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Volunteers clean up Portland's Old Town ahead of popular Saturday Market

"This is our effort, this is what we can do. Instead of sitting and complaining, get out and do something," Reid Decker said.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Pounds of garbage pile up on sidewalks in Portland's Old Town Chinatown, and encampments are spread out everywhere you look.

The problem that continues to grow is sparking community action. 

To clean the area and get it ready for the first Portland Saturday Market of the season next weekend, dozens of volunteers picked up trash Saturday morning.

Many see Old Town Chinatown as a growing thorn in the City of Roses, blighted by trash and tents.

"Chinatown has changed a lot, it's different," Chen's Good Taste owner Joe Chen told KGW. "It's gone down pretty bad."

While several businesses boarded up and closed, others actually opened during the pandemic. 

Aces Barista is now brewing in the middle of Old Town.

"It was a perfect opportunity for some young entrepreneurs to just come in and just make our mark down here," Aces Barista Cafe owner Judah Aley said. "I was a bit scared and skeptical of opening down here. We had five tents out front our business before we opened. So we've just been putting in a lot of hard work."

Aley says they do what they can to help and work with the homeless community and clean up the street. 

"It's important for people to feel comfortable walking down here and feel safe," Aley said. "The more businesses that open, we'll get things back to beautiful streets down here."

Aley and nearby business owners believe the return of the popular Saturday Market will begin to reinvigorate the neighborhood.

The market is an anchor for that neighborhood; when artists set up their booths every spring they bring Old Town to life. 

Locals and tourists love coming down to the waterfront for the market and, in turn, small business owners in the area get a boost, which is needed more than ever this year.

RELATED: History behind Portland's waterfront cherry blossoms

Portland Saturday Market artist vendors, like Rhia Winehaus, hope the market brings locals and tourists back.

She has run a tie dye business at the market for more than 30 years and sits on the market's board.

"April to May is going to be a real boost to Old Town," Winehaus said. "We're a real anchor for that. We clean up every week before we come, we have public restrooms and everything."

A big volunteer clean up effort this weekend readies that anchor to drop next weekend.

"It's the heart, it's the pulse, it wakes up the entire neighborhood," Portland Old Town Arts and Culture Foundation Board chair Reid Decker said.

On Saturday, Portland Old Town Arts and Culture Foundation partnered with SOLVE to tackle trash on 36 blocks around Old Town and Waterfront Park.

"We wanted to beautify the area and invite people and let them know this is a safe, inviting area. Yes, there's homeless, but as far as cleanliness we're going to make an impact on that," Decker said.

Dozens of volunteers spent their Saturday morning picking up trash off the streets of the City of Roses.

"I've got 35 volunteers that care about this city and want to see it turn around. This is our effort, this is what we can do. Instead of sitting and complaining, get out and do something," Decker added. "Our systems are overtaxed right now so citizens need to step up to the plate and help out."

Pandemic restrictions and Oregon's wildfires hit the Saturday Market hard last year, creating a large deficit and an uncertain future. It is asking the community for help to offset last year's losses. 

They set up a GoFundMe to pay for taxes, rent and insurance.