Spray paints are secured, store survey shows

While not a comprehensive survey, see what we found during a tour of four prominent East Portland independent hardware stores …

Parkrose Hardware’s David Ableidinger and Michael Nelson stand by the chains that are part of the store’s compliance measures for the new city ordinance.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The Portland City Council says their new Graffiti Materials and Sales code will put a halt to tagging and gang marking.

“Spray-paint police” have been on patrol since the code went into effect on November 1 – and at least one major hardware retailer SE Portland has been ticketed for noncompliance. They were busted, we’re told, by Portland City Commissioner Randy Leonard, author of the measure.

Are independent hardware stores in East Portland complying, and locking up their spray paints and “marking materials”? Here’s what we found, checking into four establishments.

Parkrose Hardware complies
It seems like everyone across East Portland – from Sellwood to Wilkes – knows about the city’s best-stocked independent hardware store: Parkrose Hardware, at 10625 NE Sandy Boulevard.

“We opposed the ordinance from the beginning,” says Michael Nelson, Chief Operating Officer at the store. “We tried to persuade members of the Portland City Council to change their minds. We were not successful.”

Michael Nelson shows us the “purchase log” on which more than 300 customers have been compelled to share personal identification information when buying spray paint at Parkrose Hardware.

But, Nelson says, they’re complying with the ordinance. “During the first 15 days of enforcement, we’ve already copied down information on more than 300 customers who have purchased spray paint from us.”

It is a major inconvenience for the customers, Nelson tells us. “We’ve had a tremendous amount of negativity from customers, to the extent they’ve walked out of our store because of the law. These aren’t ‘taggers’, they are older folks who feel it is inappropriate to give detailed, personal information to buy a can of spray paint.”

Nelson adds that, because they’ve always kept their spray paint visible, and in the front of the store, they’ve never had a problem with stolen paint.

One of store’s owners, David Ableidinger, adds, “Customers can go across the river, or, even closer – drive out less than sixty blocks to Gresham. We try to educate them. We try to make the best of the situation.”

No scofflaws in inner SE Portland

Westmoreland True Value Hardware’s Ivan Stahlecker assists customer, Chris Custer, who said, “I think it is a good idea. Maybe this will help slow down taggers.”

At Westmoreland True Value Hardware, 6505 SE Milwaukie Avenue, we check with owner and store manager John Horsman.

It wasn’t practical for them to move the spray paint into a secured room, Horsman tells us. Instead, they locked it up.

“Magic Markers, glass etching and cutting tools, spray paint – anything considered to be a ‘grafitti material’ – must be locked up,” explains Horsman. “We’re in compliance.”

Spray paint prison
We walk over the shelving, now secured by heavy powder-coated steel bars. “This is our ‘spray paint prison’. The law requires employee assistance to access it. Then it has to be taken up to the front, and logged into a special form.”

Store clerk Ivan Stahlecker unlocks the display, slides back the bars, and helps his customer, local restaurateur Chris Custer, select several cans of spray paint.

“Actually, I think it is a good idea,” confides Custer. “I’m opening a new restaurant down at SE Lambert and 13th Avenue called Acena. We’ve gotten tagged already. Maybe this will help slow down taggers.”

John Horsman, owner and manager at Westmoreland True Value, logs a spray paint purchase, as checker Grace Sweeney looks on.

Custer takes his cans to the front counter where Horsman notes down information from his driver’s license, lists the products sold, and rings up the purchase.

“It hasn’t yet affected business,” notes Horsman. “But, we’ve never had a problem with spray paint theft. It might slow down impulse sales by someone who wants to pick up a can of paint.”

Even under these new rules, the transaction didn’t take that long – about five minutes, total.

Out of sight in Woodstock

In the “employees only” room at the rear of Woodstock Hardware, Barry Odgers shows us the store’s secured supply of spray paint, markers – and their official log.

When customers come in to Woodstock Hardware at 4430 SE Woodstock Boulevard looking for spray paint on the shelves, they won’t find it.

“Our way of complying with the new law is to take everything off the display floor,” says weekend manager Barry Odgers. “We put it in the back room, an ’employees only’ area, away from customers.”

It’s too soon to tell whether or not the new law will slow down paint sales, Odgers tells us, as he shows us his official purchase log.

“But, in my opinion, I don’t think this is an important step ahead for the city. If someone wants to buy spray paint – without the paperwork – they’ll go to across the county line. But, we are obeying the law.”

May drive customers to nearby store
Many area residents know the owner of 52nd Avenue Hardware and Building Supply, Gordon Besaw. He and his sons have operated the business there since 1972.

Most of their facility is dedicated to lumber, plywood and building supplies; their showroom is smaller than the other stores.

“We’ve had to put all of our spray paint up here, on a shelf you can only reach with a ladder,” Besaw says. “We haven’t had a customer yet. Spray paint is not a big seller for us, anyway.”

At 52nd Avenue Hardware and Building Supply, owner Gordon Besaw shows how they put their paint cans out of reach – and opens for us his still-blank spray-paint sales log.

Will drive business to nearby store
However, this new law will be an inconvenience to his customers, Besaw emphatically states. “Anyone can go right down to Wichita Feed & Hardware to buy it off the shelf. They’re just a few blocks away.”

(We checked: Wichita Feed, just over the line in Clackamas County, is indeed just a mere 1.4 mile – four minute – drive from Besaw’s store.)

Gordon’s son, David Besaw, pokes his head around the corner and says, “This really doesn’t make any sense.” He hands us the still-unused purchase log form and adds, “See how much information they want?”

“We’ll do it to please City Hall,” the elder Besaw says with an air of resignation. “But it just makes business a little more difficult.”

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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