Backspace (Portland, Oregon)
|Address||115 Northwest 5th Avenue|
|Location||Portland, Oregon, United States|
Backspace (sometimes Backspace Cafe) was a coffee shop, gallery, Internet café, and all-ages music venue located in the Old Town Chinatown neighborhood of Portland, Oregon, in the United States. The venue opened in mid 2003 and closed in 2013.
Description and history
Owner and painter Eric Robison opened Backspace, which was located at 115 Northwest 5th Avenue in Portland's Old Town Chinatown neighborhood, as a coffee shop in July 2003. He was inspired by two nearby stores within the same neighborhood, operated by Katsu Tanaka: Compound, a gallery, and Just Be Toys, a Japanese-themed toy and DVD rental store. Robison and his brother Kris had considered operating the business in the Pearl District, but were "attracted to the edginess" of the building. He recalled, "People said, 'Dude, you're insane,' when I told them where it was. I saw the exposed brick, and the whole cyberpunk feel that we could pursue. It was a little too frou-frou in the Pearl." Robison also recalled fending off drug activity outside the store by barring dealers and users from entry. The building that housed Backspace was renovated by the city and Portland Development Commission.
The establishment had been described as a gallery, a computer gaming and Internet café, and an "oft-beleaguered" all-ages music venue. It was one of several businesses in the neighborhood, including Ground Kontrol, geared towards young people who worked in the technology industry. According to Willamette Week's Matthew Singer, Backspace "[evolved] into the epicenter of Portland's underage music culture" because of a one-off Thermals performance in 2007. The space hosted a variety of events, including Portland Development Commission meetings (2007), an anti-bullying event called "Frank Conversations: Speaking Out on Bullying" (2010), and a concert by Dustin Ruth, the Battle Ground, Washington-based singer-songwriter and frontman of the band Ruth (2011).
Beginning in the late 2000s, Backspace had a string of financial difficulties. The business almost closed in 2008, but was able to continue operating after the Oregon Liquor Control Commission permitted Backspace to serve beer and wine while hosting all-ages events and performances. In 2012, Robison began raising funds to help eliminate $10,000 in "delinquent late fees for past-due rent and licensing" from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) and Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI). Robison decided to relocate when the city pass an ordinance requiring nightclubs in older buildings to install sprinkler systems. One of the property investors said the building's owners elected not to renew the cafe's lease because "music [was] not compatible with rest of tenants in the building".
In September 2013, Robison confirmed that he wanted to relocate the business to a larger space before its lease expired in November. He originally planned to move Backspace to a building along Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. When plans fell through, he considered relocating to a different location in northeast Portland. However, this plan meant Backspace would not be able to reopen until the spring season of 2014 because of ongoing renovation efforts. In October, Robison said Backspace would stop hosting live performances after its Halloween celebration and would remain open temporarily as a coffee shop. He told Willamette Week: "The one thing we want to do is build it right. Backspace was all patchwork and chewing gum. We want to build something that will last." Robison hoped to host one final concert in Backspace's original location on New Year's Eve, 2013, featuring a "big-name local act, pending landlord approval".
In his 2014 article "RIP: 11 Shuttered PDX Bars and Restaurants We'll Miss", Thrillist contributor Drew Tyson wrote, "We'll miss dancing in this boisterous bar/gallery that was decked out like a geeky Internet cafe with a photo booth, pinball machines, a treehouse, and... wait! It was a geeky Internet cafe that whole time?!"
After sitting vacant for over a year, the location was remodeled to accommodate an expansion of the Ground Kontrol video game and pinball arcade and bar located in the same building.
- Chuang, Angie (December 3, 2003). "Galleries Sprout Up in Portland, Ore.'s Old Town as Young People Move In". The Oregonian. Archived from the original on September 10, 2016. Retrieved July 26, 2016 – via HighBeam Research. Note: This article is also credited to Knight Ridder of Tribune Business News.
- Singer, Matthew. "The End of Backspace as We Know It: The Portland all-ages music institution is ceasing live performances, still searching for new location". Willamette Week. Portland, Oregon: City of Roses Newspapers. Retrieved July 26, 2016.
- Graf, Tyler (October 31, 2007). "Pacific Northwest College of Art, Portland Public Market spar over 511 Building". Daily Journal of Commerce. Portland, Oregon: The Dolan Company. Archived from the original on September 11, 2016. Retrieved July 26, 2016 – via HighBeam Research.
- Bjork, Nick (July 25, 2011). "Grove Hotel in Portland set to become hostel". Daily Journal of Commerce. Archived from the original on September 11, 2016. Retrieved July 26, 2016 – via HighBeam Research.
- Albrecht, Bob (November 21, 2010). "Sixth-grader launches refrain against bullying". The Columbian. Vancouver, Washington: Columbian Publishing Co. Archived from the original on September 11, 2016. Retrieved July 26, 2016 – via HighBeam Research.
- "Bits 'n' Pieces: Musicians songs heard on MTVs Teen Mom". The Columbian. April 11, 2011. Archived from the original on September 11, 2016. Retrieved July 26, 2016 – via HighBeam Research.
- "Musicians songs heard on MTVs Teen Mom". The Columbian. April 19, 2011. Archived from the original on September 11, 2016. Retrieved July 26, 2016 – via HighBeam Research.
- Tyson, Drew (January 8, 2014). "RIP: 11 Shuttered PDX Bars and Restaurants We'll Miss". Thrillist. Thrillist Media Group. Retrieved July 26, 2016.
- Eder Campuzano (April 13, 2017). "Ground Kontrol opens Fifth Avenue expansion as work begins on Couch Street". Retrieved January 31, 2018.
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