By Sarah Donofrio
The corner of 8th Avenue and East Burnside has become a busy shopping destination, which can be largely attributed to the shops at 811 East Burnside.
The building boasts an array of different designers and shop curators, such as Laurs Kemp, Haunt and Alexa Stark, and its popularity has trickled down to other businesses that happen to be in the vicinity. From their regular First Friday art events and exhibits, to rotating pop-ups and individual boutique events, they are constantly drawing consumers to the neighborhood.
Along with every space being an independent or small business, they also happen to be women-owned. Though this wasn't the original intention, the location has become known as a hub for woman-identifying makers, retailers and entrepreneurs.
Jillian Punska owns Seven Sisters boutique, runs the social media for the 811 Shops, and knows the history of the collective better than anyone.
WW: Was the plan always for the 811 space to be women-owned?
Jillian Punska: I feel like, at this point, the complex has had several "waves" of women-owned shops. The 811 has predominantly served as a hub for creative folks working in apparel since its inception. A generous collaborative spirit emerged over the years, which I believe has been critical to the mutual success of our collective businesses.
While I don't intend to speak for the visionary folks who developed 811 and continue to carefully curate the tenants, my feeling is that the building may have gravitated organically to consisting of women-owned retail over the years, with a community and shared values emerging via lived experience that's evolved and grown stronger and more influential over time as the building has continued to graduate female makers and entrepreneurs to new heights both regionally and nationally.
When you set up Seven Sisters, were you specifically looking for a women-owned space?
When I saw that there was a space for rent in the 811 Shops, I jumped at the chance to become a resident. The history and culture that has emerged around 811 is what really inspired me to make a home there. I'm honored and excited to continue helping to carry this important space forward, building pathways for women-owned businesses to connect with customers and grow their brands.
Can you talk a bit about the camaraderie at 811?
Retail can be a very competitive, cold and isolating environment, particularly for emerging women business owners competing to break into the apparel industry. I think the positive stories we're hearing at 811—whether increasing year-over-year sales, graduating to bigger spaces in the building, arts programming getting written up in national publications, inclusive gatherings that bring together folks from all walks of life to inform our collective environment—are proof that when women work together to build supportive networks, it is possible to effectively navigate and subvert the patriarchy, exploring and realizing potentials that would not be possible in a standard retail environment. Together is better."
Are you seeing more buildings like 811 pop up in other cities?
While certainly not yet mainstream, there seem to be more intentional women-centric commercial spaces popping up than ever before, which is incredible to see. All-women co-working spaces like the Wing in New York are changing the game for women, down to available books in the library all by female authors. Personally, I feel it's extremely important that women have access to spaces wherein they can prepare and fortify to take on an oppressive outside world, where norms and "what's acceptable" remain all too often decided by men.
SHOP: Seven Sisters, 811 E Burnside St., No. 110, 717-478-3702, sevensisterspdx.com. Noon-5 pm Monday, noon-6 pm Wednesday-Sunday.