PORTLAND, Ore. (Portland Tribune) — Stroh’s, as locals know it, has served the pricey West Hills neighborhoods since Gottlieb Strohecker founded it as a small store in 1902.
But Strohecker’s grocery store closed for good Jan. 30. A liquor store located near the back of the store will remain open another six months, and the pharmacy will stay open until the end of February and reopen on the east side.
This story first appeared on the Portland Tribune, a media partner with KOIN 6 News.
Strohecker’s is at 2855 S.W. Patton Road, next to Portland Heights Park, and has served as the heart of the neighborhood for generations. It’s the only walkable commercial destination in the neighborhood, and provides many basic services for residents of surrounding homes.
With its future uncertain, neighbors fear that the land will be rezoned and developed as multifamily condos by its California owner. That would require a change to a 1984 city ordinance that rezoned the site as “neighborhood commercial” and stipulated that the parcel be used for a grocery store.
The Strohecker family sold the store to Lamb’s Thriftway in 1996. In 2012 it became a Bales Thriftway. Both struggled under high rent, which one neighbor said soared to approximately $40,000 a month. Neighbors posting their comments on Portlandmaps.com suggested that a more focused store that paid market-rate rent with added underground parking would succeed here.
After Gottlieb Strohecker, the store was run by Armand and Martha Strohecker. Longtime neighbors recall Armand handing out candy to neighborhood kids and sweeping the back parking lot. The family business passed next to Wes, Wayne and John Strohecker. Customers could enter a back room near the butcher to make phone calls on rotary phones; they charged their groceries by signing their name to a charge account. Kids roamed free until they were grounded for unauthorized charges on the family account.
Wayne Strohecker, who died in 2012, built a reputation for stocking fine wines and fancy cheeses long before this was common practice among Portland’s grocery stores.
Kristin Marks Roslund is Wes Strohecker’s step-daughter. She grew up in and around the store, working many summers alongside her cousins and siblings.
“Strohecker’s was ahead of its time,” she said from her home in Bend. “We were making all the deli salads from scratch and getting the best meats in the area. Wes drove all around town early in the mornings to stop in at bakeries to get the best of the best.”
Wes Strohecker died in 2013.
The store served the neighborhood with a liquor store, pharmacy, post office, bakery and café. But its shelves have become increasingly bare and its fresh produce didn’t compete with competitors like Zupan’s and New Seasons, neighbors say.
One reason the grocery store gave for its lagging sales, said longtime neighbor Christopher Gann, is that its small parking lot fills up with cars during seasonal sporting games held in adjacent Portland Heights Park. Gann reports that Lamb’s Thriftway previously tried to get out of its lease by reaching out to New Seasons and Trader Joe’s grocery stores.
“I would hate to see condos there,” Gann said.
The property is owned by Southwest Hills LLC, a small California-based investment company set up in 2011 that bought it for $5.4 million.
Blythe Olson recently organized residents on NextDoor, the social networking site for neighborhoods, and submitted written comments in support of upholding the 1984 ordinance to the Planning Commission on Jan. 7. In a NextDoor post she wrote:
“Our best and perhaps only way to have a voice in what happens is by making sure that the city continues to honor the 1984 ordinance that neighbors fought so hard for to keep a grocery store on the property and to maintain neighborhood livability. A large group of neighbors living close to Stroh’s submitted formal comments both to the zoning commission and City Council on this issue in the past year and will be submitting them again with additional endorsers by the upcoming deadline.”
Nancy Seaton, Southwest Hills Residential League president and land use chair, has written the owners directly, asking that they accommodate a market-rate grocery store.
“It’s very sad to lose the store. We’re opposed to condos-only here,” she said. “It’s taken us unawares.”