[Posted August 12, 2020]
Like all retail shopping areas, the Hillsdale commercial district relies on a strong anchor store. Going back over 100 years to the original fruit stand in 1926, Hillsdale’s anchor store has been its grocery on Capitol Highway. Generations of Hillsdale residents have been fed first by Lynch’s Market, followed by Nature’s, Wild Oats, and the Food Front Cooperative. Now Basics Market takes over that tradition.
In some ways, the location has come full circle, from James Lynch, Sr.’s produce stand to Basics Market, which sources many of their products from their own local farms and dairies.
Store manager Lateefah Hoover, a long-time SW Portland resident, has been with Basics since shortly after the opening of the company’s first store in 2017. Unlike Basics’ other locations, which are usually in new buildings or ones that had not previously housed a grocery, few changes were necessary to the former Food Front space, Hoover said. Because Hillsdale is the second largest Basics, local favorites as well as a wider selection of items are available. The Hillsdale store lacks teaching kitchens common to other Basics stores.
Since the store opened, just weeks before the pandemic shutdown, purchases have consisted mainly of staple items, so Hoover and her staff haven’t been able to establish normal shopping patterns for Hillsdale customers.
The Hillsdale neighborhood itself is another important difference. Ryan Kraus, a former Food Front staffer and now meat department manager at Basics, loves the small, tight-knit feeling of Hillsdale. When Food Front announced they needed help from the community to stay in business back in the fall of 2019, “the response from Hillsdale was incredible,” he said. And as safety precautions seemed to change almost daily for a time, staffers report that Hillsdale customers have been very supportive of new safety procedures.
Lateefah Hoover, Hillsdale Store Manager, was born and raised in Portland and has lived in Southwest Portland for the past 16 years since she came back to town after college. She started working in restaurants and discovered a love of food, retail and customer service. Working in grocery was a good next step for stability and regular hours, and opportunities for advancement in a career with food and people.
Ryan Kraus, Meat Department Manager, was born, raised, and still lives in the Lents neighborhood. He was assistant meat manager at Food Front. Before that, he worked at Market of Choice for six years and hopes to be at Hillsdale Basics forever.
Ron Fenton, Produce Clerk, is originally from Sacramento and has lived in Hillsdale for almost 16 years. A fellow staff member said Ron’s colleagues call him “Superman,” because he’s always ready to help out anytime, anywhere.
More Stability, Continued Focus on Local Sources
The grocery at the heart of Hillsdale is no longer cooperatively owned. For some, this represents a loss, but Food Front struggled in Hillsdale almost from its opening to generate enough revenue to keep two stores open (the NW Portland location is still operating after more than 45 years). As those who followed Hillsdale Food Front’s struggles know, anemic sales, labor disputes, and high management turnover led to financial instability and multiple appeals over the years to owners and shoppers to prop up the struggling store.
Former Food Front employee Kraus is happy for the stability after the financial turmoil of the last 18 months before the transition. He feels Basics is a good fit for the neighborhood, particularly after being assured that Street Roots vendor John Brown would be allowed to continue to sell newspapers on the front patio.
Basics continues Food Front’s focus on providing locally-sourced food. Ron Fenton, Basics produce clerk and former 15-year Food Front staffer, says, “In the last five or six years, it seemed like the original values [of Food Front] weren’t as important anymore, so it feels like coming full circle back to the core values of providing super-local food with Basics.” Products sourced locally, many from farms owned by Basics, include meat, milk and cheese, jams and preserves, beverages, eggs and even dog food.
One of the biggest adjustments for shoppers, and a loss of synergy with the Hillsdale Farmers Market, is that Basics is closed on Sundays. The company explains this as a way to improve the work-life balance for staff, with the option to choose a schedule where they might have three days off in a row.
Hillsdale resident and shopper Leigh Milander points out while an unusual choice for a grocery store, “it’s something that customers can get used to, just as Baker and Spice is closed on Mondays. I wish Basics were open on Sundays, but I respect the philosophy behind the decision and I appreciate the vibrancy a grocery store gives to the neighborhood.”
Lisa Maas and her husband grew up with the Berkeley Co-op, one of the first, oldest, and biggest grocery cooperatives in the US until its demise in 1988. When Food Front came to Hillsdale, Maas and her late husband Josh Kadish were excited to be part of a co-op again where they could feel a sense of ownership. She was sad to see the Hillsdale Food Front go, but feels very lucky to have a friendly grocery store within walking distance of her house.
Maas appreciates the extra service Basics has provided during COVID, saying “the staff have been uniformly cheerful and helpful in bringing small orders outside the store during this time when some of us choose not to go inside any stores.”
How does Basics stack up?
Location: Close to home for Hillsdale shoppers
Prices: A recent comparison of prices on items featured in the July 1-18 Basics newsletter showed their prices to be competitive with other local groceries
COVID safety: masks and distancing required, one-way aisles, plexiglass dividers, curb-side pick-up
Selection: Essentials and more
Basics Market provides the essentials and then some, with the advantage of being close to home and walk- or bike-able for many. We all have our priorities and very few of us are able to find one store that has everything we want. As Lisa Maas points out, “If we want a grocery store in our community, we need to support it and shop there.”
What do you think? Let us know.