If you’ve ever driven down Tacoma Street towards McLoughlin Boulevard, you’ve seen the “baby chicks” sign right before you hit the McLoughlin overpass. If you’ve never turned off to see the chicks then you’ve missed an opportunity to see Naomi’s Organic Farm Supply, a hidden gem in our Sellwood neighborhood. And, unless the “Save Naomi’s” campaign is successful, you may only have a limited time left to check it out.
Naomi and Neil Montaker started Naomi’s Organic Farm Supply in to the lot previously occupied by Kaasch Garden Centers in December 2009. Naomi’s supplies organic seed, fertilizer, plants, animals, and other supplies to organic landscapers, gardeners, and farmers throughout a three-county area. It was one of the first sunny days this spring when we sat down on a bark heap to talk with Naomi and Neil about their business, their place in the gardening world, and their chances of staying in their current location as Les Schwab Tires looks at building a new shop.
“I had been working with a wholesale garden supplier until 2 years ago when they were losing their lease. I decided it was time for me to make a change as well, so I decided to start my own company” said Naomi. “I’d always liked the person-to-person aspects of my job, so my manager thought I’d be good at the retail end of the business.” She and her husband, Neil, started the search for the right location. They looked all over town, from in-town locations in North Portland to more rural locations nearby. When they heard that Kasch’s Garden Center was closing in Sellwood, they knew they were on to something. When Kasch shut its doors Naomi and Neil were there to take over, and they got the keys on Halloween weekend. Slightly less than two months later they opened their doors to the public.
Since then they’ve made a large, if quiet, splash. “Certified organic growers need certified organic supplies so we expected they’d find us”, said Naomi, “but it’s been nice to see the response from backyard gardeners.” Many of our neighbors still don’t know that Naomi’s has occupied the old Kasch space, but that’s changing. “There’s a real value to the space, and to being convenient where people can discover us. Portlanders are passionate about their gardens, and the word spread about a good thing.” Naomi’s currently employs 4 part time and 4 full time employees including Naomi’s mom, Mary Montgomery.
“It was a lot of work putting everything together”, said Neil. “The place was a complete mess, and required some deep cleaning. We filled a couple 30-yard dumpsters in just a few hours.” In fact, they’re still doing extensive cleaning and development of the site to make it exactly what they want. Currently, the building on the site is 2/3 warehouse for storing bulk compost, fertilizer, and other supplies. The retail end of the business occupies a small part of the front of the building, and of course plants and animals are outside. “We have lots of plans for the future, and we think the whole site can be developed creatively to be a real benefit to the neighborhood.”
Any future development is in jeopardy, though, as the site itself may not be available for long. When Kasch went out of business, a large part of the site was bought by Les Schwab Tires for another shop location. Les Schwab currently holds the lease for the property Naomi’s is on, and they’re looking at buying the rest of the lot. “We offered a 5-year lease for the space, but Les counteroffered with 2 years. We took the two years to get us started.” Now honeymoon is over, and Schwab faces the decision about whether to extend their lease. “We’ve looked at a lot of options with them”, said Neil. “We’d be happy moving to the far end of the same lot, staying where we are, buying the lot ourselves, or other possibilities.” “We think it could be an advantage to both companies”, chimed in Naomi. “Having a fun, interactive garden space on the same lot would make their shop a real attraction. It would give Schwab customers a place to go while they had their auto work done. They’d also benefit from our customers seeing their shop, and maybe having their auto work done while they pick up their garden supplies!” The folks at Schwab haven’t closed the door to any possibilities, and are considering keeping Naomi’s where it is.
Naomi and Neil aren’t waiting around hoping the decision goes their way; they’re marshalling their supporters in a campaign to keep them where they are and they’d love to you on their side. The “Friends of Naomi’s Organic Farm Supply” page on Facebook is open for your input and help. If you’d rather communicate with Les Schwab directly, that’s fine too. There’s a template letter online so you can email directly, or if you’re a snailmailer then you can write to Dick Borgman (Chairman and CEO) or Dale Thompson (Chief Marketing Officer) at Les Schwab Tire Centers, PO Box 5350, Bend, OR, 97708.
Naomi and Neil want to stay, but they plan to continue their business whether it’s in their current location or somewhere new. You can get a feel for their optimism from their “Friends of Naomi’s” Facebook page, where their most recent posts reads
“We are planning an event at Naomi’s on
Saturday and Sunday, May 21 & 22. It will be “YAY we are staying” or “stay tuned for the next step”. We will have art & craft vendors and are looking for food vendors and anyone that wants to contribute. Please email if you’d like to join in – firstname.lastname@example.org.”
We’d like to encourage you to show your support for this local startup business in any way you can, whether it’s by calling or writing to Les Schwab, stopping by to pick up garden supplies, or showing up for the
party on May 21.