Sign of the times: Finding the 22nd Street Cafe

posted in: Opinion | 0

The 22nd Street Café is an omelet of small-business success and community flavor. Voted “favorite breakfast” option of 2008 and 2010 by the Forest Grove News Times, 22nd Street Café is one of Forest Grove’s oldest family-owned small businesses. Built in 1942 to provide 24-hour service for local cannery workers, 22nd Street Café has long supported Forest Grove’s local economy.

Passed on to current owner Cynthia Smith in 1972; Smith has spent the last 38 ½ years continuing to feed the development, charm, and small-town character of Forest Grove. Being just a couple blocks away from Pacific University and radiating a welcoming “Maggie’s Buns type-aura,” this business should be booming with Pacific University students.

Unfortunately, Forest Grove’s new sign ordinance has kicked dirt over this hidden-gem and off-the-beaten-path small business—hiding its location by preventing Smith from advertising using movable sandwich board signs.

Forest Grove City Council and planning committees developed this ordinance to focus on districts and areas rather than dealing with individual businesses. The new sign ordinance allows for one temporary sign per business in commercial districts (like downtown Forest Grove) but limits business marketing outside of these specific areas. Businesses two blocks north of Pacific Avenue and two blocks south of 19th Avenue are prohibited from off-site “signage” due to the displeasing “tackiness” of sandwich board marketing. Sadly, the 22nd Street Café is just one block shy of this unusually odd requirement.

22nd Street Café is nestled into an industrial-residential zone, just a few blocks down from Abbot House near Pacific University’s new tennis courts. As Smith’s business is not directly visible from any major arterial roads surrounding Pacific, movable sandwich board signs are a critical part for advertising and sustaining her business.

Smith estimates her business to be down 40–50 percent since the new sign ordinance has come into effect in Forest Grove.

The Feb. 14 City Council meeting brought groups of her regular customers and equally frustrated realty businesses together in broad opposition of this new signage ordinance. While hundreds of petition signatures and passionate letters have been read by blind eyes on the City Council, our local government has left the broad support of Smith unseen; woefully overlooking the strength of Forest Grove’s friendly small-business community.

Although Forest Grove has spent nearly $80,000 dollars to create the new town slogan: “a place where families and businesses thrive;” they have simply not put their money where their mouth is.

Thankfully, there are various simple and easy fixes.

An amendment could be made to add a third block in the ordinance from Cedar Street to Douglas Street (along 22nd Street) to accommodate this now wounded small business. As 22nd Street Café is grandfathered in with regard to various other city regulations, a simple extension could be made in light of Smith’s long-term sandwich board advertising. Although she tried to expand to attain visibility, Smith has also been restricted from developing on adjacent land that she owns due to parking availability.

Curiously, Pacific University students will have to walk by the library, tennis court, and Abbot Hall parking lots on their way to this hidden local eatery. Furthermore, the easiest and quickest fix is just based on the “aesthetic judgments” of the Forest Grove City Council.

John Shrag, publisher and editor of the News Times notes how the U.S. Supreme Court gives autonomy to local cities for issues of signage, basing regulations solely regards to how the signs look in those local communities. While the “aesthetic judgments” of Forest Grove allow degrading human marketing; many people feel that making recovering meth addicts dance with signs on our street corners is slightly more “distracting” and “tacky” than any other sign could ever be. Clearly, these aesthetic values are in bad taste for wine country.

Locally and family owned businesses foster a connected friendly community, civic association and a pillars for local government. They are no burden to Forest Grove. Citizens and students can easily grow tired of the urban sprawl of Jack in the Box, McDonalds, Wal-Mart, Taco-Bell, Subway, Starbucks, and Fred Meyer—the corporate chain causeway that can extend from Forest Grove to Kansas. Beyond the temporary employment and low priced products, these large chain options add little to nothing for the local independence, character and small-town spice of Forest Grove.

Although these giant chain stores do have some breakfast options, the corporate McGriddle/McCafe combination gives you more kick-start to the bathroom than a kick-start to the beginning of your day. 22nd Street Café, by contrast, provides an equally well-priced and more delicious alternative to these monotonous chain store options.


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