If you wanted to buy a bong in Des Moines back in the 1970s, you went shopping for a waterbed. "That was the fad back then," says Patty Collins. "All the waterbed people seemed to be selling a few pipes on the side."
Collins and her husband, Don, were in the waterbed business until 1976, when they headed west, founding Portland's now-oldest head shop, Pype's Palace, on North Lombard Street. They're still there after surviving two raids, Reagan's drug war and massive changes to their adopted city. Patty served as the first female judge, then later as a celebrity judge, for High Times magazine's Cannabis Cup.
"Welcome to the Palace," Patty says. For decades, every customer who has walked through the shop's teal door in University Park has received the same greeting. Metal booms from the speakers, and you'll find Patty standing behind the gigantic, glass showcases displaying wood, metal and glass pipes. The store overflows with handmade hemp products, golf discs, sage bundles and a wide array of tobacco products.
Portland was an obvious choice for the shop. In the '70s, the city was a uniquely tolerant place for a funky paraphernalia store like Pype's Palace. In 1973, Oregon had become the first state to decriminalize marijuana—reducing pot possession to the level of a traffic-ticket violation—and enforcement was laid-back. "We lived upstairs, so we didn't smoke in the store, but we would have the stairwell with six or seven people lined up going down there smoking," Patty says. "I guess [it was] being able to be really lax and just have a lot of fun compared to the scared-ness in Iowa."
For its first five years, Pype's Palace didn't have a phone. The store sold a variety of items aside from bongs, including cigars and tapestries. And then there was the name. The Y in Pype's, which they pronounce "pip-ez," made it easier to conduct transactions with banks and conservative businesses without getting sideways, unsupportive glances.
"It's spelled that way for two reasons: rednecks and the people who know us," Patty says.
But Patty and Don still set ground rules to keep the shop running. So when the feds started cracking down on other head shops, they were able to stay in business. "We made a golden rule that we never would deal in the shop, because that was one thing that would get us closed down," Patty says. "We never did, even though it would have been cool."
To the Portland crowd, Pype's was a mecca to discreetly buy paraphernalia. However, there were two instances when the government intervened. The shop was raided during Operation Green Merchant in 1989 and Operation Pipe Dreams in 2003. Operation Green Merchant was a nationwide investigation targeting businesses advertising horticultural equipment that was supposedly used to grow cannabis. Operation Pipe Dreams was a nationwide investigation targeting businesses selling drug paraphernalia, mostly marijuana pipes and bongs. Fearing the shop would be shut down, Pype's had an "every pipe must go sale" after the 2003 bust.
In the following weeks, regulars showed up asking for pipes. They were turned away. That's when something beautiful happened: Portlanders began to focus on making their own pipes.
"It really made the pipe industry grow to what it is today because individual people made something, brought it in, and I sold it for them," Patty says. "So that one really backfired on the feds."
Today, Pype's Palace is serving its third generation of customers. "They'll drive from clear across town to come here, because they know we'll treat them right," Patty says.
After playing by the rules for so long, the Collinses are hoping to finally "deal" weed out of the shop. Now that marijuana is legal, Patty says she is looking to obtain a license to sell marijuana along with the stash of paraphernalia.
âItâs been fun,â she says. âItâs still gonna be much fun.â
GO: Pype's Palace, 4760 N Lombard St., 289-9298, pypes.com. 9 am-8 pm Monday-Saturday, 9 am-5 pm Sunday.