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Q and A with former tech entrepreneur David Schargel

Every Friday, the Portland Tribune puts questions to a prominent - or not so prominent - local person.
by: JIM CLARK, A former tech entrepreneur and hotel concierge, ex-New Yorker David Schargel knows a lot more than most natives about downtown Portland and its history.

A lot of people love Portland, but David Schargel really, really loves it. So much so that he lives, eats and talks about it all day long.

As founder of the popular Portland Walking Tours, the 40-year-old New York City native answers hundreds of questions each day about coffee consumption, breweries, organic food and free transit. Everything there is to know about Portland, Schargel knows - or will find out for you.

A former concierge at the Hilton Hotel, Schargel came here a decade ago and now employs 11 tour guides, or 'resident experts,' as their business cards say. He also leads about 75 tours himself each year. Summer is his peak season, but he keeps busy year-round as the go-to guy for the Portland Oregon Visitors Association and other agencies that want the real scoop on the city.

Tribune: How did you come to live in Portland?

David Schargel: I started a technology company (in the mid-1980s) in New York City. StuffIt is a compression program on Macs; it did quite well. I built the company up. And then I, uh, needed to get a life. I was always fascinated with Portland. After traveling around, only two cities were really appealing for me - Melbourne (Australia) and Portland. There was a much more active community here.

Tribune: It's 100 degrees this week. How many people are out walking around for recreation?

Schargel: It shocks me always. Yesterday, there were eight at the 10 a.m. Best of Portland, and it was 101 degrees. At the Epicurean tour on Saturday, there were 18. You literally eat and drink 30 to 35 things in the tour. It was the first time ever I staged water along the route. At the Pearl Bakery, we go to the back and start munching on everything we see in sight. I stopped by earlier by car and dropped off cases of Oregon Rain water.

Tribune: What kind of walking shoes do you wear, and how often do you need to get new ones?

Schargel: We live in a Nike town, don't we? And Adidas, too. I wear neither. I wear New Balance. It's very simple. New Balance is the only sneaker that comes in large width. My shoe size is 11, regular width. My podiatrist said I should wear a 12 4-E - four times the width - because during the day your feet expand. It's the worst thing on a walking tour when your feet expand. (I get them at) Pioneer Place shopping mall, every six months. I do not wear out my shoes, but I love the people at New Balance at Pioneer Place.

Tribune: Just how far do you walk?

Schargel: We only go a mile and a half of physical distance during the tour. A lot of stopping, pointing, standing on different corners. And restroom breaks. You can only go as fast as the slowest person anyway. You get a lot of seniors.

Tribune: So what's your biggest nerdy pastime - Sudoku, The New York Times crossword puzzles, watching reruns of 'Jeopardy'?

Schargel: None of those. I am an avid reader of Wikipedia. One feature says bring up a random page. Just to feed the brain kind of thing. I'm a big blog reader. … Technology blogs, Jack Bog, One True b!X, Metroblogging Portland, News4Neighbors, Stumptown Confidential, Portland Ground.

Tribune: What happens when you don't know the answer to a question?

Schargel: We have a policy that no tour guides can say, 'I don't know.' They have to say, 'I don't know it off the top of my head but if you give me your e-mail address, I'll get back to you.' Often people don't take them up on it but if they do, you do the research and you have to get back to them.

- Jennifer Anderson