The End of Backspace as We Know It

The Portland all-ages music institution is ceasing live performances, still searching for new location.

Backspace's tenure in Old Town is coming to an end. 

The oft-beleaguered all-ages music venue, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in July, will cease all live performances after throwing a Halloween party on Oct. 31. It will remain open as a coffee shop temporarily, according to owner Eric Robison. 

In September, Willamette Week reported that Robison was looking to relocate the club to a larger space before its lease expired on Nov. 1. While a preliminary plan to move into the building currently occupied by the Conga Club on NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. has stalled, Robison is currently looking at another northeast location, though that space would have to be built out, he says. In that case, the relocation may not happen until spring 2014. 

"The one thing we want to do is build it right," Robison says. "Backspace was all patchwork and chewing gum. We want to build something that will last."

The venue—which opened as a coffee shop in 2003 before evolving into the epicenter of Portland's underage music culture thanks to a one-off Thermals show in 2007—has long been threatened with eviction. It nearly closed in 2008, before an arrangement with the OLCC allowing the club to serve beer and wine while keeping shows all-ages helped it stay afloat. Last year, Robison launched a successful fundraising campaign to help pay off $10,000 in delinquent late fees for past-due rent and licensing from ASCAP/BMI.

Robison says the last straw was a recently-passed city ordinance requiring small nightclubs in pre-code buildings to add sprinkler systems, though David Gold, an investor in the the Backspace property, says the building's owners chose not to renew Backspace's lease because "music is not compatible with rest of tenants in the building." 

Robison says he is hoping to throw one final New Year's Eve concert at Backspace's current location with a big-name local act, pending landlord approval. 

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