PHOTOS: The Covid-19 Impact On St. Johns

St. Johns Bridge Photo: Jason E. Kaplan St. Johns Bridge

OB photographer Jason Kaplan shows how the pandemic has affected life in his North Portland neighborhood.


I have seen a lot of changes to my neighborhood of St. Johns, located at the north end of Portland, since moving here 23 years ago. Sometimes the evolution was slow as property values increased; other times transitions came in fits and starts as external shocks took their toll, such as during the 2009 financial crisis.

Never has so much changed so quickly as during the past five weeks since the beginning of the shutdown.

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The St. Johns business district was becoming ever more bustling and vibrant as new development renovated the old neighborhood, and the population was growing with an influx of younger, more affluent people.

All that came grinding to a halt in the middle of March. Now the usually busy St. Johns Bridge is almost devoid of traffic.

St. Johns Park is directly across the street from my house. It is not closed and people still sit on the grass when the weather is nice. But the sports fields and playground are shut.

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Blue tape, fluttering in the breeze, reminds kids to stay away from the playground.

In the business district I get a surreal sense of the magnitude of the crisis. Many of the businesses are closed; though, for the most part, not boarded up as they are in some parts of town. They just look as though people left everything sitting as it was when they were last there.

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The North End Barber Shop looks ready for business except for the lack of people.

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Our local movie theater, the vintage St. Johns Cinema, has a sign promising to be back soon.

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This week, new signs of life are appearing as more businesses adapt to the shutdown. The theater is selling take-away concessions for your at-home movie experience.

One block to the west of Lombard St. is our only downtown fast food restaurant, Burgerville. The dining room is closed, but it still serves take-out.

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One of the worst impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on the community is seeing development stall at a time when much of the commercial core is vacant.

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Since the 1990s, Pattie’s Home Plate was the quintessence of blue-collar, old St. Johns. Before Pattie Deitz purchased the restaurant and store, this location had been a lunch counter and soda fountain since the 1920s.

Pattie’s was featured in the film "Mr. Holland’s Opus" and on the television show "Portlandia." In autumn last year Deitz informed her customers that the building had been sold, along with the Man Shop, a men’s clothing store founded in 1940.

The closures removed a large piece of the remaining old St. Johns. They also leave a big empty spot in the middle of the neighborhood. The buildings remain vacant and apparently for sale. 

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The interior of Pattie’s Home Plate remains as desolate and forlorn as the day Deitz moved out.

Several other stores are vacant too. It would be difficult to initiate a new retail enterprise during these times.

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A representative of the new St. Johns is The Garrison, a bar where I’ve lifted many a pint. On a summer evening it is a lovely place to sit outside and watch the people go by and eat pizza from the local shops. Closed for more than a month, I can only hope that it will be safe enough to open during the warm part of the year.

Some businesses are using this opportunity to renovate.

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Marie’s, a St. Johns nightlife staple, was getting a powerwash. Inside staff were performing a deep clean and providing a fresh coat of paint.

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The Bluebird Tavern, one of the community’s most prominent drinking establishments, is also going through repairs. A couple of weeks ago a sign in the window said: CLOSED, but only temporarily!! And as you learn to navigate the abyss of sobriety, don’t forget your roots! We’re taking this opportunity to remodel… We’ll be back refreshed, sleeker, and leaner. After one month of not drinking you better be too!! See ya soon!”

RELATED STORY: Communities In Transition: St. Johns, Portland 

At this point it seems unlikely that it will be able to reopen at the beginning of May.

As this shutdown wears on, people are becoming antsy and more appear on the streets. More businesses, such as the cinema, are also learning ways that they can operate.

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Stormbreaker Brewing is selling both food and beer to go.

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A Chinese restaurant, the venerable Kung Food, often has socially distanced people waiting at the take-out window.

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The Mexican dress shop Novedades Prado is selling cotton face masks.

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The food cart pod has several open trucks for to-go orders.

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But on-site seating is off limits.

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While more people are out and about, the central plaza remains mostly empty and the bus stop is underused.

The unseasonably warm weather, however, is making Cathedral Park irresistible for some, though the scattered groups of sunbathers do well at keeping away from others.

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