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Diversifying Dilemma The Horned Hand's unique structure has also been its biggest challenge 

After a stare down with the city building staff, The Horned Hand's Wesley Ladd stands his ground

click to enlarge horned-hand-allie-middleton-4.jpg
It's cold inside the Horned Hand on this particular October afternoon. That's not surprising, though. The massive garage door that makes up part of the east-facing wall is wide open, revealing the double-decker bus parked outside that's been converted into a fish and chips cart. The open door does, however, also throw natural light on the artwork hanging on the walls of the all-concrete building. One of the pieces, a painting by Alex Reisfar, is priced at $10,000, but most are much less, as is the collection of T-shirts, Western apparel, and other clothing lining each side of the former second-hand sporting goods store.

The Horned Hand is Wesley Ladd's business. It's a clothing, furniture and art store. Essentially everything in the store is for sale, even the table Ladd is sitting at on this particular day. And once a week, or so, the store hosts a concert on the modest stage in the corner. Sometimes they project an old movie on the side of the wall, too. They also serve beer and wine, the selection of which is intentionally pared down to a pair of taps, a couple choices of lager in cans and a few wine options.

If you call it a bar, Ladd will correct you instantly. When he opened the store in June, he says he did so with the intention of making sure it wasn't thought of as a bar, even if they did apply for a limited liquor license to sell beer and wine. The company's business license lists The Horned Hand as an art dealership and Ladd is clearly proud of that there is nothing really resembling his business anywhere else in town.

"There are already plenty of bars in this town and I don't want to be another place like that," says Ladd, a tattooed and heavily bearded former firefighter who is preparing for the birth of his first child with his wife, Callie Young.

The uniqueness of the Horned Hand, might explain Ladd's issues with the city of Bend over the building's capacity, which he said was informally pegged at 150 or more by the fire department during a preliminary visit, but culled to just 49 people after city building inspectors took interest in The Horned Hand. That's not enough to generate the kind of attention or cash necessary to sustain the business, according to Ladd. Although its occupancy permit, the classification under which a business operates, lists The Horned Hand as a mercantile shop, the fact that events were held on occasion at the spot drew the attention of the fire department, which received two overcrowding complaints about the business, according to Deputy Fire Marshall Dan Derlacki.

"We got some complaints about the amount of people in there and we went down there and looked at it and asked Joe (McClay, the city's assistant building official) to take a look from the building department perspective," says Derlacki.

McClay came into inspect the business and found one of the business' two exits insufficient (that roll up garage door mentioned earlier doesn't count as an exit) and in early September, the Horned Hand saw its capacity formally listed at 49 people, thus forcing the business to hold a Larry and His Flask show with most of the audience standing outside, looking through the open garage door. Also, the store was forced to move a show featuring Murder By Death to the Midtown for the same reason.

During that inspection, Ladd says that McClay questioned why The Horned Hand would be classified as a store and inquired if he would like to request a change of occupancy to classify the business as a bar rather than a store. Ladd, however, has remained firm that the Horned Hand be classified as a mercantile business, even after he says the city's building inspector questioned the quality of the art and clothing for sale. Ladd acknowledges that changing the occupancy could possibly lead to other costly changes, like additional restrooms or ADA compliance. Still, Ladd insists that the clothing, art and furniture sales are the integral aspect of his business.

Building division manager Robert Mathias acknowledged that the merchandise did come into question during McClay's visit.

"When he went down there, some questions came up about whether [the items in the Horned Hand] were for sale," says Mathias.

This issue of diversified use highlights a challenge the fire department encounters with businesses using their spaces for uses other than what occurs on a day-to-day basis. Derlacki says his department sees these problems arise on a regular basis during the monthly First Friday art walk in downtown Bend. This is something that hasn't gone unnoticed by Ladd.

"What's the difference between us and a store downtown that has 100 people inside of a store or office downtown listening to a jazz band on a First Friday?" asks Ladd.

In most cases, there is no difference. It's for that reason that Derlacki and other deputy fire marshals have consistently patrolled these businesses and have instructed the owners or managers to keep their patronage within capacity. He says there are also cases in which a group or business wants to use their location for a special event, requiring a capacity bump by way of a temporary change in occupancy. An example of this can be seen this weekend when the Mt. Bachelor Sports Education Foundation hosts its annual (and sizable) ski swap at the ski resort's bus barn on Columbia Avenue. Derlacki says the group is required to add additional emergency lighting and other provisions to comply with code for the weekend's event.

For now, Ladd is currently working on bringing the building's second exit up to code (it was within a couple inches of qualifying as a fire exit), a move he hopes will convince the fire department to increase the venue's capacity sometime in the future. But for now, he's sticking to his current plan of small-scale music, art shows and retail. It might seem odd to some, he says, but it might be the only way to make a business of this size work these days.

"This is just our small, tiny business and as far as I can tell, diversification is the only way to protect that," says Ladd. "We want to sell clothing and art and we sell more of that when there is music playing."

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