Despite economic hardships, the Whiteaker flourishes.
by Claire Staley
At first glance, the potholes and heaps of garbage that are endemic to Eugene’s Whiteaker neighborhood suggest an area run down by economic hardship. But things are actually looking up.
Business owners and residents in the area all agree that the Whiteaker has improved and grown in the past few years, despite the national economic recession. The strong sense of community and the innovation of independent businesses in the area has defied national trends.
Across the street from an out-of-business bike shop is Cornerstone Glass, a warehouse transformed into a glass-blowing studio, marked by a colorful mural. General manager Ashley Tulare said things used to be worse in the Whiteaker. “You could feel the poverty,” she said. She used to have to clear the streets near the shop of campers and squatters, sent by the St. Vincent de Paul’s Society, who told homeless that the area was a good place to go to. “We’ve been really proactive in putting up signs, harassing people,” Tulare said. There taint of drugs has less of a hold on the community, she said. Cornerstone Glass faces the difficulty of close proximity to the Eugene Mission, but a hands-on attitude to keeping the area clean and safe has improved the street. According to Tulare, things keep getting better in the Whiteaker, thanks both to a strong feeling of community, and the initiative of business owners in the area.
The Ninkasi Brewing Co., Sam Bond’s Garage, and Papa’s Soul Food Kitchen are all booming Whiteaker business cited by Olivejuice co-owner Brad Coffey. A longtime resident of the neighborhood, he opened up his gift/lingerie shop about a year and a half ago. “It was a bad area,” he said of the Blair St. location. “People were afraid to walk down here.”
Coffey, setting up for an appearance at the University of Oregon’s street fair, said that hosting events and participating in the monthly art walk helped bind the community and its businesses together.
“Everybody’s been feeling it,” he said in regards to the recent recession. But by keeping prices low and forming relationships with the other people and businesses in the Whiteaker, Olivejuice seems to have carved out a niche.
Residents of the neighborhood also seem to feel a change for the better in recent years. Chuck, who declined to give his last name, has been a resident of the Whiteaker since 1985. “Businesses around here are doing pretty well,” he said. There’s less drug use, less needles on the sidewalk. Places like Red Barn Natural Grocery draw people—and their money—from outside the neighborhood to buy local produce and products. The Whiteaker has cleaned up a lot, according to Chuck.
The support system among the locals has bolstered the neighborhood and helped it weather difficult times. “The community sticks together,” said Coffey.