A Contractor with a Hand in Portland's Apartment Boom Faces Serious Labor Complaints
Backspace—Old Town's beloved gallery/coffee shop/music venue/community center—is facing a January 1 eviction deadline, owner Eric Robison says, after his landlords told him he had two weeks to pay up on his overdue rent or make way for an unidentified new tenant.
Robison's only way out? He's asking the people who hold Backspace dear to help him come up with close to $10,000—enough to catch up on the lapsed rent payment he's been carrying over every month for the past year and also clear thousands in late fees. Otherwise, the venue's December 31 bash, headlined by Lost Lander, will also be a goodbye party.
"We're scrambling the troops," Robison says. "Let's keep this going."
Already, after an impromptu event last night, Portland Poetry Slam, which regularly holds down the place on Sundays, raised something like $900. Robison's working up an IndieGogo campaign (UPDATED WITH THE LINK), helped along by gifts from bands including the Thermals and Starfucker. And the next two Sundays, on the 23rd and 30th, will be given over to fundraising concerts, with lineups still to be determined.
"I don't know who he can get to take this large space, but I guess he finally found someone. He won't tell me who it is," Robison says of one of his landlords, Old Town developer David Gold. "I can't totally blame him. I am late. But he didn't need to add another $3,000 in late fees."
Robison, who made a splash 10 years ago when he opened the venue in an Old Town more feral than the one we have now, also says he was told, if he found the money, that his lease was "good for another year." He's not holding his breath for an extension after that, he says, after going back and forth with his landlords over several rent and fee increases since 2007.
He also says he got a CPA to look at his books to help. She told him to stop throwing so many benefit shows (he politely refused). But she especially urged him to beg his landlords for much-needed improvements to the rundown space, hopefully to beef up coffee sales at Backspace that, despite being counted upon as a revenue mainstay, have fallen every year.
"At least a year," Robison says, "will buy me enough time to find a more understanding landlord."
Gold, reached by telephone Monday, confirmed the deadline and the possibility of a new tenant, but said details were being handled by a property management company.
"We've been very lenient in the past," he said, calling Backspace "an important part" of the neighborhood. "All he has to do is pay the rent on time. I wish him the best."