New Seasons is proposing to build a new store on 20th Avenue, between SE Division and SE Clinton. The space was previously occupied by a Red Apple grocery store (which featured affordably-priced groceries and household supplies) and the Wash Board laundromat. Red Apple was having difficulty in the space, which has led people to wonder why New Seasons believes it can be profitable there, especially with a Nature's Northwest store located a mere 10 blocks away, up Division. The Wash Board was a profitable business and has relocated to another location. The loss of the laundromat has created hardship for local residents, though, who must now go much further away to attend to this basic need. |
Sincerity of New Seasons president called into question
In email correspondence with concerned SE Portland residents, New Seasons' president, Brian Rohter, has been brushing off their concerns. He characterizes New Seasons as a local, family-owned business with cares and concerns for the community. New Season's sponsorship of the Clinton-Division Street fair was undoubtedly part of a strategy to convince people of his claims. SE Portland residents have expressed skepticism about Rohter's sincerity, however, because of the proposed store's close location to People's, and because of Rohter's history as a businessman in the area. Rohter was general manager of the Nature's Northwest whole foods chain before it was sold to the national corporate whole foods retailer, Wild Oats. Undoubtedly, Rohter once made the same claims about Nature's. Some residents believe that Rohter will simply sell off New Seasons when it gets big enough, and the neighborhood will be even worse off.
Rising rents and evictions
Already, the mere announcement of the possibility of a New Seasons store has had negative affects on the neighborhood. Residents have been reporting rent increases as property-owners anticipate increasing values; in at least one case, a houseful of people has been evicted. This pattern - formerly working class neighborhood is "discovered" by businessmen who invade it, pillage it, sell it off, and move on - has been repeated endlessly in cities around the United States. NE Portland residents have similar concerns about the Alberta Street area. Interestingly, the Alberta Street Co-op there has had difficulties competing with a nearby New Seasons store, putting the lie to Rohter's claims that the new SE store will have no affect on People's.
Part of New Seasons' plan is to rezone as commercial a residential lot on Division that adjoins the property. This lot is currently occupied by a charming, early 20th Century duplex house that people live in. New Seasons' plan as filed with the city is to demolish or move this house so the lot can be used to make a bigger store. At least one resident of the house is unhappy about losing their home. Because the city currently requires that no new commercial development result in a net loss of residential housing, New Seasons is attempting to have a commercial property on the NE corner of SE Lincoln and 39th rezoned as residential. This proposal has been described as a slimy one; not only is that lot not in the same neighborhood, but the location is considerably less charming and the liveability of the current structure is questionable. This trade as it stands would clearly not be equitable in the opinion of people who have seen the proposal and the properties - certainly not for the people being made homeless on Division -- and SE Portland residents against the New Seasons are planning to block it.
Can New Seasons be stopped?
The opening of the store at that location is by no means assured at this point in time. Though New Seasons has purchased the property, the city has not granted the permits required for building a new store yet. Those hearings will take place in mid-August, and will provide an opportunity for neighborhood residents to express their opinions. If public pressure is strong enough, Rohter and New Seasons could be made to reconsider, or at the very least, be made uncomfortable. As a SE Portland resident himself, Rohter would probably prefer to keep "a good name" in the community, regardless of whether or not he deserves it; SE Portland residents who are against gentrification and do not trust him will be working hard to reveal the truth and stop his plans.
Stay tuned to Portland Indymedia for updates on this struggle as it develops...