Empty slice of 23rds pie may be filled in

Agent says lease deal is imminent for property

The space that used to house the Quality Pie shop on Northwest 23rd Avenue might be getting a new tenant.

A well-known Portland antique retailer is close to signing a lease for the 5,000-square-foot property at the corner of Northwest Marshall Street, said Jim Gillespie, a commercial sales associate for Re/Max Equity Group Inc.

The space has been vacant since the beloved 24-hour diner closed nearly 10 years ago. It is a reminder of the neighborhood's working-class roots that has fallen into unsightly disrepair in recent years.

The prospective tenants would renovate the property in time to open this summer.

A new store would make the popular shopping district more pedestrian friendly by creating a stronger link between the southern and northern ends of Northwest 23rd Avenue.

'This new store would really benefit the businesses in the area by creating a link, by creating more continuity for pedestrians,' said Richard Singer, a major developer in Northwest and downtown Portland. 'When Quality Pie left, all the life went out of the building.'

The corner space, across from Good Samaritan Hospital & Medical Center, had been a barber shop and an ice creamery before the popular greasy spoon moved from another location in 1940.

The diner attracted a diverse and loyal customer base. It became a notable neighborhood marker, appearing in local published works, including David Chelsea's graphic novel 'David Chelsea in Love.' When it closed, some people said it was the end of an era.

Finding a new tenant wasn't easy.

In the mid-1990s, Rock Bottom Restaurants Inc., operator of Rock Bottom Brewery downtown, considered opening a restaurant at the property, but neighbors reportedly fought that idea before the company applied for a liquor license.

Thrifty PayLess Inc. then made plans to open a PayLess Drug Store, but that also fell through.

The space is at the southern end of a 15,000-square-foot building between Northwest Marshall and Northrup streets on a 20,000-square-foot lot that includes parking. Misohapi restaurant takes up the slot in the middle. The northernmost space remains unoccupied.

While the former Quality Pie space remained vacant, Gillespie brought Sammy's restaurant; Girlfriends, a clothing boutique; and the Flanders and Northrup medical centers to the area.

The building's four owners are relatives Ñ two in Portland, one in Seattle and one in San Francisco. They were firm that the new tenant would have to make the necessary property improvements, Gillespie said.

'The hard part was finding the right tenant that had the resources and knowledge to undergo such a renovation of a building,' he said.

Now, it looks like the search may be over. For the past eight months Gillespie and the prospective tenants have analyzed the costs to renovate the space.

If lease negotiations go well, the tenants would begin renovations within two months to remove an unattractive overhang outside the space, widen windows, add landscaping and improve the adjoining parking lot, he said.

The cost would work out to about $12 per square foot, or a monthly lease of $5,000, he said. The average for the neighborhood is about $25 to $32 per square foot.

'More people will be relieved and just pleased that the building will look better,' he said. 'There's always been that long walk in between the coffee place (Aphrodite's Espresso Bar) and the Northrup Medical Center, past an empty building.

'It was a pocket that wasn't getting developed, and it needed to be. I think the neighborhood will welcome the new look of the property.'

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