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Southeast Campus’ new retail tenants will serve college and surrounding community
Photos and Story by Katherine Miller
If you want to buy insurance or an electric bike, a college campus isn’t the first place you might think to look. Yet thanks to the 2008 voter-approved bond measure, two local businesses recently opened their doors at PCC’s Southeast Campus, bringing the total of retail tenants there to three.
Ryan Courtney State Farm Insurance and Field Electric – Electric Bikes both occupy ground-level spaces on Southeast Division Street, in the new Student Commons. A third retail tenant, Old School Coffee, opened in 2015 in the campus’ new Library.
Both buildings helped transform Southeast into the college’s fourth comprehensive campus. One of the goals of the college is to help strengthen the community by incorporating retail space on the urban campus.
Courtney says he sees the Jade District, which the Southeast Campus borders, poised for growth. He moved to nearby Montavilla from inner Northeast Portland in December. The Jade District has a high proportion of immigrants, including Chinese, Vietnamese, Russian and Latino. Many of them are attracted to the area because housing costs are lower than in other parts of the city.
“I was drawn to this neighborhood because it has the potential to be something really exciting, and I want to be at the front end of that,” said Courtney. “It represents both the affluent up on Mt. Tabor, and the people who really need the help down here on the flats. So I’m excited about being able to serve people in that way.”
Courtney sells life, car and homeowner’s insurance, as well as a variety of mutual funds for college savings plans, retirement and other financial goals. Since State Farm is a bank as well as an insurance company, he can do auto refinancing, and soon, mortgage refinancing too.
Courtney explains that unlike many other investment firms that require a commitment of $500,000 to $1 million to open an account, “We talk to middle-class America, so if you’re starting with $1,000 and you want to put it into a fund, or you have $25,000, $50,000 or $250,000, we’ll sit down and talk with you about what your options are.”
Because of the community’s diversity, Courtney’s agency five-person staff includes Spanish and Vietnamese speakers. He is also partnering with PCC to fund an annual scholarship for a business student; the student must be low-income, be the first in his or her family to go to college, and call the Southeast Campus his or her home campus.
In addition, he is working with PCC to develop an internship for a student to work at his agency. It’s a way to “pay forward” what a mentor did for him many years ago, paying for him to go to graduate school in return for working for his firm for five years.
“The internship is just one more tether that you can wrap around somebody to help them get a feel for what a business life is like,” he said. “Maybe they want to have their own business. They can learn how you get it started, and what it’s like to work in a business environment.”
Meanwhile, two doors down in the Student Commons, Field Electric – Electric Bikes also recently opened its doors. Owner Spencer McGill already had a bike shop near the busy intersection of Southeast Hawthorne and Cesar Chavez boulevards, but the space is small, dark and cramped. His new shop on Southeast 82nd Avenue is nearly twice the size, and filled with natural light thanks to the floor-to-ceiling windows.Michele Wong, owner of Old School Coffee in the Library, is also banking on the promise and vitality of the growing neighborhood and expanded campus. Wong brings more than 20 years’ experience to her latest venture, having previously owned Common Grounds Coffeehouse, Henry’s Café, and Caffe Pallino.
Four free 30-minute parking spaces facing Division Street in the southeast corner end of Lot A are reserved for retail customers; the number of spaces will increase to 10 in late spring.