In 2020, Keith Johns started making sidewalk signs for Black-owned businesses like Rose City Vapors and Oasis Auto Lounge. “People were trying to support Black businesses,” Johns tells WW. “There’s nothing better than a sign in your face at that moment.”
Using a logo that his niece dreamed up—an image of a raised fist atop a thorny rose stem—Johns called his project Black Rose.
Now, one such illustrated A-frame sits outside of his own business: Black Rose Market, a convenience store at the southeast corner of Northeast Dekum Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. It is, Johns says, “an experience.”
“It smells good, it’s clean, there’s good music on, there’s people having fun, and the product selection is great,” Johns says.
Indeed, Johns and his wife, Kirin, have crafted a corner store that is decidedly fresh. Corrugated metal covers the walls. Neon signs and Seahawks memorabilia hang above the fridges—Johns, from Washington, is a die-hard fan.
It’s bright, yes, but not the bright of a pale-walled convenience chain. Against the dark wood floor and the painted black ceiling, snack bags shine.
The most brag-worthy component of this community-conscientious corner store is the refrigerated wall of single mix-and-match cans from breweries that Johns carefully vets.
As Kirin puts it, Johns stocks with integrity, intentionally highlighting products from BIPOC- and women-owned businesses. There’s Urban Roots, a Black-owned brewery in Sacramento, and Portland’s Assembly, the only Black-owned brewery in Oregon. Just recently, the team brought in beers from Tranquilo Cerveceria, a Mexican-owned brewery in Bend.
Store employees are ready with recommendations, but Black Rose also employs shelf talkers with handwritten information about a product—similar to the notes you see on the stacks at Powell’s.
The notes might point out that a hard kombucha donates money to aid fire relief (Flying Embers), that a tea is Black-owned and brewed in the Pacific Northwest (Joyroot), that a canned wine is “made by chicks” (Bev), or that a six-pack is “Johns’s favorite,” an honor given to only one beer in the shop: Premium Northwest’s “PNW” lager. Brewed in Johns’ hometown of Tukwila, Wash., by a two-man team, it’s a beer Johns stakes his reputation on as “better and cheaper than Rainier.”
“But then, of course, you have White Claw,” Johns jokes.
Juxtaposition is the beauty of Black Rose. Corner store classics like Swiss Miss, Tostitos and Tylenol sit next to bougie picnic supplies like smoked oysters, individual sake glasses and Veuve Clicquot. Eighteen-packs of domestics sit side by side with flavors of Sparkling Hard Citrus from Ruzzo or Claim 52′s Dessert Sours.
But for Keith and Kirin Johns, the small store is more than its goods. As the market nears its one-year anniversary, it continues to root itself in community. Johns even hired some of his lifelong friends to work at the store. Julian Collins met Johns on a basketball court in 2000, and they’ve been thick ever since. You’ll find Collins DJing in the evenings—lately Kenny G’s “Silhouette” and anything from Wu-Tang Clan.
Tanara Young, Kirin’s college friend, works weekends. She also sells some of her Madame Marie bath and body products in the shop, alongside other Black-owned products by friends, family and local artisans. The full team runs tastings on Fridays to turn the store into a meeting place. When neighborhood kids come in with a good report card, they earn a free snack.
As the Johnses look ahead to expanding the Black Rose brand—Black Rose merch and a separate liquor store are on the way—fostering inclusive, welcoming spaces will be at the heart of their work.
“You’re not gonna just walk in and go look for what you need. Especially if I’m there and you’re a beer person, I’m gonna talk to you,” Johns says.
“We talk to everybody,” Kirin adds. “They come in and tell us stories; they share things about their lives. We’ve had customers pass away; we’ve had customers wives pass away. They come in and they shed a tear with us. And we’ve only been open since November.”
SNACK: Black Rose Market, 6732 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 503-894-9698, instagram.com/blackrosemarket_woodlawn. 9 am-11 pm Monday-Wednesday, 9 am-11:30 pm Thursday, 9 am-12:30 pm Friday-Saturday, 10 am-10 pm Sunday.
Black Rose Market will hold a one year anniversary party on Saturday Nov. 13th at Tough Luck from 8 pm-1 am, with raffle prizes and drink tickets courtesy of Big Nose Kate Whiskey. Those interested should check on the Black Rose Instagram account for updates.