If you've spent a lot of time in Portland bars, Taylor Valdes may have indirectly saved you from your drunken life choices.
Like, say, if you've ever found yourself needing condoms in a pinch. Or if the line to the restroom was too long and you had to quickly replace your underwear. Or if you've just had an overwhelming desire to connect with your inner spirit animal.
Five years ago, Valdes started the Venderia, a business specializing in custom vending machines. Currently found at seven locations across town, plus ones in Vancouver and Corvallis, Venderia machines contain everything from drugstore items and random objects Valdes found while rummaging through her late uncle's drawers to handcrafted art projects, "misfortune cookies," "bummer zines," postcards pre-addressed to President Trump, and, yes, paper bags containing a toy animaland handwritten fortune.
A self-professed "serial entrepreneur," Valdes boasts a résumé as eclectic as her machines. She's had her own clothing line, ran a piñata business and worked in tax preparation. For three years, she taught English in Daejeon, South Korea, where she encountered vending machines that distributed everything from books to sex toys.
"In Korea, you're allowed to drink on the streets," Valdes says. "There are whole areas covered in posters, music coming out of every place. The public streets become arcades. So I knew firsthand how much drunken people like weird vending machines."
When she got back to Portland, Valdes purchased her first vending machine from a self-service laundry that was going out of business. Beulahland, the venerable Northeast 28th Boulevard dive, was her favorite neighborhood hangout back then, and thus the first bar she thought of to host her first machine. "By some incredible stroke of luck," she says, the owner was immediately into the idea.
The business grew from there. At first, she would buy old machines online, swap out the broken parts, give them custom paint jobs and then "fill them with whimsy." Now, she works directly with distributors. Today, Valdes has her machines in nine bars and businesses in the Portland area, including the Florida Room and Finger Bang nail salon, as well as Low Bar in Vancouver and 2 Towns Ciderhouse in Corvallis.
She personally restocks them weekly, sometimes twice a week, with random items drawn from Goodwill bins, estate sales, even Portland City Liquidators. Not every idea she's had has panned out. She wanted to sell dental dams, but couldn't find a decent bulk price, and also had to nix an idea for "Portland singles trading cards," which she describes as "basically a mix between baseball trading cards and Tinder with the real contact info, likes, dislikes and dating stats of sexy Portlanders." But if you're ever in sudden need of dinosaur earrings, handmade porn magnets or a personal lucky number generator, the Venderia has you covered.
"It's physically painful for me when I drive past a yard sale and can't stop," Valdes says.
In honor of the Venderia's fifth anniversary, we asked Valdes for her 10 favorite items she's ever stuffed into a machine.
1. Rocks spray-painted gold—"real low-budget fool's gold."
2. Homemade Ouija boards. "I spent a lot of time as a kid contacting the dead."
3. Her late great uncle's underwear. "My very wonderful great uncle died, and I was cleaning out his house, and he had a lot of underwear. I thought I would totally fit in the vending machine.
4. Other people's prescription eyeglasses. "We sell them in a bag called, 'Feel drunker instantly.'"
5. A lot of vampire fangs. "You never know when you'll need to suck someone's blood.
6. Semi-pornographic Mexican comic books. "You can never have them often enough. I'll have people bring them back from Mexico, or I'll go to Texas and hit every flea market I can."
7. Pregnancy tests—"the only product we encourage people
to pee on."
8. Coloring books by local artists that come with crayons.
9. Find Your Inner Animal mystery bags. "It's hands down the most popular product. It's a toy animal and a handwritten fortune. I've met a few people now who have tattoos of their inner animals."
10. Postcards addressed to Donald Trump at the White House, Mar-a-Lago and his personal residence at Trump Tower. A framed response allegedly from Trump himself will be framed at the anniversary party. "Not surprisingly, the president has no idea how capitalization works."
SEE IT: The Venderia's Fifth Anniversary Party is at Beulahland, 118 NE 28th Ave., 503-235-2794, on Saturday, June 30. 4 pm. 21+.