After 92 years in business, Bernard's Garage is closing on May 1 as the owner of the family auto-repair business, County Chairman Jim Bernard, sells the property to a developer.
Redevelopment of the less than 1 acre parcel on Washington Street in downtown Milwaukie will likely begin next year, Bernard said. He says the new rail line has opened up investment opportunities but has been difficult for his business that lost two driveways to light-rail construction.
Current city building codes call for retail on the ground floor, and the building could have up to four more stories of housing above the retail space, depending on how parking is designed. Bernard said the site has great views of the Willamette River and is the perfect site for such a project.
"I've been thinking about selling this property for awhile, and with recently getting elected chair, the timing seemed right," Bernard said. "This could be one of the biggest projects Milwaukie has had in many, many years, and now that Milwaukie has an urban-renewal district, it could provide some exciting opportunities for redevelopment, and I think that's great."
Bernard said, in addition to the Bernard's Garage building, the buildings currently occupied by his monthly tenants (Horizon Marketing Concepts and Revolve Vintage) will be part of the sale. The sale will not include the building currently occupied by Bloom Garden Supply.
The price that Tom Brenneke of Guardian Real Estate will pay for the property remains confidential. Brenneke has told Bernard that he plans to use Bernard's name and the iconic "B" sign as part of the project.
Bernard, 63, has mixed feelings about losing the last of his official ties to Milwaukie. As part of a legacy of local community service in the family, Bernard's grandfather was a volunteer fireman. Bernard and his dad both served as Milwaukie's mayor, ran the Milwaukie Daze festival and volunteered for various other local nonprofit organizations.
Bernard marveled at how life came full circle for his family with the opening of the new light-rail line near Bernard's Garage in 2015. Bernard's grandfather, Joe Sr., opened the business in 1925 near the old streetcar line.
"In 1951 my grandfather sold the business to his son and in 1985 my father sold it to me," Bernard said.
Now raising cattle and chickens on 6 acres in a rural area outside of Canby, Bernard moved out of Milwaukie after being elected to the county commission in 2008. Bernard marvels at another instance of "life coming full circle" in how his grandfather was a farmer outside of McMinnville.
"Life moves on," Bernard said. "As you age, you have different goals and aspirations."
Bernard's Garage sits on land that was part of the St. John the Baptist's mission church in Milwaukie. Bernard said his family history indicates that when St. John's moved to 25th Avenue in the 1920s under the leadership of Father John Bernard, the land became vacant and the church sold the land to Father John's brother, Joe Sr.
Bernard said the most difficult part of the upcoming sale will be letting go of employees, one of whom had worked for Bernard's Garage for 50 years, and another a Bernard's employee for 28 years. Bernard thanked the operations manager of Bernard's Garage since 2001, John Sciarra, who stepped up when Bernard was elected mayor.
"If it weren't for him, I wouldn't be here," Bernard said.