Never mind that they’re hiding amazing cheeses and cool European cookies in their baskets. Or that Oregon’s dreamy summer light is streaming over produce tucked under the big corner windows at NW Johnson and 21st Avenue. Everyone here looks glum, and not just the shoppers. Word has circulated; the rumors are true: City Market, an intimate boutique grocery story since 1991, will not be renewing its lease. As Eat Beat has learned, the shop’s last day will be August 18.
Why the sadness? It’s not like there are no other grocers in the neighborhood. Just the opposite, in fact—perhaps there are too many grocers. Branches of Food Front Co-Op, New Seasons, Zupan’s, Trader Joe’s, and Fred Meyer are all within blocks. But for longtime regulars, City Market is more than a market—it’s an intimate and trusted experience, stocked with point-of-view and carefully chosen ingredients, seven kinds to butter to Quinault razor clams. It’s a place where regulars and purveyors are like family members discussing the night’s dinner menu.
The butcher counter alone has hosted some of the city’s meatiest talents: sausage expert Fred Carlo (Salumeria de Carlo), artisan meat maven John Gorham, who went on to become a Portland restaurant force (Toro Bravo, Tasty Restaurants), and, currently, Chop Butchery’s Paula Markus, one of the city’s OG female butchers. Meanwhile, we’ll be saying goodbye to the city’s best cheese consigliere, Katie Eshleman, known for her astute palate and dry wit.
The signs were all here. Lease-holder Pastaworks–responsible for the cheese counter, Italian-centric wine shelves, and curated grocery aisles–was already on the move. At the close of 2015, after a 32-year run, owners Kevin DeGarmo and Kaie Wellman shuttered the DeGarmo family’s original Pastaworks on Hawthorne Boulevard. In short order, the shop was reinvented inside the couple’s Providore Fine Foods, a next-level City Market with multiple vendors, a mini oyster bar, an irresistible rotisserie chicken window and great produce at 2340 NE Sandy Boulevard. Portland Monthly called it one of the best places to eat in 2017.
Newman’s Seafood Market has no plans afoot for now. Meanwhile, Chop Butchery’s Markus recently opened her next project: Chop St. Johns at 8537 N Lombard St. The neighborhood spot puts the counter’s popular deli sandwiches front and center. A meat counter is not in the works, and for now, Markus has partnered with Jim Stracener, owner of City Market’s Raw Raw Produce, and industry vet Katie Lee Cundiff. What will become of Chop’s wonderful pâté? For now, we can only hope it will live another day at the St. John location.
“City Market always had a unique personality,” says co-owner Wellman. “Pastaworks on Hawthorne had a Berkley feel, like the neighborhood. City Market always felt more urban—more big city. We understand that both feel like profound losses. A thousand percent we understand that. The challenge is to do what we do, to create special experiences, to stay vibrant and relevant while competing every day against the multitudes of New Seasons, Whole Foods, Markets of Choice and online shopping.”
As City Market readies to close, what would the next West Side artisan grocer look like? Wellman hints that an answer may come. “We’re really aware of how customers will miss this place,” she tells us. “We’re looking to do something great. I don’t have anything to announce yet… but we’re working on it.”