Southeast Portland's colorful, whimsical wonderland that is Cargo turns a whopping 20 years old.
Founded in 1996 by ceramic artist folk art collector Patty Merrill, Cargo prides itself on bringing in handmade artisanal products from the world over, starting from Merrill's first visits to Singapore, Indonesia and Mexico. Now 70, Merrill and her partner, interior designer Bridgid Blackburn, take buying trips to Central America, Japan, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, and India.
“What sets Cargo apart is that we are still small enough that we can hand-curate and build deep relationships with our vendors, many we’ve known since we started 20 years ago,” says Merrill. “We hand-pick authentic items, items used in a particular culture, rather than items made for the Western market. They are richer and more meaningful.”
Cargo's two decades in Portland hasn't been without change. The first location was in the Central Eastside, near where the shop currently sits, but Cargo spent several years holed up in the Pearl District. When they hopped back over the Willamette, the team purchased a former burlap sack factory on the train tracks, and set about renovating. Now, in a spot that's doubled to 20,000 square feet, the brand has space for bright paper lantern displays and massive armoires from all over the world. Six years ago, Cargo also expanded to Astoria, with a smaller store in the heart of the historic downtown district.
Merrill says the future looks bright. “There has been a tendency in many countries to move away from traditional craft and the handmade," she says. "At the same time, the world is becoming increasingly hungry for authenticity and wants that connection with craftspeople. This really validates their work. Our mission and joy is to encourage true craft and to contribute to the communities where we buy.”
Every year, Cargo celebrates their anniversary with a Day of the Dead shrine and party. This year, it promises to be bigger than ever with mariachi music, tarot card readings, costumes, food carts, a photo booth, sugar skull decorating, and more. As always, community members are encouraged to bring in their own photos of beloved ones to add to the shrine.
Cargo’s 20th Anniversary Party
Sunday, October 23, 4–9 p.m.
81 SE Yamhill St