After 19 years in the Pearl District, Cargo is preparing to move to the Central East Side and new digs in a converted gunnysack factory. And before it hauls its delirious pile of Asian and international exotica across the river, this go-to supplier of handcrafted import oddities is selling off as much as possible, for double-digit discounts.
As she surveys her store's cavernous jumbles of miscellanea, founder Patty Merrill can reflect on a long track record in (what has become) one of Portland's glossiest shopping neighborhoods, and profound changes in her little self-created niche in the style world. "We were here when there was no street car," she recalls, "when you could park for free." An imminent lease expiry and a chance to own a building prompted the move, which accompanies some longer-term shifts in how Merrill sources Cargo's uproariously diverse and basically illogical inventory. ("I'm so stubborn, I just keep buying what I want," Merrill says, adding that partner Bridgid Blackburn is the one who "knows what other people want...I kind of forget that people actually need things. I just buy what seems cool."
Cargo's inventory relies heavily on long-term relationships with small factories, workshops, and artisans in countries in Asia and Latin America. "That's our version of fair trade," Blackburn says. "The people we work with can't afford to be certified fair trade. We invest a lot of time and care in cultivating those links." Merrill says that in recent years, that approach has led her to seek out new sources. "India is the new China," she says. "A lot of the places and people I was buying from in China just aren't there any more. India is still very handmade. Indonesian design is really evolving. In general, I want to find the things cultures make for themselves, not the things they make for export."
And she's watched her store, with its wild profusion of goods looking lightly organized at best (motto: "Let us overwhelm you!"), become influential in the design world. "We get shopped by West Elm, by Pottery Barn," she says. "We just saw a line that was just a knockoff of the work of a Filipino woman we've bought from for years.
"People in retail in New York or LA come to the store and are just blown away by our square footage, and by the sheer randomness of it all. No one in those cities does randomness."
As this selection of highlights from the current inventory, handpicked by Merrill and Blackstone, shows, no one does randomness like Cargo: