Top to bottom: the You Can Leave Your Hat On storefront; JJ Foster from Wynona Studios; Oregon City plays off its heritage with an old-fashioned streetcar that runs through downtown.
// Photos by Alexandra Shyshkina
Several blocks away, Sandra Gillman was hustling to keep up with a line of customers crammed into her tiny boutique hat shop, which opened in late July. The rush didn’t seem to be bothering her at all. “I used to have a very stressful job,” she tells a customer. “Now I get to enjoy myself.”
She wasn’t kidding. Gillman’s previous job was to conducting investigations for the state about convicted murderers facing potential execution, as a mitigation specialist. When she finally couldn’t take the stress anymore, she quit her job to create You Can Leave Your Hat On, a vibrant gathering space of lively music, local chocolates and a wide variety of stylish hats. “I just decided I’m going to spend my days around pretty things instead of criminals,” she said. “Now I’m having a good time and I’m around fun people. And it smells a lot better than prison.”
Not far from the new hat shop, a long-time retail fixture from Portland’s upscale Northwest 23rd Avenue recently reopened on Oregon City’s Main Street. Connie Nicoud grew up in Oregon City and spent the past 23 years running Christmas at the Zoo on Northwest 23rd, which she has transplanted to Oregon City. Now she has returned to her hometown for an easier commute, lower rent, more parking and surprisingly strong foot traffic.
“I actually have more people walking into the shop every day here than I did on Northwest 23rd,” said Nicoud. She said she has absolutely no regrets about the move.
South of Nicoud’s new space, on the other side of Highway 99E, the former paper plant looms. Some 175 people lost their jobs when the mill closed. A variety of developers are eying the property and the majestic waterfall at its center, “one of the most valuable properties in the Willamette Valley,” in Purdy’s opinion.
The waterfall is the second largest in the nation by water volume behind Niagara Falls, but it’s hardly known as a destination for honeymooners. Whether the Blue Heron property eventually becomes a sweeping new park, an industrial site, a mixed-use attempt at adaptive reuse or some variation thereof, one thing is certain: Oregon City will never be the same.