Shleifer Speaks—Euro Classic’s Owner Gives His Two Cents on the Streetscape Plan

Today we have another guest contribution, this time from neighborhood resident and longtime reader, Jon Connelly. Taken by the controversy surrounding the Foster Transportation and Streetscape Project, and the plethora of neon-colored signs plastered in protest at Euro Classic Furniture (and others), Connelly’s interest led him to the man who owns the furniture store and started the protest, Jon Shleifer. Connelly spoke to Shleifer about the City’s plans to slow auto traffic, increase pedestrian safety, and add bike lanes (along with street trees and lighting). As such, much of the conversation focused on what the changes would do to traffic on Foster and surrounding streets, and how it would impact his business. While we do not necessarily agree with his stance, in an effort to be fair and also capture varying perspectives, we wanted to share Shleifer’s thoughts, as well as Connelly’s reporting of the conversation.
                                                                                                        Jeff, FosterPowellPDX

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It should be noted that Foster will have a total of five lanes: two for through, auto traffic; a center turn lane; and two added bike lanes.

Jon Shleifer is the owner of EuroClassic Furniture, which sits at SE Foster Rd. and SE 66th Ave. Jon stands in strong opposition to the Foster Transportation and Streetscape Project. He has a handful of concerns that range from a potential negative impact on road safety in the Foster area to a potential negative impact on business at his store and others that currently operate on SE Foster. Jon is also frustrated by what he sees as a lack of communication from the City about the plan. Jon claims that it wasn’t until January of this year that he received notification of the plan from the City, although the project was voted on and approved in June of 2014. The City tells Jon he should have received a total of eight notices over the past two years at the two business addresses for his building.

On the topic of safety, Jon points out that slowing or easing traffic on the main artery of Foster will force diversion onto other streets, and he believes that would jeopardize pedestrians on those streets. “Where is that traffic going to go? It’s not gonna disappear. What it will do is push it to all the side streets. It will be Harold St., Duke St., Holgate, all these streets are going to fill up even more and these are residential streets.”

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Seen here: a family crossing Foster at SE 65th. Traffic calming and safety improvements could make scenes like this much more common. Photo courtesy of T-Stop Photography.

“It would make sense if you’re talking about Foster Rd. from the 1950s and the 1960s. In those years we had theaters on this street, we had shoe repair on this street, we had grocery stores on this street, there was a reason to walk and to shop on this street, and that is not Foster Rd. anymore. There’s a few restaurants and bars that pull from the neighborhood, all the other businesses depend on people driving in from outside the neighborhood to support those businesses. It’s not from pedestrians. A pedestrian is not going to carry home a sewing machine from the store across the street. They’re not going to carry home a bail load of bark dust from the business one block up. They’re not going to carry home a sofa. They drive in with cars and trucks to do their business. It’s not pedestrians, because we don’t have the stores for pedestrians. Ya know, maybe in fifteen to twenty years they’ll come back. It hasn’t been that way the last thirty years here.”

Listening to Jon speak, it’s striking how his descriptions of Foster Rd. from decades past, or potentially future, are so similar to what many residents say they want out of the neighborhood today. Many feel that trajectory is already forming and see the Streetscape Plan as a way to continue it.

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Foster in its heyday: pictured is the Bob White Theater and the original occupants of the Red Castle Games and Bar Carlo spaces. Could earlier vibrancy return with improved safety and streetscape elements?

The Shleifer family has a long history of business in Portland. Jon’s grandfather opened Shleifer Furniture at SE Stark and Grand Ave. in 1936. Jon’s cousin sold the building located in the Central Eastside Industrial District last fall and is closing the long held family business. When asked if he sees a broader trend of changes at play in Portland, Jon shares, “My Grandpa started eighty years ago. Portland’s finally the treasure that everyone has found. Forever they thought cold, rain, cloudy, dark, Portland no way. And now all of a sudden we’re the rainbow, the other side of the rainbow.” But that’s another reason people will need to stay in cars. Because the weather’s not the best.”

It’s clear there are significant changes at play on Foster Rd. and across Portland as a whole. Time will tell how the landscape of the of the neighborhood and city will develop.

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For more information on the Foster Transportation and Streetscape Project, check out the City’s website for the plan here. To read about the Foster Area Business Association’s support for the project, go here. Much thanks to Jon Connelly for his contribution to this ongoing story.

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26 Responses to Shleifer Speaks—Euro Classic’s Owner Gives His Two Cents on the Streetscape Plan

  1. grrlpup says:

    Thank you for posting this interview. I appreciate the chance to hear Mr. Schleifer’s thoughts in a more extended format than the day-glo signs. And I didn’t realize he’s related to the owners of Schleifer Furniture on Grand, which I have passed so many times over the years!

    Thing is, surely most customers don’t strap sofas onto their cars, or load up the back seat with bark dust. The reason I would shop at these three businesses instead of Ikea, Home Depot, or Jo-Ann is because they are in my neighborhood and I want to shop local…and I would arrive on foot or by bike, and arrange delivery. Driving up Foster at current traffic speeds, how many drivers even really see these businesses? They definitely can’t ponder the unusual furniture in the window.

    I hope the Streetscape implementation brings a lot more customers to these older family businesses than they’re expecting.

    • You make a good point. Perhaps Shleifer should consider that his business might not suffer as much as his clientele will simply be changing—instead of folks commuting in to buy his furniture, maybe he’ll get more local business.

    • Spiffy says:

      I also try to shop local, which is why this is the first place we went to when looking for a couch and table… they had a lot of cool things but they didn’t have what we wanted and we ended up at Shleifer Furniture (table) and Fishels Furniture (couch)…

  2. Naga Nataka says:

    I own a home on 64th & Foster, I bike to work along Foster, and I wholeheartedly support the streetscape plan. I also went to every single planning meeting to weigh in. I actually stopped in to Euroclassic Furniture to speak with Jon and tell him why I disagreed with his views. He was very cordial & welcoming, and we had a good discussion. At the end, we agreed to disagree on the streetscape, but we agreed that we want business on Foster to flourish. I do think the new streetscape will help with this — including Jon’s business. Inviting pedestrians & cyclists to pass by your store & stop in can only help your business, even if they have to come back with a truck to carry their new couch home. And all that commuter traffic from Happy Valley? They’ll just move a few blocks over to Hwy 26. And good riddance. I don’t think they often don’t stop at the local stores anyway.

  3. naganataka says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with grrlpup. I own a home on 64th & Foster, I bike to work along Foster, and I support the streetscape plan 100%. I also went to every single planning meeting to weigh in.

    I actually stopped in to Euroclassic Furniture to speak with Jon and tell him why I disagreed with his views. He was very cordial & welcoming, and we had a good discussion. At the end, we agreed to disagree on the streetscape, but we agreed that we want business on Foster to flourish.

    I do think the new streetscape will help with this — including Jon’s business. Inviting pedestrians & cyclists to pass by your store & stop in can only help your business, even if they have to come back with a truck to carry their new couch home.

    And all that commuter traffic from Happy Valley? They’ll just move a few blocks over to Hwy 26. And good riddance. I don’t think they often don’t stop at the local stores anyway.

    I look forward to the future of Foster Road.

  4. 62ndgarden says:

    I’m so glad someone is reaching out to him and I hope that through this communication he will realize that, ultimately, we all have the same goals. We all want safety for everyone, increased traffic for the businesses (slowing people down lets them have a longer look at the businesses we offer) and we all want to see Foster return to the type of neighborhood it was designed to be and once was-without pushing out the existing businesses. I think that last bit is the real fear here. It’s frustrating from the other side of this, too. Foster Powell Neighborhood Association has been on this topic for 13 years, every month! There must have been 50 neighbors and business owners at City Council the day the plan was adopted. Buck’s Stove Palace spoke in favor of the plan!…WHAT??? It’s too bad that Shleifer didn’t know sooner (his neighbor Buck certainly did) but he sits on the border of two really informative neighborhood associations and all of opposing businesses really should have been members of the Foster business association (FABA) all along. All three groups have been hearing proposals, voting, attending open houses and sending representatives to council for about 13 years now!
    13 YEARS!

    • Thanks for the added perspective. This has been a major topic of conversation locally for several years. Nobody should be surprised here. And if they are, you have to wonder how involved/invested they’ve been in the neighborhood over the last decade. And the absurdity of Buck’s opposition is not lost here.

      As for shared goals, you make a good point. I’d like to think his heart is in the right place, with an actual desire to see Foster prosper.

  5. Ben Waterhouse says:

    There are currently at least six grocery stores on Foster between 82nd and 60th. Nine if you count convenience stores. There are two performing arts venues, several live music venues, and the top tango studio on the west coast. There are fifteen family-friendly restaurants. Two music stores, three art galleries, a bike shop, a skate shop, a half-dozen barber shops and hair salons.

    All that is to say that there are far more businesses on Foster that one might reasonably walk to to do one’s business than there are businesses that rely exclusively on auto traffic. It doesn’t seem Mr. Schleifer has spent enough time on the street to speak from a place of authority.

  6. Con Man says:

    I need a spliff and a tall glass of bourbon. Damn.

  7. Greg says:

    I get it. There is no question that reduced traffic on Foster will be bad for businesses that depend on driving customers. There’s nothing wrong with speaking out against changes that hurt you.

    But there was a time and a place for that discussion. There were many times and places for that discussion. If you’re so out of touch with your business’s neighborhood that you miss years of community outreach and planning, you don’t get to cry foul at the eleventh hour.

    And the approach Shleifer has taken — plastering his business with gaudy signs appealing to commuters — is essentially to encourage outrage among people who don’t live here to supersede the wishes of those who do. Instead of forging relationships with potential customers in his neighborhood to replace those lost with the coming changes, he is making a clumsy attempt to preserve his dwindling customer base at the expense of neighborhood safety.

    So while I understand Shleifer’s perspective, I find his methods to be divisive, ugly and disrespectful. He doesn’t deserve the business, support or respect of any members of this community.

    • championheart says:

      He says he wasn’t notified. You don’t think he’s lying, right? Maybe you do.

      He’s not the only one who didn’t get notified. But indeed the time has past and in ten years out, we’ll see how it works.

      • If Mr. Shleifer didn’t get notifications, it isn’t for lack of trying on the part of the city, PBOT, or the business association. I’m the staff person for the Foster Area Business Association, and I’ve been in EuroClassic multiple times as I’m flyiering the neighborhood about our goings on. A month before the signs went up, I was in there with representatives from PBOT, and the National Hispanic Chamber, who will be providing grants and free technical assistance to Foster Area businesses throughout the streetscape process.

        They also attended our meeting, which we wrote about on our website: https://fosterroadpdx.wordpress.com/2016/01/22/pdc-and-pbot-at-the-january-annual-membership-meeting/

    • pdxnaturenut says:

      Amen! My thoughts exactly.

  8. Spiffy says:

    they’d also get more respect if they’d obey the law and not spam craigslist with 700 ads… I just can’t support a store that does that… desperation is a stinky cologne…

  9. erin says:

    The only reason I’ve attempted to shop at EuroClassic furniture was because I was eating across the street. I tried to spend money there, but he didn’t have a single thing I was looking for.

    That’s the thing with these oddball businesses on Foster that are complaining about this change. They’re so conveniently located, but they usually don’t have the inventory to be a destination on their own.

    When I need some kind of hardware I walk to A-Boy, and when I don’t find what I need there I cross over to Ralph Miles or Fred Meyer (depending) and when all those options fail, I walk back home, get in the car and head to True Value, or Lowes or Home Depot depending on what it is. Even Buck’s. I remembered to pick up a new damper, something I had gone without for years at that point. I was definitely not sitting at home thinking, “man I should really load up in the car and go buy a damper right now”. Getting me in the door started me thinking about eventually replacing my old inefficient stove with a new one.

    I just spent $80 at the Garden Center after months, (years?) of driving by the sign on my way home, because I was riding my bike on Foster and I overshot the cross street for Henry Higgins. I was surprised to find what I needed, and I came back later to pick it up.

    Even Mt. Scott Fuel… when walking by recently I realized they have flagstone patio pavers. I don’t know how many times I drove by them not realizing this, thinking I’d have to go pick them out in Oregon City. Unfortunately, I saw the giant sign on the side of the building and remembered they don’t want or expect pedestrian customers, so I cruised on by without stopping yet again. Then I bought a bunch of Easter junk at the Dollar Tree, which I haven’t been to in YEARS.

    None of this really matters to those business owners I’m sure, because my $5, $10 $15 doesn’t compare to the amount of money their ‘real’ customers are supposed to bring them from outside our neighborhood, but it adds up to, for me personally, a lot of money spent at Foster businesses just because I was walking by at the time.

  10. Pingback: Happy Weekend, Foster People! | Foster-Powell. A neighborhood blog.

  11. jami says:

    I do walk home with bags of bagels and board games, though. I walk home from our great restaurants and friendly coffee shops. That’s the neighborhood I want. I think even the too-big-to-carry-home businesses will also be in even better shape if their customers think of Foster as a place they want to be, instead of only a place to pick up a toilet or a real statement piece from Euro Classic. None of the best furniture stores in Portland are on four-lane, 35 m.p.h. streets. They really don’t need to be.

  12. CD says:

    I take the bus to and from my job downtown and end up crossing Foster nearly every day. I believe someone in a previous story has related how their son has nearly been hit by a car crossing the street in a crosswalk with the light in their favor. I have experienced the same thing crossing Foster. My husband doesn’t like it, but every day I make it across the street safely, I think about how today is not the day I die as a bloody smear on Foster. The street is dangerous to bikers and pedestrians, and as someone living off of it, I look forward to the day that one of our main thoroughfares is a safer, friendlier place.

    With regard to the traffic that travels down Foster, I have noticed almost all of it turns down Powell, so I for one don’t fear the street becoming a snarled, tangled mess of cars as people do tend to follow the path of least resistance which will be US 26.

    I have nothing but respect for the people who have been reasonable enough to be able to speak with Mr. Schleifer regarding his position. I certainly don’t possess that kind of composure regarding this issue. But I would like to point out that neither he nor the owner of the building where Save Stores is located live in this neighborhood and, therefore, only experience our area as a place to leave at the end of the day. Or a place where their son runs a business.

    However, we are no longer going to be giving our business to Mt. Scott, and we have used them for a variety of purposes in the past. And the Save Stores. Not only have I purchased a rather pricey sewing machine there, but I have brought all three of my machines to them for servicing, one of them an excellent Bernina I inherited. Don’t ask me about the 6 months it took them to fix it, but my machine has been to Chicago, and I haven’t. I will not be bringing them back. Rather, I will be loading them into the car and driving them to Montevilla, just in case they want to know who’s getting their business.

    While I appreciate their concerns, as another poster has said, their methods are ugly and divisive, and in the case of Buck’s, given his status as a neighborhood resident and his prior support for the streetscape, just flat out puzzling. We have shopped at I Heart Retro, A-Boy, Animal Crossing NW, and Lansing when it was here. We patronize Henry Higgins, Arleta Library, NWIPA, Bar Carlo, and Guapo when it was here. We can’t wait for the Office Taproom to open. We really need to expand this because we love supporting the businesses in our neighborhood, but I can choose to not give my money as well.

    Our neighborhood is changing. More families are moving to our end of Portland, and more children in our neighborhood is a very good thing. Our neighborhood need to evolve to meet the changing needs of our residents, not just cater to a few business owners who get to leave at the end of the .

  13. Kaye says:

    While I appreciate having the opportunity to hear Mr. Schleifer’s side of the story, and the reasoning behind his (and apparently a few others) screaming neon-colored signs, I just couldn’t disagree more with his point of view, and have little sympathy for his reasoning. He claims he wasn’t notified…? The local business association was heavily involved, the city sent out multiple notices to all businesses, and the plan has been in the works for years, and was signed in 2014. Having a hissy fit at this late stage makes a poor impression. Is he so distanced from our actual neighborhood that he has no involvement with the local business association? Is he so removed from his actual business that he just didn’t manage to notice multiple correspondences from the city? Does he read his mail?

    And no sympathy on the “this isn’t your grandparents’ Foster Rd” with its foot traffic, local businesses, and strong neighborhood and community feel. Zero sympathy on ‘how are you going to get to work (somewhere else in the city) if Foster develops as a neighborhood thoroughfare’ attitude. Personally, I don’t WANT a high speed urban freeway running through my community. I want a speed-controlled central avenue with lots of relevant local businesses – grocery stores, a pharmacy, boutiques, maybe a little cinema, pubs, restaurants, specialty stores, an ice cream shop, barbers, coffee shops, a charity thrift store….a real neighborhood business district, where families and children and elders can walk from our homes and continue to develop our community, supporting our local businesses.

    And zero sympathy on the whiney “but….but…..people aren’t going to walk home with a sofa on their backs”. Hello? How about revisiting your business plan and providing free local delivery?

    If I were a business owner on Foster, I would be revisiting my business model and looking at this as a GOLDEN opportunity to revamp my model, prep myself to be attractive and practical for local residents and local sales, and prepare to welcome the potential increase in business that increased exposure to local prospective buyers will bring me….if I’m smart enough to roll with the changes, instead of whining about it.

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