Event Planner Bridget Bayer Keeps Portlanders Dancing in the Streets
The Love What You Do podcast is a series of interviews I'm conducting with people who love what they do. The following interview is with street fair organizer extraordinaire Bridget Bayer.
Note: To hear the interview in its entirety, click on the audio link here:
One of the founders of Portland’s wildly successful Mississippi Street Fair, Bridget Bayer shares her vast experience with numerous street fairs and community-building prowess. I’ve not only known Bridget for nearly 10 years, I’ve served on a board with her, watched her give legs to more than one nonexistent street fair and marveled (several times) at her ability to stay cool in a crisis.
Recently she shared her expertise with wider audience by authoring a new book called Street Fairs for Community and Profit. With more than 15 years of experience helping neighborhood business associations run successful events, branding campaigns and Main Street activities, Bridget lives and breathes community development.
She has served as an advisor and instructor for Portland Community College’s Small Business Development Center, had her own small business mediation firm, and held positions in conflict management and grassroots organizing. Her company, BAM (Business Association Management) is dedicated to helping businesses and neighborhood groups build community through events. She specializes in communication and coalition building, recognizing that listening to and engaging others is paramount for successful community development.
From building and running her own small businesses (including Bridges Café, still open under different ownership) to working with at least 20 business associations in the Portland metro area and managing and training over 1,500 volunteers, Bridget is an enigma -- a major force to be reckoned with yet a graceful, lithe spirit to convince you that all things are possible. She lives on a houseboat in North Portland with her husband Peter, with whom she has 3 grown children.
Kristin: How long have you been involved in community building?
Bridget: I probably started community building as a kid. But, professionally, the last 12 years in Portland, Oregon. I helped a business association that I was a part of when I sold the business that was in that association. Instead of starting a new business, I just went into helping the association.
Kristin: And that was Mississippi?
Bridget: No. It was the North/Northeast Business Association. I became their staff person, director at some point. They never did go with executive director because they couldn’t afford it. (laughs)
Kristin: Kind of like my job at Woodstock.
Bridget: Right. Can’t afford you as an executive director so we’ll just get for slave labor wages. (laughs) You’re doing everything anyway.
Kristin: And that café was Bridges, right?
Bridget: Yes, I opened Bridges in 1994 and sold it in 2000.
Kristin: And it’s still open but it’s run by someone else?
Bridget: Yeah, I sold it to a really cool couple. They still own it. And he’s a chef, she’s the manager.
Kristin: What was Bridgets Café like? I don’t think I ever had the honor to go there.
Bridget: Oh, well, you gotta go. It’s a really great breakfast place. I opened it as a soup and sandwich place. Kind of thought about those single gals and guys, and the cop shop opened up on MLK, so I was target-marketing those guys, and the construction workers because Northeast was being heavily rebuilt and revitalized. (We served) a lot of to-go meals and good home cooking. But within a year everyone was bugging me for breakfast. So we opened early and became a great breakfast place.
Kristin: Portland loves their breakfasts.
Bridget: And it’s a dinky little place, and I never thought it would work -- 70 seats, literally -- and you really need 150 to make a profit in a restaurant, so I designed the place to be takeout. It was meant to be come-in-get-out.
Kristin: We’re glad you’re here, but then, “go.”
Bridget: Yeah, it was tiny.
Kristin: Was it a coincidence that it sounded like your name?
Bridget: No, a friend picked it out. I had a tribe -- I still do -- my chosen family. They all helped me do build out. We all did our part, doing the sinks and the electricity -- it was hilarious. I opened that thing with $7,000.
Kristin: Wow. Good for you!
Bridget: It was a lot of barter. But one of (my friends) suggested, “Why don’t you name it after the Portland bridges, and it will play on your name?”
Kristin: It’s a great name.
Bridget: And we used all the art of all the (Portland) bridges. It was cool.
Kristin: Did you have a food background?
Bridget: Twenty-five years. Until I opened Bridges it was 20 years, but I'd never really owned one. I'd done everything else, lots of catering. But I was a maitre'd, a waiter, a bartender, and a cook.
Kristin: I think you learn the best business skills in a restaurant. I think you learn to do everything, really.
Bridget: Well, the last five years before I opened Bridges I had managed a place. I did all the back-end, the paperwork side of it, and I was going to school. I got my business degree and a degree in Asian studies. I wanted to open an import-export business. I came to Portland because my husband got his first job. I didn't really know Portland was so cool. And I went to the bank with my business plan for my import-export business, and they were like, "No, you don't have any experience in this field. You put together a nice plan, but you have no money."
Interview continues, listen to full interview by clicking this audio link: