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Ill-Suited Neighbors

Is Downtown Retailer Victim of Gentrification?

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DOWNTOWN RETAILER Doug Peterson has owned his eponymous convenience store on SW 10th and Morrison for 23 years.

"I'm a downtown booster, I always have been," he says. "I opened that store when the MAX was under construction and there were jackhammers all over the place. I saw the future for downtown Portland, and took advantage of it."

Now, with the arrival of the upscale Brooks Brothers store directly across the street from Peterson's shop, it appears Peterson's welcome with the downtown business community and in turn, the City of Portland—which owns the parking garage his retail space is in—has worn out. He has until August 15 to get out: The city, which has been charging Peterson $2,935 a month to rent the space, says the store is now a problem location.

Peterson owns three stores in downtown Portland, making $2.87 million a year in sales, he says. According to Peterson, his flagship SW Morrison store has annual sales of $1.4 million.

"I'm really very upset about this," he says. "I haven't really told my employees yet. I've been hoping I could do something quietly behind the scenes without attracting too much attention."

The arrival of the Brooks Brothers store in the Galleria Building opposite Peterson's was greeted with glee by Portland Business Alliance (PBA) boss Sandra McDonough—she announced it to City Club in May 2007. Brooks Brothers would have a "galvanizing and important effect on the west end of downtown," she said.

The Brooks Brothers store opened last November. On April 9, the city sent Peterson an eviction letter, citing unspecified "incidents" and complaints.

"Over the years, as you know, we have received, and observed, incidents that are objected to by other businesses in the immediate area, and that are offensive to users of the parking garage, and to passersby," wrote Diana Lee Holuka, the City of Portland's property acquisition and services manager.

"A recent escalation in complaints to us has led to this final decision regarding your tenancy," the letter continued.

Peterson says his business is no different from Rite Aid, Nordstrom, or Pioneer Square when it comes to the type of incidents that happen outside his doors, and thinks he's being unfairly targeted as a result of "gentrification."

"It's difficult for me to patrol the sidewalks in front of my business," he continues. "As far as the behavior and appearance of my patrons, there are some civil rights issues there that I'd be stepping on."

Peterson points out that he has signed a good neighbor agreement with the city. "I don't sell cheap alcohol," he says. "No 40-ouncers or fortified wines, and I don't sell Steel Reserve or Olde English 800. We have age restriction equipment on our cash registers and check ID very carefully, we don't have any OLCC problems there."

"I've heard rumors all this is coming from Brooks Brothers," Peterson continues. "But my manager down there indicates that Brooks Brothers' employees are some of my best customers. So it must be coming from higher up." (Brooks Brothers did not return a call for comment.)

Peterson has written letters to all the city commissioners, and has been trying to gain the support of Mike Kuykendall of the PBA in his fight against eviction. But his complaints have fallen on deaf ears.

"Maybe he should have worked with his retail neighbors and cleaned up the neighborhood when he had the opportunity," says Megan Doern, a spokeswoman for the PBA. "It's not the first time he's been contacted about his store."

Doern adds that the forces behind Peterson's eviction are "not just Brooks Brothers," but "the entire downtown retail council," along with the mayor's office.

"It's not about Brooks Brothers," Doern continues. "It's about the type of clients [Peterson] has continued to attract and serve, and not work with the Portland Police Bureau to report the problems, and everything else that happens when there's something wrong with the store."

The mayor's office declined comment on the eviction, referring the Mercury instead to the city's Office of Management and Finance.

"There were a number of complaints from neighbors about [the store's] clientele and the appearance of the store," says Holuka, who works in that office. "People would walk into Peterson's and walk out and engage in offensive activities such as public urination, people indulging in drug use, and so on."

Peterson says he now plans to send out a memo to the nine staff members he'll have to lay off when the store closes.

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