Register-Guard Article on The Female Entrepreneurs in 1203 Willamette
By Ed Russo
March 5, 2018
Four women-owned businesses are about to bring life to a previously moribund part of Eugene’s signature street.
The businesses — Claim 52 Kitchen, Katie Brown clothing, Saucefly Market/Bar, and Blue Bird Flowers — are preparing to open during the next several weeks in the newly renovated building at 1203 Willamette St.
“The location on Willamette Street is ideal,” said Jeannine Parisi, co-owner of Claim 52 Brewing in Eugene, a craft brewer that is opening its first restaurant/taproom combination. “We are part of a project that will wake this whole block up.”
The building makeover is the latest in a series of downtown improvement projects that began with the 2010-11 renovation of the former Centre Court Building, now Broadway Commerce Center, at Broadway and Willamette Street. Since then, more than two dozen buildings in the city center have been built or renovated, according to Denny Braud, executive director of Eugene’s planning and development department.
The 36,000-square-foot Willamette Street structure, east of the massive 13th and Olive student apartment complex, is composed of two identical adjacent two-story buildings constructed during the 1940s for Lyons Furniture.
It had been used by Oregon Antique Mall for 25 years until it was emptied and purchased in 2017 for $2 million by a group of investors, including architects John Rowell and Greg Brokaw, downtown espresso shop owner Kaz Oveissi and development consultant Mark Miksis.
After the $4 million, nearly year-long renovation designed by Rowell Brokaw Architects, the structure has been dramatically changed. Its plain, graffiti-marred concrete and metal facade has been replaced with Douglas fir siding, black metal awnings and large windows that roll up like garage doors. A cantilevered roof that was made from Douglas fir boards salvaged in the renovation extends from the roof line.
Inside, false ceilings have been removed to reveal wooden beams.
After years of being covered by carpets, the original Douglas fir floors are being refinished to show their previous beauty.
The building is connected to the high-speed fiber network that was installed by the Eugene Water & Electric Board as part of a city-funded initiative.
The building is almost fully leased, though all of the tenants are in various stages of finishing their spaces and not yet moved in.
Rowell Brokaw will move a short distance from its present offices at East Broadway and Willamette Street and occupy a second-floor space. Watkinson Laird Rubenstein, a law firm, will move from East Broadway and Oak Street to occupy the other half of the second floor.
Trifoia, formerly Iris Education Media, plans to relocate from a building on East 10th Avenue, and lease about 4,000 square feet on the first floor.
The company’s 25 employees are eager to work in the mainly open office on a single floor, compared to their current mostly separate offices on two floors, said Galen Mittermann, director of finance, sales and marketing.
Trifoia produces research-based, mostly online training programs for educators and parents.
The firm’s new offices will help Trifoia attract new employees, Mittermann said. “We have seen this building sit vacant for awhile,” he said. The remodeling “makes it easier for us to attract talent, being in a fresh, new space and part of our downtown revitalization.”
But the women-owned businesses will be most visible to the public, occupying four of the five ground-floor retail spaces in the front of the building along Willamette Street. The fifth space has yet to be leased.
The $4 million renovation figure includes the landlord’s contribution to finishing the interior of leased spaces, but the tenants also are paying for improvements and equipment.
Here’s a rundown on the four signed tenants.
Claim 52 Kitchen
The craft brewer’s first brewpub with a kitchen and its own food service will occupy about 3,000 square feet and have seating for up to 125 people inside and another 35 outside during warmer months.
Claim 52 Brewing first started making beer six years ago in West Eugene, off Tyinn Street. In 2014, Claim 52 opened a small tap room, The Abbey, in the Sprout! Regional Food Hub, in downtown Springfield.
Neither outlet provides food to customers. The Abbey patrons can buy food from eateries elsewhere in the renovated former church and have it brought to them in the taproom. Customers at Claim 52 Brewing in West Eugene can buy from food trucks parked outside or bring their own.
“We understand the importance of having food with beer, of providing the balance,” Claim 52 co-owner Mercy McDonald said. “We see the difference (with food). Customers stay.”
Claim 52 Kitchen will have 15 taps, dispensing a variety of Claim 52 brews, including its best selling Fluffy IPA, plus wines, cider and kombucha from other providers on another nine taps.
The brewpub will operate similar to The Beer Stein, the popular bar and restaurant three blocks south on Willamette Street. Customers will order food and drink at a bar, and have their food delivered to them.
Lannon Cling, a South Eugene High School graduate who was trained at the Culinary Institute of America in New York City, is in charge of food.
“It’s going to be fun and approachable pub food, with an eye on creativity,” said Cling, who last operated The Dumpling Group food truck in Eugene. “I’m going to take what I have learned about pub food and apply what I know about fine dining to it.”
The planned menu has appetizers, such as garlic yucca tots; sandwiches, including “Croque Norvegien,” lox, emmental cheese on toasted brioche; and large plates,” such as chicken curry dumplings and different seasoned fried chicken drumsticks.
“We are going to do sandwiches, burgers and fries, all the usual suspects,” he said. “But everything will have a unique twist. Nothing will be boring.”
Customers will order beer and other beverages off a theater-style sign above the bar. Claim 52’s logo, created by Ali McQueen of Eugene, is featured on a wall mural painted by artist Justin Boggs, a UO graduate and Portland resident.
The logo has stylized images of the forest-covered south hills and Spencer Butte, plus the sun and moon, painted in shades of orange, blue, gray and black.
Claim 52 Kitchen is expected to open sometime in April.
Katie Brown of Eugene sells her line of women’s clothing through a website, Katie Brown LA, and a Portland boutique, Adorn.
This month, Brown plans to open her own store — a 500-square-foot shop — in the renovated Willamette Street building.
A former restaurateur, Brown co-founded such Eugene restaurants as Red Agave, El Vaquero, Asado Grill and Asado Bistro. Brown started the restaurants with Sara Willis, who is opening Saucefly Market/Bar in a nearby retail space.
Brown said she’s looking forward to interacting with customers in her store.
“I so love the experience of having a physical location to come to and to create an in-person experience for (shoppers),” she said. “I missed that from the restaurant chapter of my life.”
Brown’s clothes are made in Los Angeles from sustainably sourced materials. She calls her dresses, skirts, tops and leggings “comfortable clothes that you feel great in.”
Her store, Katie Brown, will sell women’s clothes and accessories from other brands, too, plus men’s clothing from Save Khaki.
“I tested it on my 18-year-old son and he became addicted to the pieces,” Brown said. “I feel very comfortable that it’s going to be loved.”
Like the building’s other tenants, Brown had to wait for the renovation before she could start finishing the interior of her store.
She’s eager to open as soon as possible.
“It has been pushed back so many times before,” she said. “I have the merchandise and I am ready to go. I am very much looking forward to see it coming to life.”
Veteran Eugene restaurateur Sara Willis plans to feed as many people as possible from two places in the building.
The retail portion of Saucefly Market/Bar will be a 500-square-foot shop with seating for about 20 people, plus outside tables and chairs during warmer months.
Her retail outlet facing Willamette Street will be a combination restaurant and to-go food market.
The business will open in the morning, in time for downtown workers to buy coffee, fresh fruit, granola, freshly made banana bread and other items.
For lunch and dinner, customers will be able to buy hot items, including enchiladas, as well as sandwiches, salads and soups.
Willis also is leasing an 800-square-foot room in the back of the building. About half of that room will be occupied by a kitchen, where she will prepare the food for sale in the upfront retail space.
Willis will use the other half of the space as a dining room for private events and “pop-up dinners” for up to two dozen people.
In a pop-up dinner, customers who regularly get information about Willis’ latest culinary offerings through text messages or Instagram, will get notifications that later in the day she will serve specified items and drinks during a certain time.
For example, she might serve tacos and $5 beers from 8 p.m. until midnight, she said.
“I think it’s fun if people can handle it,” Willis said. “I hope I will have enough people who will be interested in that. I think I do.”
During the past 16 years, Willis has helped start such restaurants as Red Agave, El Vaquero, Asado and Carmelita Spats.
Willis is counting on carry-out items to appeal to downtown employees, including office workers elsewhere in the building, who may want to grab a lunch or something for dinner on the way home.
“You will be able to pick up fresh organic tortillas, some salsas, and shredded organic chicken and go home and make tacos,” she said.
Willis also hopes to attract downtown residents, including college students who live in the 13th/Olive complex across the street.
The market will sell beer, wine and spirits. Willis’ own line of mixers will be available for sale.
She said her outlet will be a similar, smaller version of Provisions, the gourmet food shop and eatery in the basement of Fifth Street Public Market.
“You will be eating within the shopping experience,” she said.
The floor of the store and backroom will be decorated with inlaid tile that Willis had made in Mexico. Willis said there’s significance to starting a business in a building at the same time as other women.
“It’s an example showing other young women entrepreneurs that they can do it,” she said.
Blue Bird Flowers
Vanessa Rover figures the time is right to start her first business doing what she likes best — working with flowers.
In April she plans to open Blue Bird Flowers, a stand in the lobby of 1203 Willamette St. She hopes office workers and customers of the restaurants and retail shops in the building will buy her flowers. She will have flowers in front of the building to attract other customers.
The building is “on a pretty heavily trafficked street, and I hope that people walk by and see all the beautiful flowers outside and want them,” she said.
Blue Bird Flowers will make downtown deliveries.
Rover wants to sell arrangements made with as many flowers and plants as possible from local and Northwest growers.
“There are certain things that thrive in Oregon,” she said. “Dahlias do real well here.”
Rover has worked with flowers since she was a teenager in San Diego.
“There is not a flower that I don’t like,” she said. “I’m just drawn to them. They are beautiful and they make people feel good. You don’t have a choice when you look at a flower.”
She’s worked in dozens of flower shops in southern California and Eugene, including Rhythm & Blooms.
She’s also been a bartender for the last 15 years.
Her friend Katie Brown, who is opening a clothing store in the building, suggested that she open the flower business.
Rover has been working three jobs — two as a bartender and one as a liquor delivery person — to help pay for the business.
The 36-year-old single mom will operate the stand with her 16-year-old son, Andrew.
With her son now old enough to help her, they both decided, “Let’s take the risk together,” Rover said.