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An historic business on SE 52nd in the Brentwood-Darlington neighborhood continues after a death

DAVID F. ASHTON - Vowing to continue the tradition of service established by their dad, David and Steve Besaw - and Steves son, Chris - stand under their companys sign, on S.E. 52nd Avenue.Long before the Brentwood-Darlington neighborhood was created, in a neighborhood then called "Glitner Park", a company now known as "52nd Avenue Hardware and Building Supply" opened – that was about 73 years ago, at 7100 S.E. 52nd Avenue.

The man who later bought and operated the business for 50 years, Gordon Besaw, passed away on July 27 of this year. His sons, Steve and David, have long been involved in the family business, and now promise to run it, "just as Dad would have", as Steve puts it.

Members of the Besaw family have run various businesses here since 1903 – which was when George Besaw and Medric Liberty opened a beer bar and gambling hall called "Besaw's" in Northwest Portland. It still exists, but is now operated by other owners.

After his passing, the Besaw brothers outlined their father's life:

Ø Born in Los Angeles, California on January 5, 1927

Ø Grew up in Northwest Portland, right next to the original location of Besaws

Ø Graduated from Benson High School in 1945

Ø Enlisted in the U.S. Army, and trained as a rifleman

Ø Married Millie in 1957; and they were together until her death in 2003

Entering the lumber and hardware business

"Before he purchased this business, my dad was on the road almost all the time, working for Marshall Wells Company as a 'store fixture installation engineer' – making sure store display equipment was properly installed in newly-opening '88¢ Store' locations," Steve told THE BEE. "All that time, my mom was raising us four kids, and she told dad it was time for him to 'come home' to Portland."

So, in 1972, Gordon and Millie looked for a business to purchase. One under consideration was Cannon Beach Lumber; the other was "52nd Avenue Hardware". What decided which one to buy? "Mom really did not want to move to the beach, where it's cold and damp – and that settled it," Steve said. "And, we really liked the family we from whom we bought the store, and we wanted to continue the family atmosphere they'd created, running this as a neighborhood lumber yard and hardware store." Steve came to work in the family business after graduating from Parkrose High School in 1978 – and after his brother, David, graduated from Parkrose High a year later, he also became an employee at the store.

"Dad was here in the store every day, even as he got older," David recalled. "Dad loved conversation; and, after he chatted up a longtime customer, or a person who walked in the door for the first time, he'd pause and say, 'one of my sons will help you now'."

"He's already being missed, because he made so many friends over the 50 years he was here at the store," David said. "Every day we're continuing to get cards, letters, and notes from people – many of whom I've never met – but who knew him."

Steve pulled out a sympathy note from the daughter of a customer, that read:

"Your hardware store was my father's favorite hangout. Dad loved visiting with Gordon, drinking Millie's coffee, and doing business with your family. May you be blessed with happy memories."

One of the reasons their father was beloved by many, David related, was that he offered store credit to people in whom he had faith. "A contractor came in the other day and said, 'I want you to know that your dad offered me credit, without having anything to back it up, to help me get my business started.'

"Like so many others he's been trading with us ever since for decades," David continued. "Maybe we were naïve businesspeople, but we've gotten the reputation as an honest lumber yard because dad treated people with respect.

He extended credit to many people and helped them get their business started over the years."

Rebuilds after business burns to the ground

FAMILY-PROVIDED PHOTO - After a teenage arsonist burned the business to the ground in 1980, the family rallied and rebuilt its iconic 52nd Street Hardware and Building Supply. The brothers described their father as being very casual and laid-back. But one time when he showed emotion was when an arsonist torched their store, burning it to the ground.

Steve takes up that story: "The phone rang about 4 a.m. on April 26, 1980; it was police officer telling us that our business on fire. "On the way to the store, dad was driving; as we get closer to the store, he could see the giant plume of smoke up into the sky. At that point my dad's face turned pale. He pulled over, and I had to drive the rest of the way.

"We sat across the street, on the curb right there on 52nd Avenue, and couldn't do anything but watch as our family business burned down to the ground. Dad cried."

As it turned out, a teenage boy, who had an argument with his mother, started six fires that night, extending from Johnson Creek Boulevard to Foster Road – and was later found "Guilty – Except for insanity".

"When we came back the next day with my mom, my dad said emphatically, 'We're not giving up', and made plans to continue business," Steve added..

It took two years, while they ran the business under temporary tents and canopies, for the City of Portland to issue them building permits – but the plucky family did rebuild their store.

Becomes 'Hardware Supplier to the Stars'

It was the brothers who positioned "52nd Avenue Hardware" as the go-to source for lumber and building supplies for motion picture, television, and theatrical productions in the greater Portland area since 2008, but it was done with their dad's blessing.

"It started during the recession when, on December 1, 2008, we took a call from a buyer who they were filming a movie in the area and asked us to bid," David explained. "The guy listed his needs, it was apparent that he really knew what he was doing, because his list was precise."

The brothers were surprised to learn that they'd won the bid. The production's buyer told them that when he asked for prices from seven other companies, they raised their prices when they heard the word "movie". The Besaws were gratified to hear from the buyer, "You're the only ones that were willing to work with us and give us a fair shake."

That production was the first of "The Twilight Saga", a series of five vampire-themed romance fantasy films from Summit Entertainment, based on the novels by author Stephenie Meyer. "Our dad was proud that we learned from him to be honest and fair in our dealings," David shared. "And, this has always benefitted our family business."

As the store's reputation grew in the industry, it went on to supply the set builders and decorators for eight seasons of the TV series "Leverage". They also furnished materials for "Fringe", a science fiction TV series; and "The Librarians", a fantasy-adventure series.

They also made available the building materials and hardware for TV series "Grimm", the fantasy police procedural drama TV series in 123 episodes, over six seasons.

"My dad really enjoyed going to all the different movie sets we supplied; their master carpenters and builders let him wander around with no supervision, even when he'd arrive unannounced," Steve remembered.

But one day on the Leverage set Steve said, his dad sat down at a table on a set, and started eating nuts from a bowl that was sitting there. "A producer came in and said 'Gordon that's a problem, you're not allowed to eat the props'. Dad replied, 'I'll go get you another bag right now', and he did.

FAMILY-PROVIDED PHOTO - Although hed retired numerous times, 52nd Avenue Hardware and Building Supply owner Gordon Besaw always came to work anyway.

A perpetual retiree

"As dad was getting older, he 'officially retired' on perhaps 10 different occasions, about once every five years, starting at age 60," Steve acknowledged. David added, "A day or two after he declared that he was retired, he'd come back to the store and just want to 'do a few things, here and there', but he'd stay the day."

Steve mused, "We just couldn't kick him out; he worked up until two days before he went to the hospital – and even there, he told me 'make sure you leave a few things for me to do at the store', before he passed away."

"The third generation of Besaws is with us – [in the form of] my son Chris," Steve grinned. "While we really miss dad, we'll all continue serving customers just as he would have."


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