Posted by: MC | October 29, 2011

Bloke – AKA Barber Babes Redux

Halloween.  Perfect.   A day when we let ourselves be a bit less in denial of the fact things both are and aren’t as they appear.  Change is change is change.

This is the storefront I wrote about in May.  My new friend Justin is the botanical artist who recently took over the space 6 months after the Barber Babes had to call it quits.  Over the past few years Justin has followed every next turn to build himself a business.  He had his art.  He had his courage.  He had the love and commitment of his partner.  Four years ago, you could have found these two men out in Laurelhurst Park after every autumn windstorm gathering fallen evergreen fronds to take back to their small apartment for weaving into endless yards of garlands, or for forming into wreaths – small rounds for front doors, giant hoops for the sides of big buildings.  The berries and holly, the pine cones, twigs, ribbons and things that only an artist would think to add made J’s holiday creations so irresistible that he and his love saw enough profit in that season to finally afford the down payment on a home.

From that base Justin has not claimed to the former Barber Babes as BLOKE.  “I’ve made something out of nothing,” he said when I dropped by to welcome him to the neighborhood.  “I go to seconds stores, to junk yards.  I find stuff no one wants and mix it in with botanicals to make art.”

Justin is a little taller than I am.  A subtle geometric spray in the dark greens of tattoo ink rises above the neckline of his plain gray t-shirt.  He wears a stocking cap.  It’s gray, too.  His smile is as quick as his wit – each has a sharp and playful edge.  But the overriding vibe from this artist/entrepreneur is humble delight.  “Most of the time, I can’t believe it.  Here I am working like a dog on what I love to do, and I’ve never even taken out a loan.  It’s a miracle.”

The day I took this photo, Justin was having an open house in the tiny store – no more than 400 square feet.  He had made caramel from scratch and melted it to serve as a dip for Columbia River apples.  Then, of course, he made them classy, beautiful.  Now he was giving them away to visitors.

Bloke is at 915 NE 28th, on the back of Katie O’Shea’s bar where a three-egg breakfast is still only $3.25.  Across the street in one direction is the retro furnishings place — 60’s and 70’s meet the Jetsons.   In the other direction is one of the largest bohemian seconds stores in town (get your tiaras, your tuxes, your glasses, your Hawaii shirts, boas, corsets, bow ties…then stop by the cart in the parking lot for the most authentically yummy tacos around).  The seconds store was a used car lot not too many years ago.  For most of the time these roads have been paved, this intersection has been primarily for driving through on the way to somewhere else.  But since oil prices first went up in 2009 and now that money and jobs are so much tighter, people are walking more, using more cash and spending less of it.  The area business are changing in response. And, at least on this corner, for now, it’s working.

“You can’t ever really know what’s going to happen,” Justin says.  “Today, though, people are coming in here and putting down 20s for the arrangements they see.  They’re happy.  They’re nice people.  For sure I’ve picked the right place.”

The Barber Babes were in the right place for their time.  Before them the space was mostly empty except for the few months it was home to a nonprofit Spanish speaking AA meeting.  That was 2004 or so.  But it stands to reason.  What do you do with 400 square feet?

This Halloween and for a good while forward, I’m betting, you leave it to a Bloke and his botanicals.

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