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Pinched by Development

Expansion next door impacts legacy business

Zachary Senn | 6/20/2017, 4:03 p.m.
A black family in business in Portland for generations has been hit hard by some unintended consequences of gentrification, raising ...
Rickey Brame is faced with thousands of dollars of expenses and the closing of a barbershop started by his father, Herman Brame Sr., when a property owner next door decides to remodel right up to the property line forcing him to move an electrical meter and trigger new requirements for the entire building be brought up to current commercial standards. Electricity to the barbershop at 543 N.E. Killingsworth St. is scheduled to be cut at the end of the week as plans to remodel an old key and locksmith shop adjacent to the property into a restaurant has been approved by the city of Portland. Zachary Senn

A black family in business in Portland for generations has been hit hard by some unintended consequences of gentrification, raising concerns about how the city’s building codes and utility regulations can negatively affect a minority business.

Herman and Rickey Brame say that the construction of a restaurant next door to their commercial building on Northeast Killingsworth Street is causing them to shutter a barbershop that has served the community for years.

Historically, the Brame family has experienced displacement in Portland multiple times, beginning with the 1948 Vanport Flood. Their father’s first barbershop was located on Cherry Street, demolished by Urban Renewal in the 1960s to make way for the construction of Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

The family’s current troubles are rooted in an electrical meter that juts out from the west side of their commercial building, which is located at 543-549 N.E. Killingsworth St.

The meter must be accessed from the neighboring property in order to be read. The new developer, however, is building right up to the property line, which is compelling the Brames to move the meter. Due to regulations imposed by Pacific Power, the Brames must also rewire their entire building to meet current industrial and commercial standards. The current wiring dates back to the 1940s.

“It’s considered industrial,” explained Rickey Brame, who has nearly three decades of experience working as a professional electrician, “which means we’ve got to have sprinkler systems and everything. It’s not just moving the meters, it snowballs.”

Brian Alfrey, who co-owns the adjacent development site at 533 N.E. Killingsworth along with his business partner Mike Gadberry, says that he is just trying to breathe new life into an underutilized piece of land.

“It was a dilapidated old locksmith building. The roof was falling in, and it was just terrible,” said Alfrey. “We bought it, and we wanted to do something better for the neighborhood.”

Alfrey and Gadberry also own the Radio Room, a popular bar and restaurant on Northeast Alberta Street that is situated inside a repurposed gas station.

Rickey Brame says that he isn’t opposed to the new development for the neighborhood, but is feeling forced out by the project.

“We welcomed them at first, when we got the notice from the city,” he said. “We were tired of looking at that eye-sore too!”

Alfrey, who is himself a native of northeast Portland, says that he is simply trying to create a space that will help to preserve the historic characteristics of the Killingsworth business corridor, which Rickey and Herman Brame describe as “the soul of the city.”

“We opted not to do a $2,000-a-month apartment complex,” Alfrey says, “but to do something that’s a little truer to the neighborhood.”

Alfrey and Gadberry offered $10,000 to help cover the cost of moving the meter; Rickey Brame, however, says that the cost of rewiring the entire structure would be substantially higher.

The Brames say that while some space between construction projects and property lines are required in residential areas, there are no such requirements in commercial zones.