Local jeweler and regular City Hall-basher David Rogoway says he can predict the future of downtown Portland, and it isn't pretty.
Rogoway, the fourth generation in a family business that goes back to 1896, says he has finally reached the breaking point with what he considers Portland's unwillingness to help downtown business. He's closing his high-end Cutters Jewelry Outlet, on the corner of Southwest Alder Street and Broadway, at the end of May to focus on two other stores, at Washington Square and in Southeast Portland.
Despite a long-term drop in downtown crime (notwithstanding the shooting on the transit mall Wednesday, April 19, five blocks from Cutters Outlet), the 53-year-old Rogoway blames the city for destroying downtown with its upcoming tear-up for the transit mall and what he considers its refusal to deal with panhandling. Before he high-tails it outta the central city, WW asked Rogoway why he's skedaddling.
WW: So what's your gripe about downtown?
David Rogoway: Drug-dealing, panhandling, sleeping under eaves of businesses, not cleaning up and just leaving everything in the morning. I've had people grab merchandise and run. And I always walk out with my employees in the evening.... The climate's tough. They need to power-wash downtown, and they need to get a vagrancy law. It's spooky. I saw a man shot five times in front of my store.
But property crime downtown is down.
Not for me. The insurance company wants me to put a buzzer gate on my door, and I don't want to do that.... I was writing [then-Mayor] Vera Katz and [Commissioner] Erik Sten four years ago, telling them that the red lights are beginning to flash downtown. There are just too many people on too many corners bugging people for spare change, and we're hearing it from tourists.... Now with clean, safe, lovely shopping centers, the people from the suburbs are not making the trek downtown to shop.
Other than complaining to Sten and Katz, what have you done to help?
I had a plan that would be a real option—because I do have a heart and I feel sorry for a lot of these people that never got the right break. If a group of businesspeople got together and put together a plan in which the city would ask these young people that could work, that haven't had the right break in life, if they could be clean of drugs for a month, they would have people hire them and teach them a trade. And the city could partner up by paying a portion of the salary to get those people off the streets and working. Some people say we should put them on buses and send them on their way, but that's not going to happen. That's fiction.
So why didn't you follow through with that idea?
I wrote Sten and Katz about that almost five years ago.... I've just talked to some other business owners about it. I have not spearheaded a formal plan, but it's a model that [City Hall] should look at, and get small businesses to work together on. I guess, because I've been so vocal about the problems we face downtown, they don't want to deal with me.
C'mon, would you really hire someone off the streets to work in your jewelry store?
Yes. Sometimes businesspeople are looked at as capitalists just out for a buck, but most businesspeople I know have a real heart. Good, solid businesses do help people. That would be a start. Better than just letting them just occupy all the main corners with these dogs lying around and their foul language to people. When I was a kid, panhandlers used to be really friendly. Back then we used to call them bums. If downtown is not a viable downtown, either the government is going to have to occupy it, or you will have tattoo parlors and porn stores on every corner. I think this is going to be the wasteland of Portland.
Then you'd move back downtown if your concerns were addressed?
I doubt it.
Two other jewelry stores, Columbia Coin and Dan Marx Jewelers, are also leaving downtown. They have been open for 50 and 105 years, respectively.