John's Marketplace: A Little History and a lot of Beer
John's Marketplace 3535 SW Multnomah Blvd. Portland, OR 97219 (503) 244-2617
I've lived in Portland for almost 6 months now and only just recently learned about John's Marketplace. I'd previously been using my navigation on my phone to try and find beer markets that sold beer individually, in order to avoid the commitment of a 6-pack. The nights that called for drinking at home, instead of sampling beer at local breweries and brewpubs, started at my local Fred Meyer or Market of Choice. The selection was always decent, but having to buy a six pack of one type of beer began to annoy me. A few weeks ago, a friend of mine mentioned John's to me and was ashamed that I had no idea what the hell he was talking about. He stated that it was the place to go to buy individual bottles of any type of beer I could imagine. I made my first visit to John's a couple hours after it's high recommendation from my friend.
Expecting to find a trendy new building, I almost blew past John's the first time. It resembled a mom and pop convenient store from the outside; a place that would have deep fried burritos and jo-jos next to the zodiac sign lighters. Once inside, I was surprised to find an immense selection of local, domestic, and international beer. There were several beers I hadn't even heard of before. I picked up a bottle of beer from Russian River and called it a day. I decided that this place was too good to be true and too peculiar to come without an interesting history. Who is John? And why is his market place so awesome? My curiosity led me to call and set up an interview with the store's owner to learn more about this beer goldmine.
On the day of the interview I found store's owner, David Percival, in the kitchen cooking bacon. I asked him if he was short handed that day and he explained that it was his routine to peddle in to work and start prepping for the Deli's lunch menu. A menu that consisted of a few simple sandwiches. I came right out with my first question, "Who's John?" and the marketplace's story shortly followed. David began the interview with how the name of the market came about.
John's Market was established in 1923 by a Swiss dairy farmer, John Feus, that had settled in Multnomah. John's was originally a meat market until it relocated and expanded to a successful super market in 1958. David explained that business slowed for John's when shopping malls and grocery store franchises began to pop up in SW Portland.
By 1990, John's was just a convenient store on Multnomah Boulevard. The name remained John's Marketplace, even after new owner, Jack Furman, took over in the early 90s. Jack brought the concept of a super market back and incorporated produce, grocery and a deli to John's. He also brought in wine and beer. David mentioned that most of the store's traffic at the time was due to the super low beer prices. However, this was still not enough to keep a small supermarket up and running next to all the corporate competitors.
David Percival became the third owner in 1999 and focused on selling mostly beer and wine. Dave mentioned that he kept the same name because it was already a well established market in the SW Portland community and changing it would take away from its authenticity. To help with businss, Dave said he'd put an ad in the Portland Mercury every week. He began with advertising John's original mascot, Dave's dog Chunks. That eventually turned into the "Keg-Dog of the Week" competition with a picture of the winning pup in the Mercury. David went a little further and turned the "Keg-Dog of the Week" into an adoption program. Each week, he'd post a picture of a less fortunate canine in need of a home. This successful idea helped bring in new customers and also helped reduce the stray dog population in Portland. Dave still has a display board in the store's deli, with pictures of the famous Keg-Dogs.
Business got even better for Dave when competing beer market, Burlingame, burnt down in 2001. Dave said that quite a few of Burlingame's customers started picking up their beer at John's Marketplace and have ever since.
With over 1000 choices of beer in stock, John's Marketplace is is the place to go if you're looking to try a new brew. I asked Dave what influenced his selection of beer at the market. He basically stated that he stocks anything and everything that's in distribution. Dave carries your good old American Pilsners and Lagers too. If you want a Bud Light, damnit you can have a Bud Light . However, he reserves his top shelves for local brewery's beers, making sure they always have a spot and are easy to find.
Distributors label some of the beers with scores from ratebeer.com. These scores help customers become interested in new beers and offers those new to craft beer, a guiding hand. Dave stated that a certain beer's sales will go up 70%, if there's a score or rating for it. I noticed these ratings on a few Russian River beers that I'd never tried, on my first trip to John's. I saw scores 98, 99, and 100 listed below, so I thought they'd be worth a try. I started with Damnation from Russian River, a Belgian Pale Ale. This beer was perfect! The most noticeable quality was its velvety yet crisp mouthfeel. Russian River bottle conditions their Belgian style ales, meaning that each beer goes through it's 2nd fermentation in the bottle, contributing to its prominent carbonation. Damnation really sparked my interest for more Russian River.
I mentioned this experience to Dave during the interview and he began to talk about Pliny the Elder, also from Russian River. He said that this beer is the reason for most of the phone calls to the store. Beer fans are constantly calling to check to see if this Imperial IPA is in stock yet. Dave informed me that they get a shipment of this celebrity beer every 4-5 weeks and it stays on the shelves for only 1-2 days. Dave must have seen me drooling because he went to the back and snagged me bottle. I was able to sample the Pliny the Elder a few days ago, and it's definitely worth the hype.
John's Marketplace also sponsors the annual International Beer Festival, that takes place in the Pearl District every July. The festival serves over 150 world-class beers from more than 15 countries. All of the proceeds from the festival, go to Pet Cross, a local non-profit group that help improve the lives of many animals in need from the Portland area. If you missed it this year, make sure to plan a day for this monumental event next summer.
It was obvious, as we wrapped up the interview, that the success of John's Marketplace is a result of Dave Percival's hard work, perseverance and his respect for the passionate brewers of Portland. He's not in it to make the big bucks, but instead, to do what he loves and support a community known for its love of beer.
If you haven't been into John's Marketplace yet, it's time to make the trip! Check out the vast selection of beer, fine wine and maybe even order a fresh and tasty sandwich from the deli to pair with your beverage purchase. And don't forget to give owner, Dave Percival, a thumbs up for providing Portland with such a sweet beer market!
John's Marketplace is located on 3535 SW Multnomah Boulevard, in the heart of Multnomah Village.
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