to get a tattoo.
Boelling, a vegetarian for about 30 years and vegan for four, spends more than $300 this trip, getting the usual load plus a few stocking stuffers for her kids.
And while her Christmas shopping may be under way, the dinner menu is still being discussed.
'We know what it won't be,' she says.