Back in the late 1980’s the small storefront at 1 North Street was a sandwich shop known as Mr. T’s. When the Collucci family purchased the building around 1987-88 and the convenience store across North Street, (135 Congress Street,) the family moved Mr. T’s out of the 1 North Street spot and to the bottom of the Hill. The Colluccis didn’t want the competition for the then Colucci’s Superette according to Dick Colucci today.
But now the owner of a proposed French bakery offering pastries in the morning, sandwiches at noon and maybe dinner in the evening is doing due diligence to open in the fall at 1 North Street. The prime spot on the Hill has come full circle.
Recently, Chris Deutsch told mhn.com of his intentions, although plans for an unnamed bakery were preliminary. No lease had yet been signed with the building owner Jocelyn D. Lee and there was a lot of work to be done with the city’s permitting office. run by Mike Russell. (Russell is the man who fired the popular Housing Safety Officer administrator Art Howe that was first reported herein on March 21st.)
Neighboring businesses are reacting with skepticism about the new bakery. “It’s a saturated market up here. There are lots of people doing similar things,” said an employee of the nearby Rosemont Bakery & Market. “The change of use process with the City of Portland will be lengthy and frankly a nightmare,” said another business owner who went through a similar process a few years ago with the City.
Most recently the storefront was the studio for Laura Fuller, Fuller Glass Studio. It has been empty for about three years now because the then building owner Louis Chasson, of New York, imposed a huge rent increase on her that the Studio could not absorb Fuller told mhn.com before she left. No permanent tenant has occupied the space since. The smallness of the space and the lack of kitchen facilities were often the reason given for its vacancy. Prior to the Fuller Glass Studio it was an odds and ends shop. Before that the tiny space was a flower shop that failed because of a lack of foot traffic and parking.
Last year Lee purchased the 1 North Street building from Louis Chasson. He made superficial changes to the building and then “flipped” it to Lee. She began evicting long-term tenants from the upper floors immediately. That process continues to this day. The son-in-law. David MacKenzie, of one tenant in the building said she, a working, divorced mom, was given a $300. a month rent increase. (Her rent went from under $1,000 to almost $1,300. – an amount she could not afford.) When she could not meet that new rent, she was given fourteen (14) days to vacate the property according to MacKenzie.
There is so much the city could do to assist tenants who live paycheck to paycheck and have to experience the trauma of displacement by gentrification in Portland. Renters simply do not have surplus funds lying around waiting for the unexpected day they are evicted from an apartment due to no fault of their own. The costs involved in moving are substantial – many renters are stressed by trying to finance a move. The City prefers to turn a blind eye to them, a decision promulgated by the anti-tenant Housing Committee chaired by anti-tenant councilor Jill Duson.
Meanwhile, Duson is facing her own housing crisis – caused by her bankruptcy filed five years ago. She is struggling to keep her North Deering home from being taken by a credit union. She is to appear at a hearing on April 25 in bankruptcy Court, 537 Congress Street on the matter. This is a situation that challenges her judgment to chair the Housing Committee as well as serve on the Finance Committee until she is in a better situation. She was appointed to chair the Committee by Mayor Strimling., Duson enthusiastically supported Strimling for Mayor over the former Mayor Michael Brennan when he was up for re-election. Duson is running for a sixth term on the city council after failing to win a seat in Augusta last fall. Joey Brunelle of Munjoy Hlll is running against her in the Fall for the at-large seat.
Lee owns the Speedwell Project Gallery at 360 Forest Avenue. She has used the 1 North Street property on the Hill for occasional pop-up art/music shows until now.
Meanwhile, the Hilltop Superette Store, at 135 Congress Street, is for sale for almost $2 M., according to Bill Simpson, owner. (His financial backer is Tommy Toye who purchased a lot of land from the Estate of Elizabeth Noyes.) Jay Sparrow is the agent.
(editor’s note: 4/12/17 – In an email received from Jocelyn Lee last night, she accused mhn.com of “whipping up a controversy based on fake news.”)