We continue our Foster Folks series this week with a look at the neighborhood’s newest retail shop, I Heart Retro. Retail’s good for Foster. Retro and vintage furniture? Even better. Let’s meet Marla Watson, neighborhood resident and owner of I Heart Retro.
1) Tell us about Marla. Who are you and how long have you lived in the neighborhood?
“I am Marla Watson. My husband and I have lived in FoPo for almost 18 years. We have a 21 year-old daughter who was raised in this neighborhood and also works at I Heart Retro.”
2) You ran a successful business in a more prominent neighborhood (Hollywood)—how did it come to be that you were able to relocate to Foster?
“My lease was up soon in Hollywood and Laughing Planet had their eye on my space. As we know about Portland, “the rent is too damn high,” so I decided to move. I get bored easily and like change. Anyway, I looked at a lot of spaces around Portland, and I found this space and another great space on Killingsworth right by PCC. It was hard to find spaces at all, because the marijuana stores are leasing a ton of the open retail space. So I had to make a decision and I choose FoPo. It sure makes my life a heck of a lot easier.”
3) So what will folks find when they wonder into I Heart Retro?
“Vintage, retro and mid century furniture and home décor (from the 1950’s – 1970’s). They will also find a huge space. It is deceiving from the front how big the store actually is. In addition, they will find good customer service and a clean store. We are not a hoity-toity mid century store. We are real life. I Heart Retro is where you can get decent retro furniture for a pretty good price. Sure, we have some high-end pieces and we have some lower-end pieces. We try to have something for everybody. But I want to make this perfectly clear, just so we are all on the same page: I Heart Retro is not a thrift shop. Each piece is chosen by me to be in the store and reflects a certain aesthetic. There is a lot of work and a lot of thought that goes into running a successful vintage store. Often you might find me in my front yard refinishing a piece of furniture or in the back room repairing something. Often I have my head in the back of a console stereo working on a repair. I pick it, schlepp it and fix it.”
4) Your family has been in the neighborhood for 17 years. Obviously you felt it was a good time to set up shop locally, but what are some of the positive changes you’ve seen in the neighborhood over the years?
“When we moved into the neighborhood it was a “target neighborhood” which meant you could get a discount rate on your mortgage through the State Bond, as well as help paying your down payment. Because this neighborhood used to be lower on the socioeconomic scale, we used to get a few perks; I used to organize a street cleanup for 63rd, 64th and 65th between Holgate and Powell. We would have dump fees donated by Metro and we would have dumpsters at the corner of 64th and Center. All the neighbors would participate. People would drive their trucks through the alleys and do alley clean up. People would clean their yards and front porches. It was a real sense of community for our three streets. Of course, as we started cleaning up the area, more people with means moved in and we were no longer considered a “target neighborhood”, so the street cleanup stopped. But it was a lot of fun while it lasted and I met a lot of great neighbors.
“There used to be a lot of meth houses and chop shops in the alley’s with abandoned cars on the street. The neighborhood was a bit seedy back them. Tweekers and day drunks would try to engage me in conversation when I was working in the front yard. Lots of rentals back then too, so the neighborhood turned over a lot. Used to be a dude on a bike who would slash car tires in the middle of the night. Sometimes he would get a whole block of cars. It happened a lot. Once there was a car chase that ended on my street and the State Police were out front with their shotguns drawn.
“The positive changes are more homeownership; people taking pride in ownership and pride in Foster Powell. Lots of awesome people live in this neighborhood. I don’t think the neighborhood has been gentrified in the way that North and NE Portland have. This has always been a working class neighborhood, for which I am proud. I see a lot of families in the neighborhood now. So many babies and strollers. And these young families love the neighborhood, which is fantastic.”
5) And what do you envision for Foster’s future?
“I hope the future of Foster is brighter than it’s past. Maybe it is wishful thinking, but when all the small businesses get priced out or moved out of Hawthorne and Division, they are going to have to relocate somewhere. Foster still has some reasonably priced retail rents and the main drag and the developers have been keeping their distance. I think Foster will continue to grow, in the same way Hawthorne did in its early years. One can only hope!”
6) Back to I Heart Retro. Foster is slowly building a retail presence. There’s a Catch-22, though, where the neighborhood is starting to create a demand for certain amenities and services, but there isn’t yet enough to get folks onto Foster more and supporting what’s already there. If you could speak to the masses, how would you convince them to check out your store when looking for furniture and home decor?
“I Heart Retro has a pretty huge social media presence, so we do drive business to the street. It would be nice to get more retail. Foster is hopping after dark with all the bars in the area. I think it will happen. The streetscape is coming soon and Foster is going to be transformed. I just hope it does not transform like N. Vancouver and N. Williams, because, well yuck. Talk about taking the character right out of a neighborhood.”
7) If you could choose a movie, song, celebrity, or historical figure (fictional or otherwise) that best characterizes Foster, who/what would it be?
Billy Bragg’s “Waiting For The Great Leap Forward.”
There you have it, folks. I Heart Retro in a snap shot. But, we also got a nice look into the neighborhood’s recent history. Both should be reason to get out and support your local businesses and celebrate community.
I Heart Retro is located at 6927 SE Foster.