LIKE MANY Portland neighborhoods, little flare-ups of kitsch and chic have been popping up around St. Johns, though at a slower pace than in other areas of the city. But one surprising and welcome addition has been Anarres Infoshop and Community Space, a small converted garage located just off the main drag that, for a few days a week, is a buzzing hub for the city's punks and anarchists.
Named after the utopian planet from Ursula K. Le Guin's 1974 sci-fi allegory The Dispossessed, the humble volunteer-run spot is working to fill the sizable gap left behind by last year's closure of Laughing Horse Books. Like that shop, Anarres features a selection of progressively minded books and zines, and punk LPs and cassettes, while also opening its big sliding door for performances by bands and artists.
At the time the ragtag group of men and women who conceived of Anarres started making plans for the shop, the idea was to provide a complement to the already existing anarchist-minded spaces in the city.
"We wanted to be in North Portland, that was a must," says collective member Joel Brown. "At the time, both Laughing Horse and Red and Black [Café] were in Southeast. We wanted to have a space near where we lived."
The emphasis for all involved with Anarres has been on the second part of its name, community space. There are cozy couches and a foosball table, free wifi and cheap coffee. And there are resources like free condoms, a needle exchange, and a lending library offering a range of literature, graphic novels, and sociopolitical nonfiction.
In addition, there's a larger goval of connecting with the residents of St. Johns and providing resources that the neighborhood is lacking.
"The idea is not to just come in here and say, 'This is what we think you need,'" says collective member Sam Miller, "but rather to engage in a dialogue with the community and see what we can bring using our own experience."
Having only been open for about four months, the space is still finding its feet. Though it's received positive feedback from neighbors and students at nearby Roosevelt High School, Anarres' location, right behind a big purple building on North Alma, has made it difficult to generate foot traffic. (Another small detail: The shop doesn't have a bathroom.)
What will surely help Anarres thrive is the energy of the people behind it. During the group's weekly meeting that I sat in on, the seven members bounced around a bunch of ideas, including a women's hiphop showcase, screening films, and hosting poetry readings. And true to Anarres' collectivist spirit, everyone got their say in the discussion and every potential event was voted on.
"I think we have as many goals as we have members," says Miller. "This space has been operating as a way for us to all come together and accomplish all those things. This is where the Venn diagram darkens."