City development puts squeeze on iconic North Portland business

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.


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.

Kim Moore

Kim Moore is the research editor for Oregon Business magazine.

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3 comments

  • Kim Moore, posted on behalf of Stephen Reichard, executive director of the ReBuilding Center
    Kim Moore, posted on behalf of Stephen Reichard, executive director of the ReBuilding Center Friday, 14 July 2017 13:33 Comment Link

    There have been two articles in as many weeks in Oregon Business suggesting that the ReBuilding Center is leaving Mississippi Avenue arising from an interview that I gave Kim about what I was under the impression was going to focus on the City's recently adopted deconstruction ordinance. We are not going anywhere. In the interview, I listed a number of steps that we are taking to address the consequences of the parking challenges including the recent adoption of a loyalty program.

    For the record, the ReBuilding Center is NOT pursuing funding for a feasibility study to explore relocation. Together with a number of like-minded organizations in the reuse space, we seek funding to study the feasibility of a "reuse mall," a one stop drop and shop location for all things reuse. Such a venue might include a large maker space as well as space for a manufacturing and serve as a vehicle for driving equity.

    Like all businesses on Mississippi, we face challenges with parking.

    We are always evaluating how we can best serve our customers and our constituents.

    We have always been committed to growing opportunity for our customers and constituents to engage in the reuse economy for the purposes of advancing sustainability and equity. The reuse mall very much falls within that rubric.

    The ReBuilding Center remains 100% committed to Mississippi Avenue and the N/NE Corridor.

    I hope that these comments provide some greater clarity to the articles that have appeared in Oregon Business.

    Stephen Reichard / Executive Director

  • Lynn Della
    Lynn Della Tuesday, 11 July 2017 18:20 Comment Link

    I would hate to see the ReBuilding Center have to leave its home. I well remember when it began and the blood, sweat and tears that went into its growth and success. It would be nice to see some of the company's neighbors step up to help them with this very real problem.

  • John
    John Tuesday, 11 July 2017 10:43 Comment Link

    How much is charged for the parking? If nothing, then the article headline needs to be revised: "FREE PARKING" is hurting the business. Charge for parking = problem solved.

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