Past, Future, Tradition, Invention: The Old World Deli Center is a Corvallis Institution

You can’t walk through the heart of downtown without encountering the odd and delightful landmark of Corvallis history that is the Old World Center. Stand on the northeast corner and you’ll see a chunk of sidewalk proclaiming “Concrete Const. Co. 1912”—that’s there from when Adams Avenue was first paved. Turn north and look up and you’ll see a building built a good two years before then, when 2nd Street became the very first road to be paved in Corvallis. Welcome to the Old World Center, the 102 year-old building at Corvallis’ nucleus.

Step inside the European-style structure and you find yourself in a mall. It is, in fact, Corvallis’ first mall. The word can conjure thoughts of sterility and unceasing pressure to buy, but the Old World Center couldn’t be further from that soul-crushing symbol of American capitalism. Art from Pegasus hangs on the walls. Curiosities abound, such as the Art Machine, a vending machine that disburses mini velvet paintings and jointed paper dolls for five dollars (hello, White Elephant party!). One of the first things you see is an antique electrical panel from the 1800s—it ran the elevator that was once housed in the building—mounted as an almost-mirror image of the building’s solar collector meter. The meter displays a running tab of all the energy generated since the panels’ installation over eight years ago. The Old World Center is, truly, a wonderful mishmash of history and future, tradition and invention, the old and the new.

The Center has undergone several incarnations since it was built at the turn of the century. It began as a truck manufacturer and dealer, which accounts for the unusual structure. Heavy beams—still visible inside of Pegasus Art Gallery—supported the dealership’s massive weight. The unique building now houses an equally unique collection of businesses: Old World Deli, the cornerstone of the mall and bakers of the “World’s best brownies”; Pegasus Frame Studio and Gallery, which offers framing and features local and international art; the Willamette Valley’s iconic Oregon Trail Brewing; Cyrano’s, a book restoration shop which claims the owner’s beloved cat as its totem; Shadowsmith Photographics, a former photography studio that now offers services such as photo restoration and printing; and Hasson Company Realtors.

Book restoration at Cyrano's Books

Ted and Veronica Cox are the owners of both the Old World Center and the Deli, and also—as part of the vanguard of the urban residence movement—inhabitants of its second floor since 1998. Veronica’s Chilean background has infused the deli’s menu with such authentic South American offerings as the barley salad and the lomita hot sandwich. Homegrown Oregonian Ted, both an author and a historian, is involved in innumerable Oregonian historical societies, and strives to ensure that local history is not forgotten. The couple works as conscious and caring stewards not only of the property, but also of Corvallis. The Old World Deli serves as a social hub for many groups—the monthly Science Pub; weekly belly dancing (nationally, the longest-running belly dancing performance!); the occasional musical performance; a yearly Christmas Eve celebration hosted with the Moment Ministries, and many more.

The other businesses within the center clearly love working in a site steeped with such history. Dave Wills, owner of Oregon Trail Brewery since 1991, was a stakeholder in 1987 when the three-story brewery was “shoe-horned” into the building—the first brewery in the Willamette Valley outside of Portland during the microbrewery resurgence. Working in a historical building can require a different approach: “It’s good for gravity flow, because beer requires a lot of gravity,” says Dave. “But it also kind of prevents us from doing bottled beer because when you’re doing bottles you need a lot of floor space…” Instead he offers his brew in kegs and party pigs.

Uncommon solutions are the name of the game. In 2008, Bill Shumway, Pegasus’s owner, made space for Don Ferguson’s Shadowsmith Photography. “Don was struggling, I was struggling,” said Shumway. “We’d been friends for a long time. It seemed to work out pretty well.” A few years later, when Susan Stogsdill was seeking a place for Cyrano’s, Shadowsmith helped make space for her. Now customers can wind their way through Pegasus’s exquisite Paris-inspired gallery of paintings, ceramics, and etchings, and find themselves in the cozy workshops of Cyrano’s and Shadowsmith, an area brimming with handmade jewelry, antique cameras, sculptures, and books.

Continues Shumway. “I think the symbiosis with the businesses has been amazingly nice. We all share our customers…it feels like a big family.”

He smiles. “If you listen quietly, you can hear hundreds of amazing events that have occurred in this building.”

by Mica Habarad

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