Something Different Together

Kiva owners George and Melissa Brown take us back in time to the 1970s when things were easy and the hippies had a mall

Illustration by Chelsea Lovejoy

It’s a warm summer afternoon. 1973, Eugene, Oregon.

Driving down West 11th Avenue in your 1966 Coupe De Ville on the hunt for an afternoon well spent, listening to the hit of the summer — “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” by Jim Croce.

About to give up on finding anything to do, you lament that it might be time to see the latest chapter at the Mayflower Theater in the Planet of the Apes saga, Beneath the Planet of the Apes.

Passing by the crowds of people standing outside what appears to be a beat-up garage, your pal Ricky riding shotgun leans in and says, “Hey man, pull over, I need to pick up the new Ken Kesey gospel.”

“There’s a cool book and grocery store inside called Kiva. It’s got what I need,” he says.

Closing the door on your beautiful cherry-red car, you take one step inside the Scarborough Faire, colloquially known as the “Hippie Mall” — founded in 1970. A garage before it was a mall, the St. Vincent de Paul Aurora building is now in that spot in downtown Eugene, and Kiva is still on 11th.

Walking in you would see rows on the left and right with anything you can imagine a hippie trying to sell. We’re talking tarot, leatherwork, woodworking, international imports, Birkenstocks and a candlemaker.

At the end of the long and narrow room, you see a stage, topped with the liveliest of music from the localest of bands. Hanging above the stage is a large screen, showing all manner of films — most notably King Kong.

Tucked in the corner just beyond that is a small bookstore, called Kiva. And it has the 1973 book Kesey’s Garage Sale in stock for your main man Ricky.

“It was just a big garage. Definitely like a bunch of like-minded people,” says Melissa Brown, co-owner of Kiva. “A bunch of people came from an area that kind of had a similar vision and outlook and wanted to do something different together.”

Originally a bookstore, Kiva did the Amazon switch before Amazon was even founded — starting small with books and expanding — even unintentionally so. 

George Brown was apple-knocking in Washington state in 1970 before his friends gave him a call. They wanted him to start a bookstore at this garage they were renting out, where other stores would be propped up to sell local goods. 

“So I went down from Washington and saw what was going on,” George says, “This looked really great, a bunch of people, it’s very interesting.”

“OK,” he says, “I’ll give it a try.”

With no professional retail or business experience, George opened Kiva over 50 years ago. Its doors are still open today — now it’s a local grocer, though it still carries an array of books.

He says Kiva was only a bookstore for about a year until the owner of the grocer in the Hippie Mall up and left one morning. George says he had loaned the grocer some money to order herbs and spices.

Arriving at the mall early one morning in 1971, George saw a note left for him: “George, the store is yours.” He says he’s pretty sure the grocer was already on a plane bound for the beaches in Hawaii while he read his note.

Many purchases were made. A brand new walk-in cooler to store dairy from a supplier in McKenzie River, and then a clear produce case for God’s good Willamette-grown greens. Melissa says within that first year, Kiva became “the prototype of a grocery store.”

Over a decade, Kiva grew. It required a new space — and one was just down the street. Moving all of their inventory down 11th at night on forklifts, driven by one of George’s forklift-certified friends, Kiva arrived at what is still its current location at 125 West 11th Avenue.

While the Hippie Mall doesn’t exist anymore, many of the local businesses within its garage still stand today.

Lazar’s Bazar and Shoe-a-holic both got their start then and still exist today.

George says people come up to him all the time and reminisce about the memories made within that old garage and Kiva’s current location. Couples have met within its walls (including George and Melissa). Grandchildren are now shopping at a place their grandparents used to go.

A woman came in, pointed at a chair that’s been in the store since the ’80s and said, “I used to nurse my baby in that chair.”

For George and Melissa, Kiva provided a “sense of community” that is hard to replace. “We thank [the customers] profusely. We do.”

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