“It was really just a shame thinking about how things ended for the shop, a shop that was so much larger than life, and with Geneva being gone, it felt wrong,” filmmaker Devin Boss told The Skanner. “I wanted to find some way for us to collectively say farewell, or for it to have its just due.”
With writer Donovan Scribes, Boss sat down with Geneva’s co-owner Paul Knauls Sr. to create a love letter of sorts to the business – which became a much more intimate piece.
“Donovan wrote this absolutely beautiful, poignant love letter from Paul to Geneva, and I went to work creating visuals that captured the essence of what was communicated,” Boss said. “(Knauls) kind of took us through this beautiful story of who they were together and what they had done, which was more than one person can imagine themselves doing with any one life.”
The resulting short film will premiere on Sept. 1 at the Hollywood Theatre as a part of Black Friday, an event to celebrate the past and future of Black innovation in Portland.
Now the community that frequented Geneva’s and knew it as an indelible part of the landscape will get a chance to learn more about the couple themselves.
her death in 2014. A graduate of Mole Barber College, Geneva worked at Cask and Maxey's Barber Shop for 29 years before she and her husband purchased the building at 5601 NE MLK Blvd. and established Geneva's Shear Perfection. She retired from Geneva's after 36 years in business.Geneva was married to Paul Knauls, known unofficially but popularly as "the Mayor of Northeast Portland,” for 49 years at the time of
She and Paul also owned and operated The Cotton Club on North Vancouver Avenue, as well as Geneva's Restaurant and Lounge on North Williams Ave.
“When you think about Black business here in Portland, if there was an O.G. Mount Rushmore, it would definitely be Mr. Knauls and his wife Geneva,” local business owner and investor Stephen Green told The Skanner. “They’re amazing folks that really set a standard for not only creating something, but also making sure that community was right up front with everything they did.”
“I believe it’s the first place I got my hair cut,” Boss said. “I remember we didn’t make appointments. I’d get dropped off and I’d sit there for however long I needed to sit there.”
“In the mid-80s, when I was in high school, I have vivid memories of how important it was to go get that fly haircut” from Geneva’s, Nikki Sandoval, aka “Nikki Brown Clown,” told The Skanner. “It was like a who’s who was going to be there, who were the newest and upcoming barbers and stylists. Being a longtime resident of Portland, it was also a point of reference. Like, ‘Where are you? Meet me near Geneva’s,’ so you knew where you were.”
Sandoval is a longtime friend of Knauls and views him as a mentor. When the film began production, he requested she drive him to various locations during filming – like the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall downtown, where Knauls and Geneva had their first date.
With LaKeitha Elliott, Sandoval began to collect memories and recollections about the couple and their salon, to be compiled into a scrapbook that will be presented to the Knauls family. Copies will be on display at the Gordly House and the Albina Soul Restoration Center.
“It only seemed right to give the community an opportunity to give their feedback in historic reference to this love story in the whitest city in America,” Sandoval said.
She calls the project a celebration of Black love.
“It really brought a different lens to me about, what does it historically mean for Black folks that worked here and lived here and loved here?” Sandoval said. “Also it sends the message that everyone’s stories matter and they should be celebrated. That’s what drives me today to share my story, my love story, between me and my husband.
"And it made me realize it is important to tell our stories.”
In creating visuals to accompany Scribes’ writing, Boss incorporated some novel techniques and even used the Knauls’ dining room table as a backdrop.
“Paul has this really cool caramel-golden, wavy cedar wood table that just looks spectacular under a certain light, so I would hoist my camera up above the table and I would flick polaroids down and catch them in slow mo, falling like snowflakes,” Boss said. “I also got fishing wire and I would hang photos in my house and beam light at them and I’d pass through, like you’re passing through a memory.”
Gathering the images was a much more low-tech affair.
“Paul lives very close to my house, and it was really easy for me to pop over there and spend the entire day with him,” Boss said. “I think cumulatively, I probably spent four or five days with him, just sitting at his house, talking to him about life, about jazz and soul music. We went into his room and he has this crazy collection of photo books you wouldn’t believe, he probably has about 20 neatly organized underneath his dresser. And I’d sit criss-cross applesauce on the floor and we’d pass books back and forth, and he would just take me through the story.”
What surprised him about the Knauls’ time together?
“Paul and Geneva have skied on basically every mountain in the country,” Boss said. “And they were showing up to mountains with like a thousand Black people, because they were part of this giant Black skier’s guild (National Brotherhood of Black Skiers). It was this fraternity of Black people. They were there to the nines, with bells on.”
Black Friday is set to be a blend of nostalgia and innovation. Two other short films will profile DJ OG One, the Portland Trailblazer's DJ, and Creative Homies, a downtown BIPOC artists’ collective.
The event will be hosted by Cobi Lewis and produced by North East Production and Zoe Piliafas, with support from the Black United Fund and Microenterprise Services of Oregon.
Green will be part of a panel discussion with Paige Hendrix Buckner, CEO of All Raise and Marquita Jaramillo, principal of Black Founders Matter Fund.
“We’ll be talking about reframing our perspectives around what we mean when we say Black business, where those businesses are,” Green said. “According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Portland’s home to more than 5,000 Black businesses as of 2019. And the businesses are all over the city, and they’re a range of industries: We’ve got a Black-owned drone company, we’ve got people that make coffee, we’ve got people in tech. I think that’s a real opportunity to help folks from Portland understand more about who’s here and what they’re doing and what they’re building.”
To share recollections of Geneva’s and contribute to the scrapbook, visit before Aug. 18.
Black Friday will take place Sept. 1, 6 to 8 p.m., at the Hollywood Theatre. To get tickets to the event, visit hollywoodtheatre.org/events/black-friday.