Independent retail is an industry of perseverance. For shop owners, particularly those in Portland, weathering seasonal changes, ebbs and flows of business, and the frequency and immediacy of passing trends is certainly not for the faint of heart. Our city has set a standard for our successful retail establishments that they must toe the line between on-trend and ahead-of-trend, which is a big challenge amid all the other duties that go along with running a business.
These days, I find myself more and more connected to businesses that have earned some years under their belts. When I found out that the venerable Burnside boutique Rock & Rose turned 10 years old, I began reminiscing about the first time I shopped at this little store—around nine years ago—and how this little corner of the Eastside seemed remarkably blessed by its presence. I got a dress that I still have to this day, and have continued to pop in throughout the years for a mix of well-kept vintage garments and independent-manufactured design. Ten years is a long and impressive haul!
I must admit a personal connection to this business district, having worked at the Farm Café for many years, which was demolished to make way for the changing face of Burnside. The years have flown by, the street has changed, and to learn that this little brick-and-mortar which has been owned and operated by a one-woman powerhouse, Sheila Leo, has been steadfastly holding down the fort is another reason to boast about a business that has something very special to offer its customers.
If you’ve never been to Rock & Rose, you can expect a more alternative aesthetic: a blend of rocker and boho that’s bridged with attention to quality. The vintage section, for both masculine and feminine apparel, is selected for craftsmanship, well-maintained or restored condition, and trend relevance. The new merchandise fits the bohemian and the edgy aesthetic, but is also sourced for its construction and quality. Leo states that a focus of hers is great denim, because “it’s just so universally loved by everyone (including myself) and vintage denim was made so much better than the denim of today.” As for new products, she’s always looking to expand her selection. “Jewelry has always been our best-selling items,” she says, “and I tend to look for and carry mostly local designers.”
Before opening her own shop, Leo got her start working at a small mom-and-pop vintage shop where she was able to cultivate a sense of her own vision and learn the ropes of vintage and resale. Though she first envisioned her store focusing singularly on vintage, the combination of local and independent products seemed to pair so beautifully with the vintage styles she loved. “As the years went on,” she explains, “I started to expand into new clothing, local jewelry, handcrafted lotions and potions, and new accessories and housewares. I like the idea of a person having a one-stop shop to find a curated selection of goods while creating an experience for the customer.”
Rock & Rose carries quite a few sought-after brands such as Sanktoleono Jewelry and Wolf Child tees, as well as their in-house apothecary brand, Kobrah, among a multitude of other edgy, alternative styles. It’s a versatile choice for people of all gender identities because of its mixed offerings and size gradations—and it’s a great stomping ground for unique gifts, boasting a beautiful home goods selection, and constantly changing array of jewelry/accessories. Though the 10-year anniversary party has just passed, this shop celebrates every first Friday of the month by staying open late and featuring an artist (as well as a bit of drinks and snacks).
I closed my interview by asking Leo a burning question: What would “Sheila now” tell “Sheila 10 years ago” upon embarking on the R&R journey? Her answer rings very true of the journey most business owners experience. “I would tell her that she is in for one hell of ride,” she says. “I would also tell her to not hold on to her notion of what running a business looks like. That it will change and morph over the years based on her customers, the neighborhood, and her own personal growth.”