First, it was puzzles. Then it was baking. And then…it got weird. At the start of quarantine, the hobbies we picked up to pass the time were just that: innocent pastimes. But after a year in isolation, hobbies turn to habits, and the longer this goes on, the more permanent they become. Here are four that, in one way or another, have reshaped Portland at large.
Most years, the last car would have rolled out of Newberg's 99-W Drive-In months ago. The screen typically goes dark in late October, when the rains start.
But in 2020, a night at the drive-in is one of the only relatively safe escapes from home anyone can afford. So the projector has kept running through late December, the screenings switching from summer blockbusters to holiday classics like Elf, Die Hard and A Christmas Story.
In Portland, the automobile has long been considered a necessary evil, if not the outright enemy. But this year, we didn't just learn to live with cars—we lived inside them.
Drive-thrus became the go-to pandemic pivot. ZooLights, the Oregon Zoo's annual holiday light show, created a path for motorists to cruise past twinkling polar bears and LED gorillas, and drew bigger crowds than ever. Old Town Brewing converted its parking area just off Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard into a drive-up beer market. Lucky Devil Lounge in Southeast Portland even created a "strip-thru," where masked dancers contorted under a tent and patrons handed them tips through their driver's side windows.
Will our rekindled love affair with the automobile outlast the pandemic? It's difficult to say. But right now, if we're going to be confined, give us the box that moves. ANDI PREWITT.
In a year that's felt like a 10-month panic attack, more Oregonians than ever found relief at the bottom of a bong.
As the state first shut down in March, recreational cannabis sales hit $84.5 million a month, a record. Initially, it seemed like a surge brought on by the same panic that caused toilet paper and hand sanitizer to vanish from store shelves. But the numbers kept going up, even after the governor announced she would allow dispensaries to remain open.
As of mid-December, according to Oregon Liquor Control Commission data, total annual sales of cannabis products have reached $1,065,635,000—a 47% leap from last year, and the first time sales have crossed the $1 billion mark.
After five years of growing pains and bad headlines, Oregon's weed industry is ending 2020 on, well, a high: Cannabis, it seems, is pandemic proof.
But who exactly was buying all that weed? Committed stoners stocking up? Office drones popping gummies while working remotely? Curious newbies replacing social drinking with quarantined smoking?
All of the above, says Adam Smith, director of the Craft Cannabis Alliance. And he expects the majority of them to keep buying.
"I don't want to use the word 'habit,'" he says, "but people get into a pattern where that's something they've incorporated into their lives."
But even with the big sales, the industry's potential for growth remains limited. Smith says the next step is interstate commerce allowing growers to sell their product in other states where cannabis is legal. "In some circles, we're as famous for our cannabis as we are for our pinot noir," he says. "Until we can sell this world-class cannabis into the market, this industry will continue to struggle." MATTHEW SINGER.
Al Fresco Dining
We started the year eating out of boxes. By the end, we were eating in them.
For the first part of quarantine, delivery and takeout were the only eatery options. As Oregon reopened its economy in early summer, it became clear that without some sort of dine-in service, few restaurants would survive.
In June, the Portland Bureau of Transportation introduced the Healthy Businesses program, expanding outdoor seating onto sidewalks and in parking spaces.
Seven hundred businesses signed up. Some commercial areas coordinated their applications, turning whole streets into temporary promenades.
Individual restaurants got creative. Kachka turned the roof of its parking garage into a Soviet-American patio party. Eem arranged individual dining pods along North Williams. Higgins, the downtown lunch staple, loaded a cart with beer and wine from its vaunted cellar, and set up in the courtyard of the Oregon Historical Society.
Combined with the city's neighborhood greenways, which closed certain roads to traffic to allow more space for bikes and pedestrians, Portland's streets had rarely seemed so open. It looked utopian—or at least European.
Then the rains came. PBOT extended the Healthy Businesses program through winter, adding guidelines for installing awnings and three-sided enclosures.
Hannah Schafer, a spokesperson for PBOT, says it's too early to say if the program will extend past March. But support for it is high—a survey found 94% of diners want it to continue, perhaps even beyond the pandemic.
"For some folks, it's opened their eyes to these other possibilities they may not have thought of before," Schafer says. "That's exciting, too, to know people are seeing our city and our streets with this new perspective, and where that might lead us in the future." MATTHEW SINGER.
One activity united Portland in 2020: making and distributing as many cloth masks as possible.
Laid-off theater employees formed a mask-making team and gave out thousands of pieces of free personal protective equipment. Timbers and Thorns fans donated over 8,000 masks from April to May alone. Activewear company Dhvani shipped out tens of thousands of face coverings across the country.
The mask boom happened on an individual level, too.
The Mill End Store, a century-old textile warehouse just across Portland's border with Milwaukie, estimates about half its customers in 2020 came in looking for mask-making supplies. The store sold over a million yards of elastic between its top two styles alone.
"It's kind of like how people would send cards when they knew you were sick," says Mill End owner Nancy Bishop.
Many Portlanders gave away their handiwork to friends, relatives and total strangers. Neighbors hung masks from clotheslines along sidewalks around the city for passersby to grab.
At Mill End, sales for mask patterns and elastic are starting to taper off. But even with the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines, mask requirements aren't going away soon, no matter how much some artisans wish they would.
"Some people have said, 'I hope I'm not making these next year,'" Bishop says. SHANNON GORMLEY.