Looking Up: Hope in the Whiteaker

Whiteaker residents’ thoughts on the economy


EUGENE—Red and yellow striped sweatpants, a metal claw in the place of a hand, a family of four and a man in a wheelchair characterize a normal Whiteaker neighborhood meeting. To live in the Whiteaker means one is ready to meet the out of the ordinary, quirky, and peculiar faces of the area,  and although the economy has affected nearly everyone, the residents of this neighborhood are looking up.

The Whiteaker neighborhood is one of the poorest neighborhoods in the Eugene area according to Anand Keathley, the vice chair of the Whiteaker neighborhood board. “We’re the lowest rung of poor people, and the poor people get hit first,” he said. “Low income tends to make people more involved.”

Recently developers have come to Whiteaker to build because of its prime location close to the river, but Keathley said that development will increase costs and make living in the Whiteaker too expensive. He said, “We actually talked about trashing the place to keep the developers from coming.”

For some the level of development doesn’t need to rise an inch higher, but others like Paul Buel decided that Whiteaker was the perfect place to start a clothing store during a recession.

Outside of the Retro/Resale Boutique. Attributed to Lauren Fox.

Buel talks about his store's purpose for the community

After Buel lost his job he decided to open up Karma Kloz, a retro resale boutique on the outskirts of the Whiteaker neighborhood on 5th and Fillmore because he believes that there is something good in the future.  “I always knew I wanted to be an old guy with a cool vintage clothing shop,” Buel said.“It just happened a little bit earlier. Now I am just a semi-old guy having a cool vintage clothing shop.”

Buel said that Karma Kloz is still paying the bills and is not just about selling clothing, but has a purpose to dedicate 10 percent of its profits to the Hosea Youth Services Project, a homeless youth facility. “We’re realizing that it comes down to the community,” he said. “Word of mouth and individuals sharing.”

Dain Kaldahl, the art director of Sam Bond’s Garage as well as a construction worker, agrees that there is a feeling of helping people out in the area although he sees his friends and community suffer because of the state of the economy.

Kaldahl said that the stimulus plan will take awhile to have an effect, and in the meantime people have their spirits up. “I’m patient. I’m not suffering,” Kaldahl said.

Kaldahl is the art director at Sam Bond's Garage in the Whiteaker neighborhood

Kari Johnson, the chair of the Whiteaker community council and local artist, said that she cares about this town and her neighborhood as she sees places like Hollywood Video and Brown Betty’s Cafe closed down because of the economy.

However Johnson found hope and said, “It [art] always lifts people’s spirits. The more depressed we get the more art we’re gonna need for sure.” In a place characterized by painted murals around every corner, Whiteaker is uplilfted and continues to live on despite the economic downturn.

McKenna Johnson writes for Suzi Steffen’s Reporting I class and can be reached through email at kjohns14@uoregon.edu

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