Cedar Hills couple turns organic farming passion into downtown business

by: JONATHAN HOUSE - Julie and Dave Hobson show off their clucky feathered friends at their New Suburbia store on Southwest Broadway Street. The store sells chicks, along with organic feed, soil supplements and gardening supplies.It may not be what city leaders or urban renewal proponents envision for a state-of-the-art central business district, but it’s hard to dispute that a new centrally located store focused on do-it-yourself organic farming and chickens provides a fresh downtown twist to Beaverton’s agricultural legacy.

That’s right, chickens.

Located in the L-shaped Holland Plaza at 12170 S.W. Broadway St., New Suburbia offers a range of goods used in home-based organic gardening, home canning and fowl raising: feeds, fertilizers, soil amendments, hand tools and accessories. That’s along with a plethora of whimsical ephemera reflecting the distinctly non-modern sensibilities of owners Julie and Dave Hobson.

Julie, 49, a stay-at-home mom and home-schooler of three children, and husband Dave, 44, a former auto collision technician, decided last spring to channel their passion for nature-fueled, toxin-free gardening and the simpler things into a business model to support the ever-growing Westside gardening community.

The Cedar Hills residents looked at various locations in the area before they “lucked out,” as Julie says, into the spot — a former feed store, it so happens — in the heart of downtown Beaverton. They chose Friday, Oct. 5, the last downtown First Friday event of the season, to open the doors to the their 2,000-square-foot showroom.

“Things went really well on Friday, and they’re going even better today,” she says. “Different things are selling. People will get something here, something there.”

Going back

The couple’s impetus comes from a shared independent spirit and a flair for all things old school.

“It was twofold,” Julie says. “We didn’t want to work for someone else — we’ve always been self reliant — and our like of old things and urban farming. We combined those things.”

With what she calls a “dream landlord” in Ralph Holland and complementary neighboring businesses, including a thrift store and lawnmower repair shop, the couple couldn’t be more pleased with where they landed.

“The place is perfect,” she says. They began sprucing up the spartan, 2,000-square-foot block-wall-and-tile-floor space in early August. Keeping with the theme fitting for what Dave calls a “DIY farm and homestead store,” he and Julie outfitted the space with accessories gleaned from area thrift stores such as the Habitat for Humanity ReStore on Millikan Way.

Among the hidden treasures they uncovered is an Olympia-brand metal cabinet set made from recycled aluminum that supports a spacious checkout counter consisting of old flooring material.

That counter supports a 1950s-vintage Royal manual typewriter and a similarly mechanical Anker-brand cash register the couple found for sale on craigslist and now uses for daily transactions.

“Our first date was at a thrift store,” explains Dave, who actually collects old typewriters. “We’ve been thrifting all our lives.”

Although closer to Gen X than the Greatest Generation, old-fashioned products and values strongly inform the self-described formerly punk-rock couple.

“I always kind of rejected all that,” Dave says of the electronic-oriented consumer market. “I collect typewriters. We have a TV, but it’s (there) only under duress. I know we can’t go back to 1820, but it would be nice to have a happy balance.”by: JONATHAN HOUSE - A clutch of chicks mingle in their pen at New Suburbia, a brand-new downtown Beaverton store focused on organic, back-yard farming needs. Store owners Julie and Dave Hobson are selling their baby chickens for $5.50 per chick.

Pecking order

What they lack in modern gadgetry, the Hobsons make up for in, well, chickens. The current stock of 18 chirping chicks is going for $5.50 each.

“We have chick education,” Julie says. “We give out little flyers and ask customers to call if they have questions. We make sure they know the (chicken-related) laws where they’re living and double check that they’re getting the right thing.”

“We try to give them as much support as we can,” Dave adds. “We give them a good picture of how much work is involved, what taking care of them would entail, resources of what’s good for them and things like that.”

The store plans to graduate from chicks to turkeys by next spring and will sell full-grown hens by the summer.

“We want to expand into rabbits, guinea pigs, 4-H animals,” Julie says.

New Suburbia also champions locally made products, such as Farm Maid Soaps from Corbett in eastern Multnomah County. What they can’t find manufactured in the area or around Oregon, they make sure it’s made in the good, old U.S. of A.

“We like to keep jobs in the region and keep money in the region,” Dave says. “We didn’t see a reason to make things more complicated than they need to be.”

Simple life

Cedar Mill resident Dina McBride, who has lived in Beaverton since age 4, has her own flock of 21 laying hens and 20 chicks as well as a home-canning habit. She’s pleased to find a store that caters to her and her neighbors’ backyard farming passions.

“I think it’s really cool,” she says while checking out New Suburbia on Friday afternoon. “With the (Beaverton) Farmers Market in proximity, this will be a natural addition. A lot of people on the Westside with tiny little lots can get themselves a few hens. This will be a good thing for Beaverton.”

While realizing such a niche-oriented business is not exactly a promising get-rich-quick scheme, Dave Hobson says the couple’s satisfaction comes from supporting and promoting a simple, sustainable lifestyle in an urban environment.

“This wouldn’t work if we went too much into debt,” he said of the store’s uncluttered financial footing. “Way more than money, this is about doing something that counts.”by: JONATHAN HOUSE - Julie and Dave Hobson are proud of their New Suburbia store on Southwest Broadway Street. The store sells chicks, along with organic feed, soil supplements and gardening supplies.

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