Neighborhoods are defined not just by their residents, but the shops, cafes and markets that hold them together. Neighborhood businesses are a reflection of the hood's personality - they employ neighbors, act as meeting places, organize get-togethers and events.Such is the case with Riverside Market, the casual café and corner store between NW Congress Street and NW McCann Avenue in the historic mill-era neighborhood south of Drake Park. In the past, it's seen good times and bad times. At its best, it's been a meeting spot for bridge players and floaters stopping in for a beer after a day on the river. At its seediest, it's been a hangout spot for early-morning drunks and transients, with bathrooms used as
Not to say that Riverside wasn't friendly before. But for anyone who's stopped in lately, it's undeniably become a brighter, more welcoming place. The entire market has been reworked and restructured. Local artists painted a new sign out front as well as the backsplash behind the counter, which displays chalkboards featuring Riverside Market's new menu. A large, shiny wooden bar was constructed for the patio, facilitating a greatly expanded outside eating area. On a recent Sunday, local musicians jammed on the patio, mothers with their babies shared a post-yoga coffee and a neighborhood schoolgirl sold candy bars to sponsor her class trip to Washington, DC.
Owners Melanie and John Gaipo have a 13-year-old daughter and live nearby on Delaware Avenue. They're incredibly upbeat, friendly and hard-working - all of which is reflected in the market's changes.
"We love the neighborhood," says Melanie. "It's very colorful."
"It's kind of like our stomping grounds," says John. "If it was a bit more mellow - more of a conventional suburban neighborhood - it just wouldn't be what we're looking for."
It's hard to believe that the Gaipos have only had the market in their possession for less than six months. But the couple, who has been working in the restaurant industry for years - Melanie since she was 14 - was ready to give the neighborhood institution a facelift.
The Gaipos bought Riverside Market after urging from Chris Neal, a longtime Riverside Market employee and former pro motocross rider. He's also a neighbor who lives on NW Riverfront Street.
"With Melanie's background in the service industry, it was the perfect fit," he says.
Many of the market's changes have been at the suggestion of neighbors. The Gaipos have started selling fresh fruits and vegetables in addition to the usual convenience store offerings of snacks, paper goods and over-the-counter remedies. They've expanded the beer selection in bottles as well as on tap - Riverside now pours 14 local and regional beers, including all of Boneyard Beer's brews, as well as kombucha and mate. Melanie has also expanded the menu with healthier options, including a delicious turkey BLT burger ($7.75) and BBQ chicken salad ($6.75). They've kept some artery clogging favorites, though, such as Papa's Tacos - a deep-fried taco filled with mashed potatoes and bacon (2 for $2.50). It's safe to say the menu is heads and tails above Riverside Market's former bill of fare.
"I've not invented or created any wheel," says Melanie of the menu. "We've brought in some more healthy options. It's been very well received."
And the locals can't stop raving. Rodney Tiahrt, who pops in two to three times a day, says of the new Riverside Market, "It's a locals' hangout. Once you get to know everybody, the camaraderie and kidding and harassing that goes don down here at night - it's a riot. You laugh your head off. It's a great place to hang out."
The Gaipos credit their success to the neighborhood. "The difference between us and a franchise is we cater to locals and their feedback," John says.
285 NW Riverside Blvd. 541-389-0646. bendriversidemarket.com. 7 a.m. - 10 p.m. Mon - Sat, 7 a.m. - 9 p.m. Sun.