Today I had the pleasure of sitting down with the beautiful and talented Maya co-owner of Lowell, one of my favorite spots. (Dino, Maya's other half, was unfortunately out of the shop today) As we sipped coffee, Maya told me all about growing up in Arizona, how she and Dino ended up in Portland and how she has always had a knack for sales.
Maya: I grew up in Arizona and my parents were archeologists who had moved to Arizona for an archeology dig and ended up never leaving. They had to figure out what they were going to do next, because it was the late 70’s early 80’s and archeology was at the tale end of the boom, I think. There just weren’t that many jobs left, and so they ended up opening up a shop when my mom was pregnant with me in 1987. They had a store for about 25 years, and I kind of grew up in a Native American art and hand made things, zone. After working in my parents store for a long time, and in a variety of retail places, bar tending, was a personal chef, I ended up managing a Native American Art Gallery for a few years before we moved to Portland. Dino’s background is almost exclusively in the culinary world. He’s always made art at home, painted, drawn and done ceramics. We took a weaving class together but he’s always worked in kitchens to make a living. He’s a career cook.
F: So why did you decide to move to Portland?
M: Mostly for Dino, it was the culinary scene. He was really excited for all the ingredients. For me, since I was little, we wrote essays in the school that I went to, and had to write a mission statement, which was the mission for our future. I think from age 12, or whenever you’re in six grade, onward and through high school, we had to write them every year. Out of the six or seven that I wrote only one didn’t involve moving to the Pacific North West. It was this weird plan in my brain since I was a little kid. We did a big road trip from Arizona and we visited California with plans to visit Seattle and go up to Vancouver BC, checking out all the different areas. We had both lived in New York before, and I kind of didn’t want to live that lifestyle again. So we ended up in Portland and just decided not to keep driving and ended up staying for 10 days, and hustling back on our road trip. Then a year later after planning and saving we ended up moving here in 2010.
F: What made you decide to open up your store?
M: Ever since I was very young, I’ve been very entrepreneurial. I had a lot of faux stores where I would sell my friends my stuff when I was little. I would famously save all the Halloween candy that wasn’t chocolate and sell it 3 months after Halloween. So, I've always had this entrepreneurial spirit and I definitely have always wanted to open my own store. I had a pretty good vision of how I wanted it to be, this weird niche market of people who like what I like. Dino was excited about that as a prospect, but he was really passionate about cooking. He had also never worked in retail so he was very much “let’s think about that when we’re in our 40’s”. Something shifted at some point, and I think he realized he enjoyed working in kitchens but he liked cooking at home more. He liked having more say in what he was doing and not having to worry about cooking for hundreds of people.
F: Where does "Lowell" come from?
M: The name is my grandfathers name and I think it was a name among a list of names that we threw around. A lot of the ideas we had, we would google it and some cool shop would already have it. It just kept coming back to Lowell. The day we had our business cards designed, and we had to settle on a name, we had to get our business license sent, we said lets just go for Lowell. That night we watched “The Fighter” which we had no idea was centered in Lowell, MA and that just kind of reinforced it, having this grimy ideology associated with it. Then we realized theres a Lowell in Oregon. There’s a ghost city in Arizona called Lowell, so there’s a city in every place we lived. So the incorporation of that, and it being my grandfathers name, made it a cool name. It is hard to say “Hello Lowell” when you answer the phone though.
M: We started looking at spaces and got really discouraged because we couldn’t find any places we liked that didn’t need a whole bunch of work. Dino was skateboarding home from work, when he worked at Lovely’s 50/50, and went down this hill on Mississippi and lost his balance and hit his head. He went to the emergency room and I had to pick him up at 2 am. They asked him to come back the next day to make sure his concussion was ok. For whatever reason, he went down Russell and noticed this space. We had never driven down this street before. He told me about it and I came the next day and the landlord was inside doing something. I struck up a conversation with him, and he wasn’t even planning on renting the space. He had been in a transitory stage with the building, having tried to sell it before, then deciding to take it off the market. He hadn’t done anything with the building for 4 or 5 years. He said “I like you guys and I think I should give you a chance, because if no one had ever given me a chance I wouldn’t be where I am today.” Which is just such a Portland landlord story. We started renting it within a month of talking to him.
F: How long did it take to open?
M: It took maybe 2 or 3 months, but it seemed like it took a really long time. We had a contractor and a few different people, electricians and such. Visually, we knew what we wanted pretty much, and the only major changes were building out the bar (front counter) and putting in electrical. There were only fluorescent school lights, so we changed those out and added the pocket door. I had quit both my jobs, I had two at the time, so I was down here painting until 2 o’clock in the morning until Dino was finishing up at the restaurant. We opened in early December of 2011.
F: It's such a beautiful space and so very well curated, how did you decide how to style it, what was your inspiration?
M: It’s interesting because before Dino and I met we definitely both had a very similar aesthetic. For me going back to my parents house and spending time with them, and for Dino getting to know them you can definitely see that some of my taste comes from growing up around old things and appreciating them. They (my parents) definitely have different taste in things, so I’m not sure if its being interested in textiles or being around lots of art. For Dino, he grew up in Havasu City the hub of all hot death traps and there was no art or culture there at all. I don’t know where he, I think he was really into punk culture and that opened his eyes to the horizon. He moved to New York as soon as he graduated from high school. It is kind of... we’re not sure where our aesthetic comes from, we just know we share a lot of the same aesthetic. It works out really well.
F: I love the mixture of both old and contemporary items. How do you decide what to show, do you prefer one over the other (old vs. contemporary)
M: We like both. I don’t think I could choose between the two. We like the same qualities in both. Things that are handmade and took a lot of time and consideration. It might vary on the object. Ceramics are one that I’m a 100% divided on. Textiles, I feel like there are some really cool new progressions going on with people weaving, but the amount of care gathering materials, spinning yarn and dyeing your own wool is not really being put into contemporary textiles. I would say for some things I like older things and some I like new. I'm torn between the two of them.
F: Besides running an incredible store, what are some of your other interest?
M: We cook a lot. Dino makes ceramics and does all of our design work for our cards and a our signs, and all of our clay shop figures. He's gotten more of an art opportunity through the shop and been commissioned for other peoples companies. He has a pretty distinctive aesthetic, so when people respond to it, they want him to do it. I make clothing, and I prefer to make one of a kind pieces for the store. Similarly for Dino with the ceramics. We kind of divide our time between creative pursuits, cooking and running the store. We try to go outside, but we are not so good about that, especially during the winter. We watch a lot of old films, and we try to read.
F: What are some of your plans for 2015?
M: We are trying really hard to expand our online presence. We do have a lot of people contacting us via Instagram, but we aren’t really into marketing ourselves on that platform. We think it should be a visual platform and not a commerce one. We would like to have an online store for people who want it, but we don’t want to push ourselves on anyone. We do have an online store now, but it is sorely in need of an update. That’s our goal, better e-commerce for people who want it.
F: Ok, one last question, is there anything you would want to change this year?
M: No matter what I always want more time, there never seems to be enough time to do all the things we want to do. We did throw around the ideas of having someone work here one day a week, so we could have one day and night where we could do something other than store related things. But I think so much of what makes this store what it is, is who we are.
It's always such a pleasure getting to hang out at their wonderful shop! You can visit Maya & Dino at Lowell Wednesday- Sunday 12-7pm or follow them on Instagram @lowellshopgallery