First, it was an airport. Then, it was a laundromat. In between the airport and the laundromat, many other places have been the target of a hipster makeover by the good people of Portland, Oregon—and now the city is even making it cool to buy a bag of Doritos.
Mini Mini, now undergoing its soft launch, is Portland's first purposely hipster-themed convenience store. Like the city's craft breweries and doughnut shops, it's sure to become another celebrated pit stop for tourists from Japan, and it provides locals with yet another place to drink, which kind of seems like the whole point of hipster-themed places anyway.
One of Mini Mini's five founders is Aaron Draplin, the PDX-grown graphic design mastermind behind Urban Outfitters staple Field Notes, who curated Mini Mini's minimalist, less-is-more, space-station aesthetic.
"If it looks good, it feels better," explains co-owner Jonathan Felix-Lund. "The lighting in most convenience stores is really harsh; people get in and get out, and customers deserve a place that feels clean. Most convenience stores are gross."
Felix-Lund and Matt Brown, both former Stumptown coffee employees, came up with the idea four years ago while traveling together for work. Stopping at gas stations housed in iffy spaces that offered stale food and beverage selections both depressed and inspired them. The pair vowed to create a convenience store that was not only an enjoyable experience, but an experience unto itself.
"We're not a market, there's no producer. Other places take this idea into a different direction—trying to be a deli or a Whole Foods. We like the convenience store model, and we want to change what it means to be a convenience store," says Felix-Lund.
Though its founders insist that you judge this book by its cover, Mini Mini's inventory is its most attractive facet. Here, you can have your smartly displayed Hostess cake and eat it, too.
"You don't want just the shittiest of everything or the best—you want a mix," says Felix-Lund. "If you want your Snickers, you can have it, but you can also pick up a health drink, like a bottle of imported black water, on your way out."
I sampled the black water. It's literally water that is black.
Portland, being the real-life cartoon that it is, loves to collect and market many of its most innovative, competitive brands in a single basket. At Mini Mini, you can purchase local staples such as Salt & Straw ice cream and Ruby Jewel ice cream sandwiches. There will be Lion Heart kombucha, Stumptown cold brew, and Double Mountain beer on tap. Also, the PDX-based national pizza chain Sizzle Pie, which co-owns Mini Mini, has contributed a new line of vegan (and non-vegan) "hot pockets." (I tried one of those too, and I can confidently say that they're so much better after breaking ties with the microwave).
Naturally, there will be options for those with any dietary restrictions that evade the consciousness of "basic" convenience stores. But just because Mini Mini offers both dietary flexibility and interior design that would surely please Wes Anderson doesn't mean its products will put a tear in your wallet.
"A lot of our pricing is lower than convenience stores like 7-11 or Plaid Pantry. People think Mini Mini's going to be expensive because it's nice, but we will fill up your growler for $7 with local cider and beer. Nothing in this store is over 20 bucks," insists Brown.
Brown's business model is so enticing that I don't question the supposition that any single item could cost $20 at a nearby 7-11.
Mini Mini plans on expanding, but not out of Portland. If they have their way, Felix-Lund and Brown would like to open a Mini Mini in every Portland neighbourhood so that they can tailor each store to meet hyperlocal needs; maybe one area will want less of the gluten-free stuff and more brands of cigarettes, for example. At the moment, only the most common cigarettes that frequent nearby dive bars are sold within Mini Mini's glass walls—American Spirits, both yellow and blue, included.
And the timing is just right. It was recently revealed to locals that the CEO of Plaid Pantry, the most lucrative local convenience store chain, is a generous donor to the Donald Trump campaign.
But Felix-Lund and Brown put it best: When was the last time you went to a convenience store when you weren't drunk?
Let's hope a hip post office and library aren't far behind. If we can find a way to serve beer at a shipping station, we might be able to bring back snail mail.