Environmental Contaminants Trigger Closure of Everyday Music on Sandy Boulevard

The low-slung, graffiti-strewn, unassuming polygon at 1931 NE Sandy Blvd. has survived a variety of different incarnations in its 102-year history.

After stocking six figures of CDs, DVDs, and vinyl for more than a quarter-century as perhaps Portland’s largest record store, Everyday Music’s sprawling eastside location will close permanently May 7. The building is scheduled to be demolished a week later.

To a certain segment of the demographic, of course, the sudden passing of a brick-and-mortar showcase for old media hardly requires explanation. But the Northeast Sandy Boulevard location of Everyday Music had already endured the worst of COVID-related restrictions and evolved to fit the age of streaming.

Everyday Music co-founder and self-titled “overlord” Sarah Hefte insists the business had rebounded from pandemic-borne doldrums to remain steady in recent months. The Pacific Northwest retail chain, which once had five separate outlets spread across Oregon and Washington, still maintains stores in Bellingham and downtown Portland, and Hefte contends relocating the Sandy Boulevard store had never been seriously discussed—until she learned just days ago of her landlord’s plans to demolish the longtime site of the record shop.

Oddly enough, while many factors surely contributed to Everyday Music Eastside’s demise, the blame may fall on the lingering effects of an even more iconic emblem of Oldest Portland: Jantzen Swimwear.

The low-slung, graffiti-strewn, unassuming polygon at 1931 NE Sandy Blvd. has survived a variety of different incarnations in its 102-year history: furniture showroom, photo processing lab and, most notably, original factory for Jantzen, the Portland brand that a century ago “changed bathing to swimming.”

Before erecting the diving girl logo-festooned Jantzen Building as global headquarters in 1929, the swimsuit pioneers set seamstresses pumping out beachwear along the same patch of Kerns where EM clerks now hawk surf compilations.

Alas, the only lingering traces of that glamorous past may well be suspiciously elevated levels of carbon tetrachloride in indoor air samples.

“In October 2018,” says Katie Daugherty, project manager and hydrogeologist for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, “the property owner requested to join DEQ’s Voluntary Cleanup Program to resolve contamination identified during environmental due diligence performed as part of the pending sale.”

Hefte says the source of the contamination was swimsuit manufacturing. DEQ’s Daughtery declined to confirm or deny that claim.

“The landlord’s been trying to sell for the past few years,” Hefte says, “but there was an issue with some sort of chemicals dating from Jantzen’s swimwear. From what I understand, the [DEQ] abatement made some buyers gun-shy, driving up the cost, and yadda yadda yadda. People would come look and realize it just wasn’t worth the work involved. No one’s going to buy it the way it is, so he’ll probably just sell the land. Turns out the best thing he can do for the building is demolition.”

According to Daugherty, technologies are available that would address the problem without harming the surrounding structure. Common approaches include angle-drilling subsurface wells for soil vapor extraction or installing a modified HVAC system to promote fresh air exchange within tightly sealed interiors, but demolition would ease access to the most expedient alternative.

“Since the building is expected to be removed,” she adds, “soil excavation options will likely be the fastest—days versus years—and the best method of removing contamination to the extent possible without endangering roads, utilities and other adjacent infrastructure.”

Hefte acknowledges that the landlord’s ultimate intentions were clear once he replaced the former lease agreement with renewable extensions for shorter terms. (Since last year, the adjoining Oregon Children’s Theatre has stage-surfed between downtown’s Brunish, Newmark and Winningstad theaters while organizers search for a permanent home.)

Not only did Everyday Music never begin exploring alternatives, but, when Hefte’s husband and business partner signed a lease addendum without noticing the usual six-month guarantee had turned to three, the shop owners remained wholly unaware of the looming destruction until an accidental exchange forced the issue earlier this week.

“Funny story,” she says. “The guy from TED Talks asked if he could replace the billboard on top of the building with some advertising for his series. So I ran that by the landlord, and he was like, ‘You do know we’re scheduled for demolition May 15, right?’”

The deteriorating health of her husband, EM co-owner Scott Kuzma, has been the primary reason Hefte decided against a new landing spot.

“Sales weren’t dropping,” she admits, “but this was going to happen sooner or later. The building’s pretty run down. Anyways, our game plan was always to eventually downsize and retire. He’s 63 and struggling with heart surgery issues. It was probably time.”

Given the outpouring of grief from distraught clientele that accompanied the 2019 closure of Everyday Music’s comparatively short-lived Beaverton outlet, Hefte appreciates the bonds customers form with beloved shops but cautions against overdramatizing changes wrought by economic practicalities.

“This has always been a great music town–especially before COVID, especially in the ’90s CD heyday,” says Hefte. “There’s just isn’t as much of a demand. Even with vinyl keeping us afloat, you can’t make a ton of money with CDs anymore. This is a labor of love, but why go into business just to break even?”

To that end, the Sandy store will no longer accept merchandise for sale or trade and, with the exception of material shipped exclusively for next month’s national Record Store Day, won’t bring in any new releases. All CDs and DVDs have been marked down 25% with discounts escalating until the final shift. Any remaining inventory will then be split between warehouse and EM’s West Burnside flagship, which continues to thrive after a 2020 return to the single storefront Hefte originally leased back in 1995.

“People think there’s no such thing as record stores anymore,” she says. “Actually, Portland still has plenty. They’re just all smaller in size. Everybody has their own niche. It’s worked out well.”