Our City in the Time of Covid

Portland Monthly's Art Director Michael Novak went outside to document the city while we all stay home.

Photography by Mike Novak By Fiona McCann April 3, 2020

Staying home and wondering what the outside world looks like? Portland is a changed place, as COVID-19 restrictions take their toll on the landscape of our city.  From empty streets to closed signs to marquee messages, the city looks different right now. Portland Monthly's Art Director, Michael Novak, took a socially-distant walk through downtown and North and Northeast Portland this week to show us what our new world looks like without us.

Remember this corner of West Burnside and NW 10th that's usually bustling with pedestrians and cars fighting to get through the traffic light changes? Novak took this shot with his back to Powell's, which has been closed since March 15, his lens capturing "a ruin of empty streets and closed businesses."


After laying off more than 300 staff, Powell's rehired 100 people earlier this week to meet a surge in online orders.


"I took this shot from the overpass on North Killingsworth. I've never seen the I-5 at 9 a.m. on a Tuesday like this before," says Novak. "Traffic from Washington was practically nonexistent."


Downtown is littered with closed signs, in the wake of Gov. Kate Brown's stay at home order on March 23, chains and locks underscoring the shutdown.


Some local businesses have left personal messages to clients, echoing the feelings of many Portlanders. Bernstein's Bagels on North Russell Street pulled no punches.


The Florida Room on North Killingsworth had some inspirational words. "The street looked totally deserted," says Novak. "Messages like this one felt both desperate and somehow unifying."


Parking lots downtown sit empty as commuters stay home.


Ghost trains and buses are still running downtown, while deliveries continue to largely empty offices.


Pioneer Square food carts remained open this week, but customers are sparse and the square itself depopulated.


"One of the few 'essential' businesses is construction, which continues apace," says Novak. "No social distancing here."


This closeup of the playground at Sabin School in Northeast Portland is an example of one of many around the city now off-limits to tiny recreators.


Libraries across the city have been closed since March 17, and are not accepting book returns.  This North Portland branch reminds people to hang on to whatever books they have for the time being, without charge. 

North Portland's Jefferson High School sits empty, with just a few joggers rounding the track. Portland Public Schools have been closed since March 16, and are to remain so through April 28, until further notice.


Stumptown's Southwest Harvey Milk street location is a downtown staple, typically bustling with customers spilling over into the adjacent Ace Hotel. Now it's papered up and closed, like so many local businesses. The company has put out a call on its website for people to put pressure on state and federal resources to come to the assistance of business like theirs "in order to stay intact."

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