Eliot has a publishing company that recently moved to N. Williams Avenue at Graham Street. I recently sat down with Microcosm owner Joe Biel to talk about who they are, what they do and why they decided to locate in Eliot.
Joe Biel, the owner, talks about how t-shirt messages try to promote bicycling. He has been doing that even before Microcosm. Thankfully, he says, bicycling has become popular, so his job has gotten easier. Why promote bicycling through shirts? The goal is to start a conversation- they sell books as well, but to basically engage people through clothing and books.
One example he talks about is the perception that “bicyclists are in the way, slowing me down.” Ideally, he says, the t-shirts would be the first step in the conversation- they are designed to be eye-catching and make a viewer think. Some of the shirts boast slogans like ‘one less car’ with a person on a bicycle on it, or ‘put the fun between your legs’.
One goal is to help people learn the true facts about the economics of bicycling. Ultimately, the shirt isn’t enough for a whole message, but it might encourage someone to read more about the topic and find that, in fact, taking some cars off the roads and making bicycling easier and more comfortable would improve traffic for everyone, including those in cars.
Microcosm is a publisher, meaning that people can submit manuscripts for publishing and Microcosm can help edit the work and coordinate printing. They don’t do the printing themselves, and they don’t warehouse books, either, but they do stock all of their books, a ton of t-shirts, and other related material.
Why did Microcosm come to Eliot? Ten years ago, they were 3 blocks away from their current location. They eventually figured out that by having warehouses handle most of their inventory, they could move back to where they wanted to be, right on a major bicycling corridor near downtown.
Joe says they are ‘spreading the bicycling revolution’ by printing stickers, patches, movie posters, and books.The types of people who want to see the cross-section of all of these things could do so at their Williams location, but most of their sales are through national and international distribution channels. They have the most popular guidebook for Portland, but most people would find that at a major bookstore like Powell’s.
Microcosm has nine employees, eight of whom work at the Williams office all or part of the time. Ninety-five percent of their focus is to help develop t-shirts and books, taking authors and designers ideas to publishable format.
Their new location was pretty much ready to go. Minor renovations to the foundation were required, but other than that, the building was pretty much ready to go for them. The zoning is for office or medical use, which works for them, but scared off many competitors who were also looking for office space in the area.
Almost everyone who comes into the store does so because they are looking for the sorts of things that Microcosm sells. The shop is on the way home for some of the thousands of bicyclists that are on N. Williams Avenue every day. Joe went on to talk about how people who visit a store by bike spend less at a time than drivers would, but spend way more overall because they make repeated trips.