• A Tale of Two Portlands

    Have you heard the one about the Brooklynites who started a soap line? Sure you have -- and chances are it ended in a pipedream, or maybe even at the Brooklyn Flea. Troy Tyler and Lisa Brodar, the husband/wife team behind Portland General, are different; instead of just talking the L-train talk, the couple delivers in their now international line of all-natural grooming products for men.

    We thought it might be nice to hear the story firsthand. So without further adieu, a selection of excerpts from Brodar’s blog circa summer 2012:

    As I sit here on this Saturday morning in our Portland rental (we don't move in to the Kennebunk Port house until September) enjoying the best scone ever, I can't help but reflect on my journey to Maine, starting PGS, and the future.

    In 2006, we decided to move to Maine when we believed that times were changing and that people were moving toward being more self sufficient -- growing their own food, making their own goods (in my case, soap-making and spinning wool for yarn). We read books, including James Howard Kunstler's The Long Emergency and World Made by Hand (I have a huge reading list of others, happy to send to those who are interested). We traveled around America deciding where to relocate, and it came down to a tie between the two Portland's.

    We almost chose the Oregon city (especially after spending time at Powell's Books, one of the best bookstores in America). We loved how Oregonians embraced such movements as living off the grid and the slow food movement, and known for its bike-ability, music and film scene, and sprouting independent businesses; the "other" Portland has emerged as the capital of West Coast urban cool. It's also a city filled with mid-century houses! In the end, moving so far away from our beloved NYC, and the sun, is what kept us on the east coast. Hence, Portland General Store of Portland, Maine was born.

    PGS was born in the kitchen of my small flat in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. By that time, we knew we were moving to Portland, and it was incorporated in Maine. Etsy was founded around that time as well, and a friend at a local wine store advised that I sell my products there. I decided instead of opening a brick & mortar and dealing with the overhead in a new city and in times of uncertainty, that selling online was the better option.

    I was full of dreams at that time with little money to back them. I designed the labels myself, made everything in my little kitchen, and upon moving to Maine, naively -- though charming as I look back -- went door-to-door to local businesses with a sheet of tea-stained paper listing prices to try and get accounts. I landed one, a little shop that sold a lot of local and other handmade goods on Exchange Street (a major shopping street in the Old Port). I was still a sort of Sex and the City kind of gal with new dreams of a different lifestyle, though not really sure how they would unfold.

    With help from my partner, Troy, totally opposite me -- the artsy-fartsy went to five colleges and finally graduated from art school (He is a serial entrepreneur and business school graduate.) -- PGS went from being a little Etsy shop to an international brand sold in trendy chain stores, noteworthy barbershops, and numerous small independent storefronts across America. This is it in a nutshell.

    To this day Portland General continues to herald the maker movement, over-delivering on everything from its antique Czechoslovakian pharmacy bottle inspired packaging to its formulas, made from simple, natural ingredients and time-tested methods. As for the fact that it all began in Brooklyn? We consider that nothing short of ironic.