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This Old Town Snack Shop Revives Its More Than 100-Year-Old Building’s Legacy

At the beginning of the 20th century, Teikoku Co. was a hub for the Japanese American community in what was once Japantown. Today, that space houses another market with similar aspirations

The main room of Goodies Snack Shop in Portland, Oregon.
Goodies Snack Shop in Old Town.
Dina Avila/Eater Portland

In 1905, a labor contractor named Mosaburo Matsushima opened up the Teikoku Co. mercantile on the ground floor of the Merchant Hotel on what is now Northwest Davis and 2nd Avenue. It was located in the 10 or so blocks of downtown beginning to go by Japantown, or “Nihonmachi,” at the time. Hundreds of young Japanese immigrants were arriving in Oregon to work on the railroads, lumber mills, and fish canneries, and Matsushima was keenly aware of their need for a place to find Japanese ingredients and household goods for their growing families. Even more so, they needed a hub to build a community around, and the Teikoku Co. became exactly that.

Several businesses, remodels, a World War, and an oddity museum later, though, this corner space had devolved into a ghost of itself. Since 2014, it’s been one of the many vacant, shuttered spaces of Old Town.

Over the past year, however, vibrant signs of life have been spotted at the corner of Northwest 2nd and Davis. The dramatic columns framing the corner’s entrance are clean and gleaming; the lightbulbs illuminating the stoop have been replaced and relit. On any given sunny afternoon, you might see a couple of young professionals enjoying an afternoon cup of noodles on a tidy sidewalk table — customers of Goodies Snack Shop, a 9-month-old business bringing new life to the historic corner space.

Founded by Joyce Chung and Terence Brasch, this concept store combines grab-and-go snacks and beverages, Asian pantry staples, ample seating for people to spend quality time in this neighborhood, and space for artists and fellow entrepreneurs to host events. After learning about the history of their 139-year-old building and the meaningful role a corner market had fulfilled here a century ago, Chung and Brasch were all the more inspired to revive the legacy of the building’s former tenant and build a cultural hub that could support the community far beyond their corner of Old Town.

The grey-blue door of Goodies Snack Shop in Portland’s Old Town. Dina Avila/Eater Portland
Green chairs line up at tables at Goodies, alongside snack shelves. Dina Avila/Eater Portland
Joyce Chung, the cofounder of Goodies Snack Shop in Old Town, sits on a bench within her shop with her dog. Dina Avila/Eater Portland

Goodies Snack Shop cofounder Joyce Chung.

Back in the times of the Teikoku Co., the Merchant Hotel building was considered by many the heart of Nihonmachi. People came to the Teikoku Co. to pick up soy sauce, pickled takuan, and New Years mochi, as well as packages from home, news on job postings, and the latest neighborhood gossip. But following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Matsushima family was incarcerated, along with approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans throughout the country in prison camps. Nihonmachi disappeared in a matter of weeks. Many existing Chinese-owned businesses expanded into the abandoned spaces over time, which led to these blocks becoming known as Chinatown. When suburbanization started drawing businesses out of the area in the 1950s, it was local Japanese American businessman and philanthropist Bill Naito who invested in the neighborhood and attempted a rebrand, coining the historical district with the more encompassing “Old Town” name.

After the war, the Matsushimas had to rename the store, because “Teikoku” translates to “imperial”—a word closely associated with the Japanese Army. They chose “Anzen,” which means “safe” in Japanese. In 1968, the store moved across the river to Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, where it stood until 2014. Through decades before and after the war, the Teikoku Co. built a reputation for providing safe space and trusted ingredients for Asian Americans living and working downtown — all leading back to the same building Goodies Snack Shop occupies today.

“It feels very serendipitous to follow in those footsteps,” says Chung. “I feel such a responsibility, as an Asian American, to represent in this neighborhood. To know that this space served the same purpose in a past life — I am honored to carry the torch.”

Shelves stocked with mango and lychee gummi candies, as well as yogurt jellies, Hi Chew, and fruit-flavored gum. Dina Avila/Eater Portland
Hello Panda, Pocky, Yan Yan, and more cookies and treats at Goodies Snack Shop in Portland, Oregon. Dina Avila/Eater Portland
Anchovies, sardines, and Fly by Jing tinned fish at Goodies Snack Shop in Portland, Oregon. Dina Avila/Eater Portland

Tinned fish and other pantry items at Goodies.

Beyond that legacy, Chung feels compelled to be a part of the solution in revitalizing a part of town that has long suffered from neglect and failures by city leaders to support local businesses. Millions of dollars earmarked to rejuvenate the area went untouched in recent years. When considering what purpose their business could serve, Chung observed a profound need for space to pass the time and connect while visiting the Old Town-Chinatown neighborhood — an activity that, unfortunately, many have avoided for the past decade due to safety concerns both real and falsely perpetuated by those city officials, out-of-state media outlets, and people who haven’t actually stepped foot in this area in years. Chung and Brasch hope to help shift the narrative by bringing more foot traffic to these streets, which will hopefully, in turn, encourage more visitors to spend time in Old Town and experience its refreshed energy.

“We’re betting on ourselves, and we’re already seeing the impacts on the neighborhood,” Chung says. “It’s a joint effort with our neighbor, Barnes and Morgan tea house. Amir also believes in the neighborhood, we are united in changing the optics of this intersection. We look out for each others’ setups, and we sit out there whenever we can. We’re starting to hear from other people who have changed their walking routes because they feel safer walking down this street now.”

Goodies is leading that charge by hosting gatherings like community plant swaps and kimchi-making workshops. They have big plans for the future, from block parties and daytime events to street food pop-ups and collaborations with fellow businesses in the neighborhood, including Barnes and Morgan tea house next door. But much of their work revitalizing this corner of town is about spending time getting to know passersby, participating in neighborhood gatherings like Old Town Community Association meetings and Deadstock Run Club, and greeting neighbors by name as they sweep their stoop each morning.

“People driving past nearly break their necks in a double take when they see people sitting outside, and I love that,” Chung says. “If people don’t believe that Chinatown is changing, we will show instead of tell.”

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