City development puts squeeze on iconic North Portland business

Photo courtesy of ReBuilding Center

Gentrification, lack of parking, take a toll on the ReBuilding Center.

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On the busy intersection of N. Mississippi Ave. and N. Fremont St. in Northeast Portland is a beautifully designed building emblematic of the city’s pioneering support of recycling and reuse in the building materials sector.

The façade of the ReBuilding Center features salvaged doors, windows and moldings, a colorful representation of the used building materials sold at discounted prices inside the store’s 53,000 square foot warehouse.  

The ReBuilding Center, a pioneer in building materials recycling and salvage, has been at the center of the economic development boom along the Mississippi Avenue corridor.

The street is buzzing with boutiques, breweries, hip eateries like Por Que No and Blue Star Donuts, and numerous newly built residential units.    

But there is also a downside of the development for the iconic store, which opened in 2000.

Sales have been flat for the past five years. Stephen Reichard, executive director, who joined the nonprofit in July 2015, expects the business to either lose money or break even this year.   

The reason for the lackluster sales is not what you would initially expect; Reichard blames the lack of available street parking close to the store, a knock-on effect of gentrification and economic development in the area.

“It is increasingly difficult to park in the neighborhood. There has been a measurable drop in sales,” says Reichard.

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It is a serious issue for the nonprofit; it is impossible for customers to transport most of the store’s materials, which include salvaged bathtubs, chairs, tables, without a vehicle.  Only limited parking is available onsite.

There is no denying the fact that the ReBuilding Center faces increased competition from several new firms in Portland that sell salvaged wood.

But Reichard maintains the main challenge for the center is the lack of parking.

It is an issue that has forced the executive director to consider relocating. He is raising funds for a feasibility study that would look at options for moving.  

In the meantime, Reichard is looking at ways to diversify the nonprofit’s revenue streams.

One of his strategies is to increase philanthropic support to 10% of revenue. When he joined the organization, philanthropic support was non-existent. Last year it was 4%. This year it has grown to 6%-7%.

The center recently received a grant from the Murdock Charitable Trust to create an online sales and inventory system so that the business can broaden its reach to customers outside of Portland.

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The business also benefits from a city ordinance that went into effect last year, which requires homes built before 1916 to be deconstructed and materials salvaged rather than homes simply being demolished.

A large part of the ReBuilding Center’s business comes from deconstructing homes and salvaging materials.

“We need to increase salvage materials on the market and increase demand. That needs to be mandated,” says Reichard.   

Reichard is also looking at increasing educational classes, such as carpentry workshops for children and adults. The workshops are part of the nonprofit’s rebranding away from being simply a building materials reuse store to cementing its mission as a vehicle for strengthening the social fabric of community in which it is located.     

A saving grace for the organization is that it owns the store’s premises, an acre and a half of property stretching a whole block between N. Fremont St. and N. Beech St.

It is extremely “valuable” real estate, acknowledges Reichard.

Ironically the neighborhood it helped revitalize and strengthen is the very same community that may soon force it to leave.