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Young at Art forced to look for a new home

Young at Art is a place for young artists on River Road but will have to move after a smoke shop opened next door earlier this month. (KEIZERTIMES/Craig Murphy)
Young at Art is a place for young artists on River Road but will have to move after a smoke shop opened next door earlier this month. (KEIZERTIMES/Craig Murphy)

Of the Keizertimes

Like any first-year business owner, Mahssa Hashemi has come across obstacles.

The phone call she got on Oct. 10 was the biggest yet.

On that Friday, landlord Mike Smith informed Hashemi — the owner of Young at Art, which opened in January at 3924 River Road North — a smoke shop would be moving in next door.

Having a smoke shop move in next to Hashemi’s studio for young artists was tough enough; learning the smoke shop would be allowed to take over her space at the end of the year was crushing.

“It was kind of a shock,” Hashemi said. “My mouth just dropped. I told my landlord that is big news.”

Hashemi had suspected something might be going on, based on a conversation she had with her landlord, who did not return calls from the Keizertimes seeking comment.

“I had talked with them in September about renewing my lease,” Hashemi said. “He said let’s hold off. I thought that was kind of weird.”

Hashemi plans for her last day at the current location to be Dec. 23 and hopes to find a new place as soon as possible. Due to a lack of funds, she is turning to GoFundMe to raise $15,000 to go towards initial rent in a new building. When the page went active Nov. 20, $880 was raised in the first day. The giving has slowed since and stood at $1,290 as of Monday night.

Earlier this month, Badr Elnes opened One Stop Smoke Shop in the adjoining space next to Young at Art.

Elnes said he looked at the building nearly a year ago in the hopes of opening his smoke shop.

“I stopped by and talked with the landlords,” he said. “They said no at first. Then they said they would talk with their tenant first. About a month and a half ago, they offered me the space and they also offered me to take over the other part. The landlord said (Hashemi) would not be renewing her lease. The landlord offered me both spaces, because she wasn’t going to take both parts. I was told the lease was up at the end of December but she might be leaving earlier.”

Elnes isn’t sure what he’ll be putting in the space currently occupied by Young at Art.

“I have no idea what I want to do,” Elnes said. “My lifelong dream was to open a bistro, but I don’t know if that space will be big enough.”

Sam Kerr, an employee at One Stop Smoke Shop, likes having the studio next door.

“I really like what they’re doing over there,” he said.

However, that feeling has not been mutual.

“People make choices and that’s fine,” said Hashemi, who noted there are two other nearby smoke shops. “But I don’t want it to be my fault young kids who come here are asking what’s next door. That’s hard for me. It’s pretty hard to miss it, especially those bright neon signs when it’s getting darker earlier.”

Hashemi said it quickly became apparent while talking with Smith staying wouldn’t be an option.

“They are doubling our rent,” she said. “We can’t afford to double our rent. There’s no way we could double it.”

The current rent is being paid each month.

“Business has been building a lot,” Hashemi said. “People are so supportive. People keep coming back. Things are always changing here. We have something new all the time. We’ve been able to pay our rent and we’re doing better and better. There’s so much support for it because it meets a need for families.”

Hashemi is depending on that support to keep going.

“All of our savings went to first and last month and taking the carpet out of here,” she said. “The only way to truly continue is with the community’s support.”

Hashemi is spending Friday looking at potential buildings.

“I would open the day after Christmas if I could,” she said. “I would move earlier, but I can’t. The hope would be to reopen as soon as possible.”

Hashemi figured the one-year lease would give her a good taste for the future.

“I knew we had a year to prove ourselves,” she said. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be pushed out. It was a big risk to open this, but I feel it is a concept that will work in this community. The kids love it here.”

Based on the unexpected detour, Hashemi has found herself debating if opening was the right call.

“I’d say 75 percent of me thinks this is the end of our business,” she said. “Maybe I could do something less stressful. But I’m going to try and keep going for the kids and the parents. That’s the only reason I’m doing this, because of their support.”