An iconic Portland business that started almost 30 years ago on a whim, a dream, and a family home put on collateral will close in September.
The Whole 9 Yards, 1820 E. Burnside St., has not been destroyed by a faltering economy or lack of customers, the fallout from social distancing rules required due to COVID-19.
The death of a family member convinced Amy Estrin and her husband, Jamie Eoff, that time is precious and that they need to do something different in their lives.
“My mother passed away last year,” Estrin said. “Jamie and I had a good race, a great race, but we have a long list of things we want to do. “
The circle closes in the most appropriate way.
The store was born because of a list.
He dies because of a list.
Estrin, born and raised in Chicago, moved to Oregon in her twenties after her parents packed their bags and decided to open a fabric store in Salem. Her mother was a nurse, her father a wholesale fabric distributor.
“They gave it all up and came to Salem from all places to open a retail fabric store,” she said. “Who does something so drastic in their 50s?” “
Estrin, a fine art painter, moved to Salem to help her parents, then to Portland, where she met and married Eoff, a musician who played the drums. She has shown her work in local galleries and he has performed in groups. They also both had side concerts at the Storefront Theater, a revolutionary company. Estrin worked on the set design, her husband on the music for the shows.
On a road trip to Los Angeles, the couple talked about working together. To pass the time, they made a list of possible businesses, including a cafe, bookstore, and record store. Also on the list was a fabric store.
“On the way home we crossed out the things we didn’t want to do,” Estrin said. “The fabric store made the cut.”
Estrin decided she wanted to do something different from her parents, something that incorporates her love of art, setting up a retail store with unusual fabrics from around the world.
But the couple had no money.
What they had was their house, which once belonged to Eoff’s parents. His father joined the Oregon Symphony at the age of 19, playing the viola there for decades and also working closely with the Portland Youth Philharmonic.
“My parents were frugal,” he says. “My mother was a seamstress and stayed at home. But she managed their money well and they were able to buy the house that I inherited when they died.
Estrin and Eoff, who said they were making a living the best they could, decided to use their home as collateral to secure a loan for a business they named The Whole 9 Yards. They both knew it was a huge risk.
“It still amazes me that Jamie trusted me,” she said. “He was going to do all the bookkeeping and all the behind-the-scenes work in the store. I was going to be the main person up front, the face of the store.
They rented space in Northwest Portland and opened their doors.
“I spent more money on fabric than I spent in my accumulated adult life,” Estrin said. “I couldn’t sleep, I was so worried.”
The business grew slowly, with the husband and wife doing everything they could until they earned enough to start hiring employees. A woman they wanted to hire had to turn down the job because her husband didn’t think the neighborhood was safe.
“It was considered scary,” Estrin said. “That’s before the Pearl District exploded into what it is today.”
The business took off when customers and interior designers across the metro area discovered the store’s selection of fabrics. Estrin studied fabric from a painter’s perspective, traveling the United States and Europe, looking for bargains and fabrics not found in chain stores.
“We have done better every year,” she said. “We hung on during the recession. “
In 2000, the couple were fortunate enough to purchase a building in East Burnside.
“We did it,” Estrin said. “Thanks to the powers that exist in life.
Eoff said his parents would have been “amazed” to see what their house had helped build.
After the death of Estrin’s mother, the couple took stock of their lives. She is 63 and he is 69.
“We have this list of things we want to do,” Eoff said. “So we’ll do them. We are going to enjoy life.
The couple sold the building, allowing them to retire. They are ready to sell the store, but know it can be difficult to find a buyer in these uncertain times.
“But if someone is young and creative, they should come and talk,” Estrin said. “It would be great to keep the spirit of the store alive.”
The remaining fabric stock will be on sale until the doors close in September.
“It’s bittersweet,” Estrin said. “In many ways it is much more difficult to close the store than it is to open it.
As the weeks wind down, the couple are proud of what they have been able to build.
“We did all of this on our own,” Estrin said. “All we had was this house, the one we still live in, to finance everything. “
– Tom Hallman Jr; [email protected]; 503-221-8224; @thallmanjr
Subscribe to Oregonian / OregonLive newsletters and podcasts for the latest news and the best stories.