St. Johns is the northern terminus of the Bus 75 line. It’s about as far back in the past as you can go. Historically working class, St. Johns was a rowdy river town when annexed by Portland in 1915. The burg had a tough rep. Fights often erupted between “citified” Portland folks and “townies” from St. Johns according to local lore.
Filling the window of a downtown shop is a fine poem about St. Johns.“I am from St. Johns. I am from the wrong side of the cut. The place where two powerful rivers meet beneath the majestic bridge that frames St. Johns. The same bridge my mother threatens to jump from when I misbehave… I am from the working man’s end of town where the drums of the Salvation Army Band drown out the western music blaring from the beer joints.” Signed Sharon Helgerson, 79 years old, third generation St. Johns.
Much of old St. Johns is disappearing. But not all of it. Witness The Man’s Shop. Founded in 1940, this buttoned-down men’s clothier is run by the sons of the store founder. Each is well over 70.
“We washed windows and opened boxes as kids,” says Jerry. His brother, Bob, remembers those days fondly. But he also has a positive view of the future and the changes now occurring in their community. “I like the young people moving in. Brings more energy and activity. And they seem to have money. The town is romanced in a different way now.”
The brothers talk about how St. Johns used to have businesses up and down every block. There were five jewelry stores, four hardware stores and two banks.
The town of the past is vanishing, as if forced to move out. A new one is moving in.
At Pattie’s Home Plate Cafe (plus Fountain & Gifts) you get a taste of the past. The place is a mélange of diner, fountain, grill, pharmacy, and odd gifts strewn about on tables and shelves. Brittany makes biscuits as she spills the beans about St. Johns. “We used to get a ton of regulars for breakfast and coffee,” she says. “Now not so many. Old timers have moved. Cost of living is rising – and there are more hipsters now. Some people are fine with it, some aren’t.”
Around the corner is a new business called Polish – not as in sausage, as in fingernails. Kristi (who happens to be Polish) is a nail artist who gives manicures in a 1963 Aloha camper she and her husband restored.
She started her business six weeks ago and lives exactly .7 miles away. Recently, they were given notice. Their landlord couldn’t find a second home to buy so he’s moving back into his house. “Now we’re looking for another rental,” Kristi says. “We love the area, but if we can’t find a place we can afford we’ll probably move back to Michigan.”
A St. Johns brochure says, “Thank you for preserving our unique local character.” It lists their Facebook page. Old-world hospitality meets new-world social media. It’s clear. The town of the past is vanishing, as if forced to move out. A new one is moving in. As newlyweds pedal by on a tandem, just married at Cathedral Park, they salute the future that awaits ahead.