A Landmark Northwest Portland Market Hasn’t Served Customers in Nearly Five Years

Once a gourmet paradise, the old City Market is now just a canvas for taggers.

Deli Tactics (Nigel Jaquiss)
  • ADDRESS: 735 NW 21st Ave.
  • YEAR BUILT: 1936
  • MARKET VALUE: $2.87 million
  • OWNER: Three Maples LLC
  • HOW LONG IT’S BEEN EMPTY: Nearly 5 years
  • WHY IT’S EMPTY: Economic conditions

Five years ago, if you wanted a porchetta sandwich, freshly made ravioli, baby artichokes, or a dozen raw oysters, City Market had you covered. In a cheery, light-filled corner space, the market then included separate operations run by Pastaworks, Chop Butchery, Raw Raw Raw Produce and Newman’s Fish Company.

But City Market closed in August 2019, a victim of increased competition. At the time, Pastaworks owner Kaie Wellman cited newcomers to Northwest Portland, including the Slabtown New Seasons and Pearl District Whole Foods, as well as online suppliers of high-end groceries.

City Market turned out its lights shortly before COVID-19 shut down Portland for a long stretch. The building’s burnt-orange exterior soon became a favorite canvas for taggers.

During the pandemic, Randy Arvidson—the investor whose limited liability company, Three Maples, owns the property—let an adjoining business, Twenty First Ave Kitchen & Bar, run a beer garden in the surface parking lot behind both businesses.

Scott McCulloch, the bar’s co-owner, laid down artificial turf and brought in picnic tables and benches from Oaks Amusement Park. “That back parking lot was the only way we survived,” McCulloch says. “That got us through COVID.”

Today, with Northwest 21st regaining its pre-pandemic bustle, Arvidson is wistful for the City Market of old.

“We had a great group of purveyors for nearly 30 years, from the original four through the last group who left in the fall of 2019,” he says. “Since then, it’s obviously been a challenging and confusing time for everyone. Hopefully, 2024 will bring greater clarity and improvement in financial and civic conditions.”

Arvidson bought the property in 1990, when real estate was a lot cheaper in Northwest Portland. He has painted over graffiti many times, kept the building secure, and paid his property taxes, but the future is unclear.

“Honestly, I’m not sure at this time what direction to take the property. The existing building would need significant renovations to reoccupy,” Arvidson says. “But, it would be great to bring another City Market-like space to the neighborhood, either as a free-standing building or as part of a mixed-use project.”

Every week, WW examines one mysteriously vacant property in the city of Portland, explains why it’s empty, and considers what might arrive there next. Send addresses to newstips@wweek.com.

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