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Bigger is better for natural stone company

Daily Journal of Commerce

March 19th 2002

Portland's building industry may have taken an overall hit from the recession but some sectors that serve the residential market are not just surviving. They're thriving.

At Intrepid Marble & Granite, a natural stone supply company located in southeast Portland, business has been good, says owner Drew Brandt. So good, in fact, that Brandt is currently knee-deep in the renovation of a city block's worth of buildings that a few months from now will become the new home of his 6-year-old business.

The project, located along Southeast Seventh and Eighth avenues and bordered by Taylor and Salmon streets, will incorporate four separate buildings into a single structure with a 33,000-square-foot footprint. The buildings, which had been informally connected with a series of covered walkways, previously housed a game arcade.

"We're totally gutting it," said Brandt, who hired Myhre Group Architects and Sierra Construction Co. to work on design and construction for the renovation. "There's no roof, just the outside walls."

Brandt spent the past three years looking for a new location for his company, knowing he wanted to keep the business in southeast Portland, an area he says is "geared to home remodel businesses," including lighting and paint stores. When the block of buildings went up for sale, just east of Intrepid's current location near the corner of Southeast Taylor Street and

Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Brandt knew he'd found a perfect spot.

His signature was barely dry on paperwork to buy the block when the terrorist attacks hit Sept. 11, and like many companies, Intrepid saw an immediate sharp drop in business. But a few days later, the phone started ringing. Although some of the orders that have since come in are for commercial projects, the bulk of calls have been geared toward the residential work, boosted by lower interest rates that have spurred people to buy new homes or renovate old ones.

"I think people are looking to be safe and comfortable in their homes," Brandt said. "Instead of spending $5,000 or $10,000 on vacation, they're saying, ‘Let's remodel.'"

After spending the past few months working on his own remodeling project, Brandt has a newfound empathy for many of his customers.

Because the four buildings on his block were built during different time periods - ranging from the 1940s to the '70s - the renovation has required extensive seismic upgrades. It also has been difficult to know exactly what to expect when crews start to pull up floors or tear down walls.

"We're unearthing the whole history of the buildings," Brandt said. "We tear down walls and find old painted signs behind them."

The renovation process has been made easier, Brandt said, by his close working relationship with the project architect and contractor.

For added inspiration, there's a full-color rendering of the finished building hanging on the wall of Intrepid's showroom, a sleek modern design accented with full-length windows on one side of the building and a center accent of slate in gold, green and deep purple hues.

When completed, the project will increase Intrepid's current showroom space of 800 square feet almost fourfold, which will allow Brandt to expand beyond the basic products he's offered customers. Besides adding more stone types and finishes, he wants to provide stone borders, moldings and possibly furniture.

Intrepid has a June 1 deadline to vacate its current lease space, and Brandt says customers will see no break in service during the relocation to the new building. However, moving the company's entire inventory – about 2,000 tons of stone slabs split between the company's current showroom, a tile warehouse a few blocks away and a warehouse in Washington – will be a slower process that could take as long as three weeks.

"We'll do it gradually," Brandt said, "but we'll eventually consolidate it all into the new location."