Salt & Straw co-founder says ‘I can’t stay here’ if Portland HQ employees aren’t safe

Portland’s iconic ice cream business Salt & Straw may move its headquarters from Southeast Portland, owing to frustration with crime, drugs and street camping, said co-founder Kim Malek on Wednesday.

On Monday, a fire in an RV parked at Southeast 3rd Avenue and Ash Street near the company’s headquarters shut down power to Salt & Straw and several other businesses after the blaze brought down a transformer.

“If we can’t make it safe, I can’t stay here,” Malek said. “It’s just not responsible of me to put my team in that position.”

On Tuesday, musician and civic advocate Thomas Lauderdale sent an email about the fire and other problems near the headquarters, including that someone recently pointed a gun at the head of a Salt & Straw employee, to two dozen community leaders in Portland City Hall, Multnomah County and Oregon’s congressional delegation.

“Their lease is up in April, and although it will cost them millions and millions to relocate, they are at a breaking point, and are planning to move out of state,” Lauderdale wrote. “This is less a homeless issue; it is a health and public safety and drug issue. The schizophrenia we’re seeing, the violence, the fires … this is drug fueled, and it needs to be addressed immediately.”

Malek, who founded the company in Portland with her cousin Tyler Malek, said she would prefer to find a solution by working with elected leaders. “It’s really hard for a lot of people right now,” she said. “I’m not here to point fingers. I want to be part of the solution.”

She’s especially interested in helping to cut off the supply of drugs into Portland that she sees fueling crime, she said. “Our intention is to work through this,” she said. “I cannot stay here if we don’t.”

Tim Boyle, CEO of Columbia Sportswear, also got the email from Lauderdale, although he said he did not know the Maleks. Columbia Sportswear said this fall it will move its Sorel brand out of downtown Portland offices early next year and onto the parent company’s Washington County campus.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” Boyle said Wednesday of Salt & Straw’s possible move, noting the tough climate for retail businesses in Portland. “It’s a challenge.”

Other businesses near Salt & Straw share its concerns. Jason Bolt, the owner of Reverent Optics – a manufacturer in the area – testified at City Hall on Nov. 3, saying that his employees feel unsafe going to work. Bolt also threatened to leave the area.

“If the city is not going to take care of their citizens and create a safe place for businesses to operate, then we’re going to go somewhere else,” Bolt said. “We have to look out for the safety of our teams.”

Firefighters responded around 2:30 a.m. Monday on Southeast Third Avenue and Ash Street. No nearby buildings were damaged by the fire but the RV was “a total loss,” said fire department spokesperson Sean Whalen.

Fire officials had not yet determined what caused the fire, Whalen said.

— Catalina Gaitán,, @catalingaitan_

— Austin De Dios;; (503) 319-9744

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