|8/19/2011 3:18:00 PM|
Tradition of hospitality lives on at corner
Hospitable, enterprising Italian spirits inhabit the intersection of Southeast 41st and Division in Portland.
Catholic Sentinel photo by Ed Langlois
This spot on Southeast Division Street is where Nick Sckavone operated a drugstore for decades. His son, Jon Finley, continues the legacy with a popular restaurant.
Finley family photo
Nick Sckavone, right, enjoys several children diving into ice cream in the late 1940s.
There, amiable and resourceful Nick Sckavone operated a drugstore from 1930 to 1976. And now Sckavone's, the restaurant started on the site in 2006 by Nick's grandson, has revived the drugstore's peaceful, neighborly milieu. The homey Italian legacy is reflected in hearty dishes like the meatloaf, seasoned with sundried tomatoes and smothered in marinara.
The massive oak cabinet behind the bar came with Nick Sckavone when he opened his pharmacy on the site. He stood before it for decades, dispensing ice cream, sodas and smiles.
"It feels more like a gathering spot again," says grandson Jon Finley, sitting near the same wooden behemoth, which backs a bar now instead of housing candy, cigars and comic books. "I like the continuity."
In 1908, six-month-old Nick Sckavone emigrated with his family from near Naples, Italy to the Richmond neighborhood of Southeast Portland, where he would live his entire life.
Later, to help support the household, young Nick sold newspapers on downtown streetcorners. At one point the Oregonian, aiming to boost circulation and raise revenue, stopped buying back extra papers from the newsboys at the end of each day. Nick, at age 15 showing a natural ability to organize, formed a union and took the newsboys on strike. The publisher resumed the buyback policy.
At 17, Sckavone established the Richmond Athletic Club to form neighborhood baseball teams. For this boy who lacked the skills to make his school squad, it was another act of self-reliance and the start of a longtime devotion to amateur sport.
After scrimping and working hard to graduate from pharmacy school, Sckavone bought the Ever-Ready Drug Store in 1930. Over the next four decades and more, the lunch counter became the neighborhood gathering place. At the start, diners offered opinions about hard times, then went on to exchange news about FDR, World War II, Vietnam, Watergate, neighborhood gossip, local politics and, of course, sports.
Sckavone, a member of St. Ignatius Parish, lived with wife Eunice halfway between the church and the drugstore and held many organizational meetings at home and work, founding teams and leagues and helping educate the many sports writers he called friend.
He would hound city officials to build a lighted baseball stadium on a former swamp in Westmoreland Park, saying that youths who are playing sports are not making trouble. Before he was 50, the city would name the field in his honor.
Sckavone got things done, but was not overbearing. One Oregon Journal article called him "salt of the earth."
Wrestlers from nearby Loprinzi's Gym would come eat a sandwich at the drugstore. Sckavone, in addition to promoting baseball, was a booster for boxing and wrestling.
He worked for girls, too, sponsoring the St. Ignatius CYO softball team.
Sckavone's first shop was in a small brick building on the southwest corner of the crossroads, but in 1946 he built a new drugstore across the street on the southeast corner. That's the building where the restaurant is today.
People who grew up in the neighborhood remember stopping by for 5-cent Coca Colas or 20-cent milkshakes. Many children from Richmond and St. Ignatius schools made the Ever-Ready their afternoon haunt.
One man tells the story of pilfering candy from the store as a boy. The lad's conscience got to him, so he saved money and eventually stood before Sckavone to pay up and confess. Prepared for a tongue-lashing, the boy instead got a free milkshake.
Sckavone, active in the Italian Businessman's Association, guessed he knew 97 percent of his customers by their first names.
"I was so proud of him," says Shirley Finley, the daughter who worked in the drugstore as a clerk and delivered prescriptions while attending Immaculata Academy. "I followed him everywhere. I did my homework in the stands at baseball games."
Now days, this member of Holy Family Parish keeps a log of the restuarant's diners who remember her dad.
"We all looked up to him and considered him a mentor," wrote Helen Juliana, who grew up in the neighborhood in the 1930s, an area known then as Little Italy.
One woman wrote that the store holds a special place in her heart as the place where she bought her first lipstick. A man recalls spinning on the stools.
In the 1960s and '70s, there was talk of a major freeway coming through and obliterating the neighborhood. Businesses in the area became depressed. The freeway never was built, but in 1976, Sckavone closed shop. It was the era that marked the end of the corner drug store, anyway.
Years later, relatives reviewing the store's books found that Sckavone allowed customers to mount large tabs that were never paid off. Stories abounded about free baseball tickets and other quiet generosity.
Jon Finley, who recalls his grandfather's sparkling eyes as he handed out ice cream, surmises that Sckavone wanted to make life bright, especially for children, since his childhood was so difficult.
For decades after the drug store closed, a survey instrument company occupied the building. Then a fancy restuarant moved in. Jon Finley says his more casual, friendly eatery — elegant in its way — is more fitting his grandfather's unpretentious legacy.
Nick Sckavone died in 1998.