One of the best things about discovering a new city is finding the hidden funky neighborhoods that shape the fashion and art undercurrents found around town. Alberta Street, in North East Portland, is one of these. For years it was known as a problem neighborhood riddled with crime but in the early 90's as Portland hit a growth spurt, Alberta was cleaned up and reborn as an epicenter of youth and culture.
Fashion seekers will recognize international designers and discover new local talents in the boutiques. Art hunters will have plenty to explore in the numerous galleries. Lovers of international and vegan food will be well-fed here, too. Ben Vanderveer, who moved to the North East Portland neighborhood a few months ago, appreciates the small business atmosphere along the street. "One thing I really like is that lots of new restaurants and shops move in and they're all independently owned."
It's an exciting corner of town, a multi-cultural kaleidoscope of colors and flavors filled with independent boutiques featuring local artists and designers. Home to over 70 Portland businesses, it's the perfect place to find unique artwork, clothes or decorations.
Hipsters and bohemians on bikes park in front of the Alberta Cooperative Grocery for vegan and local foods. Outside the front doors, a smiling young man in a Greenpeace t-shirt holds a clipboard and shakes hands with passers-by. There are as many bikes as cars gliding down the street. The people pedaling yell to friends on the sidewalk before continuing on their way. They'll pass more than twenty international restaurants and pubs catering to a wide variety of tastes, from Thai to Ethiopian, from vegan burritos to fish and chips.
Alberta Street is scattered with galleries featuring local and global artists. You'll find reasonably priced paintings and sculptures form all over South and Central America in ONDA Arte Latina, soon to celebrate its tenth year in the neighborhood. Right across the street, Six Days Art Co-op features clothing, paintings, photography, sculpture and other pieces from all local artists. If you're looking for useful accent pieces for the office or home, HiiH Gallery is full of whimsical handmade paper lamps in natural shapes such as flowers and leaves that lend a delicate and warm look to any corner.
When searching for a new addition to your wardrobe that you won't see on anyone else, NE Alberta Street is like hitting the creative fashion jackpot. You'll spot skirts from Portland designers next to pants from French Connection at Mabel and Zora. Owners Tiffanee and Corey are warm and chatty. They're happy to talk to shoppers about the items they've chosen for their boutique and enjoy the close-knit community of shop owners up and down the street. "All of the boutiques are really different, so we're not really competitors," says Tiffanee Bean, co-owner. "We try to have something for everyone," she adds, noting the wide range of selection and prices on clothing, jewelry, luggage, and art.
Imp, on the same block, is loaded with whimsical home decorations and practical clothing. It's all about adornment and frills, and beauty in the details.
On the other side of the street, second hand shoppers will want to jump into altered and vintage finds from Frock. There, you'll spot racks of fabulous movie star sunglasses, men's and women's clothing, and playful accessories.
A few blocks East, near the middle of the action, shopping for clothing at Tumbleweed is like stumbling into grandma's closet back when she was a catch. Delicate dresses and blouses of lace and silk flirt with chunky sweaters and soft cotton tees.
At Garnish, you can get into the design yourself. Here, you can choose an item of clothing and meet with the designers to embellish it the way you'd like. It's a great way to find a personalized formal or informal garment.
Whether you're looking for a gift for someone old and wise or young and hip, you'll find variety and quality here. From sophisticated to flirty, international to local. You might be surprised, but you won't be let down.
Other things you'll find on Alberta include a tattoo shop, wine store, craft and knitting supplies, local, Mexican, and Ethiopian groceries, a florist, video rentals, massage, and other delightful curiosities.
About NE Alberta St: Known as the Alberta Art District, new art galleries, restaurants, clothing boutiques and gift shops have been popping up here for over a decade. What was once a run-down trouble street has become a hipster hotspot and Portland's best kept fashion secret.
Tips: Pick up an Alberta Street walking map. Most boutiques and galleries have one just inside the door or by the counter. Don't be afraid to strike up a conversation with shop owners. Alberta Street has a warm, friendly atmosphere and most people like to talk about their product, sometimes local.
What to bring: If you go in the winter, wear layers and bring an umbrella and good walking shoes. The street is flat but the main action is spread out along 10 blocks. It's easy to stop and rest at a café or restaurant.
Hours: Most shops are open seven days a week but some of the galleries close on Mondays. If you happen to be here on the last Thursday of the month, check out the Last Thursday event, an opening of galleries and celebration of art and design that goes on all year long. Shops and galleries are open later in the evening on Last Thursday.
Getting there: From downtown Portland, take the Burnside Bridge to the East side and turn left on 6th Ave. Go one block and turn left on Couch St. Go one block more and turn right on Grand Ave. Continue 2.5 miles and turn right on Alberta St. Parking is free on the street.
You can also take the Max Train Yellow Line, getting off at Killingsworth Station and transfer to TriMet bus 72 to Alberta.
By Bonnie Caton