Posted By Kate Washington on February 6, 2013
Debbie Thomas has run Debbie Thomas Real Estate, a brokerage firm, for 21 years in the Pearl. She walks the walk, as they say: her office is in the Chown Pella building, one of the earliest warehouses to be converted into lofts and offices, and she lives with her two children, husband, dog and cat in the Elizabeth lofts.
Thomas has encyclopedic knowledge of every cranny of every block in the Pearl, and can tell you the comings and goings of all businesses, people and trends.
“Twenty years ago I looked around and I saw a lot of promise, a lot of beautiful buildings that were evolving,” she said recently. “Back then, even before residents started moving in, businesses were relocating away. Places like Swan Island were much better suited for some because of truck access than the Pearl.
She saw a lot of warehouses that were underutilized. She remembers places like the Palace Gallery at 12th and Glisan, where bands practiced and there were shuffleboard tables and pool tables on the loading dock.
“Now it’s the Mckenzie. I just saw the guy who used to run it, Bill Fisher, drive by the other day!”
“Thank goodness so many buildings were renovated at a time when they could be seismically upgraded economically and we could reuse them,” she says. Even now, buildings like the former-Dyna Graphics building are being renovated to very high standards instead of razed. It’s great to keep the character of the neighborhood.”
In the 1990s it was young single professionals that came to her looking for a place to live. Two thirds were under 40, about a third were couples. “A very small percentage had a child living at home. Now it’s much more of a mixture. It’s probably still 45 per cent single professionals, and a solid 20 to 30 per cent couples and couples with children.”
She hails the Pearl’s access to services for families.
“There are the parks, PlaydatePDX, school options with the Emerson and Childpeace , food markets like Safeway, Whole Foods and Local Choice…I don’t need to leave the area.”
She remembers when Byways on Glisan was Rusty’s Café, a classic diner (as in, not fancy, or retro, or chic) and can list eateries like a Zagat. She misses Bima (where Brix Tavern is now) and loves Nuvrei Bakery, Cha Cha Cha and Rogue Brewing. She takes visitors to Cargo and French Quarter Linens. Oh, and her husband started Le Buchon on NW14th. He now reverse commutes to his bistro in Forest Grove.
She’s optimistic about the Pearl growing. “Companies are finding they have great staff retention in the Pearl, because people like working here with everything on their doorstep: places for lunch and entertainment. I think the bigger companies like Facebook, Google and Microsoft will want to have satellite offices here.”
Thomas does not think attention from shows like Portlandia, Leverage and MTV Real World will have much effect in terms of making people want to move here.
“That’s a fun little side thing. It’s the people and the businesses that give the Pearl its character and make it such a great place to live.”
By Joseph Gallivan