Paul’s: City’s Walkable Downtown Grocer Closes
by Jenny Anastasoff
Our esteemed publisher told us the distribution and reach of our humble neighborhood paper has increased. Hello, new readers! Thank you for perusing our paper. I’ve been writing this column with a specific reader in mind, those foolish and lucky enough to live in Portland’s West End. But I’m quickly realizing, even some West Enders haven’t experienced say, shopping at Paul’s Food Center on Congress Street.
Well, your time is running out. Paul’s, a Portland landmark, is closing in April. Its closing is a complicated set of circumstances, with the gentrification theme surging in its wake.
For those not familiar, Paul’s Food Center is right in the heart of downtown Portland, a modest storefront relying on pedestrian foot traffic — including regular customers from nearby elderly living apartments and others without cars or very good mobility.
There are smaller, more expensive markets close by, and perhaps they can pick up some of Paul’s regulars. Yet I suspect many will have to figure out how to get a ride to a supermarket for more extensive grocery shopping. It’s an odd conundrum for a city endorsing its walkability, when one needs transit or a car just to buy groceries.
Let’s have it said that it is an extraordinary thing to run a grocery store in downtown Portland. It’s a seven days a week, no vacations proposition. Actual hard work: manual labor stocking the shelves, balancing the books, serving as a community hub. The nobility of being the breadbasket to many low-income and mobility-challenged people is tempered by the exhaustive efforts to run a business.
As a frequent shopper at Paul’s, I mourned former owner Paul Trusiani’s passing last September, and wondered how it would affect the store. I daydreamed about fundraising, or getting a loan to try to buy the store, then quickly crashed, imagining how daunting and consuming that would be. It seems you almost need a higher calling, perhaps a vocation, to devote your everyday to feeding those in need.
As a family business, I would assume they faced difficult choices when their patriarch passed. Within my own family, a business run for several decades by my grandfather and his father meant no time off and constant work. Growing up with that dynamic, their children chose different career paths, and the family business closed. As saddened and inconvenienced as I will be shopping elsewhere, I empathize with and salute the Trusiani family for their many decades of what is truly a community service.
I’m curious to see what becomes of the space, whether it is reborn as grocery store or as another retail shop.
Yet, we have some spring signs of hope downtown. My March column waved a too-hasty goodbye to the Good Cause Thrift Shop. In an amazingly feisty development, this downtown thrift store fought its way out of closing. Through donations and petitioning, the store will remain open, renamed Still the Good Cause.
Their new cause will be the McCauley Residence. Hooray for generosity and caring!
Congratulations, Good Cause! They are accepting donations, and I hope many of my neighbors continue to shop there for fantastic finds.
Additionally, thanks to the readers wishing my ailing cat well. She’s still with us, and you are lovely humans. I’ll start my kitten-pushing soon, when kitten season begins. Adopt, don’t shop!
As a charming post-script, I finally caught the indie film Tumbledown, written and crafted by Mainers, set in Maine, and shot elsewhere (but that’s another column). What tickled me was the female protagonist writes a 600-word column for the neighborhood newspaper, profiling people in their fictional small Maine town. It’s presented as one of the characteristics that makes her attractive and personable. Hey, I write a 600 word column, too! Who wants to make a movie about me?