Dedicating a life to helping business districts
Nancy Chapin has lived in the Brentwood-Darlington Neighborhood for 35 years, but you could call much of Portland her neighborhood.
For decades, Chapin has worked through her company TSG Services with business district associations and neighborhoods around the city, including the Hawthorne Boulevard Business Association, which marks the 40th year of the Hawthorne Street Fair on Aug. 27 — a day after her 84th birthday. It’ll be her 32nd street fair that she has worked on.
Her company has supported the likes of Hawthorne, Belmont, Division-Clinton, Foster and 82nd Avenue neighborhoods. She’s also president of the 82nd Avenue Business Association, helping with the area’s parade, and serves on many boards of directors. Chapin was the Alliance of Portland Neighborhood Business Association’s (APNBA) — now called Venture Portland — first executive director from 1990 to 2005.
“I got to know business districts, neighborhood associations and the city really well,” said Chapin, a Portland native. “I’ve worked with almost every existing business district … working with them on all aspects of their association — taking minutes, helping with events, whatever needs to be done to be a viable business association.
“A good neighborhood needs a good business district. They work with each other.”
Chapin takes a humble, low-key approach to her impact in the city and within business districts.
“It was my work, and it was a contract with my company (formerly called The Support Group),” she said. Chapin calls herself a “solopreneur” as she sometimes works as the lone person in her company — it’s “entrepreneur” when she has employees.
“I’ve learned of my city really well.”
Bridget Bayer worked alongside Chapin with the North Northeast Business Association, which encompassed Mississippi, Alberta, Killingsworth, Interstate, Kenton and St. Johns. Her Business Association Management (BAM) sprung from her work with Chapin. (They are working together on the Hawthorne Street Fair.)
“She was instrumental in what I learned,” Bayer said. “How to engage the community, ‘play well’ together, literally how to be a good neighbor and incentivize others to be good neighbors.”
Chapin impressed Bayer with her work ethic.
“She just does the work,” Bayer said. “She was always taking on so much, and I was her cohort, ‘You got this Bridget,’ and I said, ‘wait …’ She just shows up and dives in. She’s at every meeting and not afraid to speak up. She’s not opinionated or over the top but asks questions and asks people to think about questions.
“She speaks up for small business owners, as they’re busy running their business. Post-COVID on Zoom, she has adapted to talking to people online. She really does stimulate good thought.”
Chapin works because she cares, added Bayer, who has nominated Chapin for a Spirit of Portland Award.
Roger Jones, now treasure of Hawthorne Boulevard Business Association, remembers when the association hired Chapin and her company in 1991.
“Nancy’s history is many and varied,” said Jones, who originally founded the Alliance of Portland Neighborhood Business Associations, which Chapin “rekindled” some years later.
“Her involvement in all business associations in Portland is pretty much legendary. … She’s pretty much an unsung hero in my book.”
Jones describes Chapin’s personality as “very peaceful. She’s a thoughtful character — one who doesn’t shoot from the hip. She knows where she’s coming from when she makes a statement, and one who empowers people to empower themselves to do the right thing.”
She’s also the organizer and creator of Sustainable Southeast Community Coalition (s2c2pdx.org), which helps neighborhoods attain grants and funding, while also serving on a citywide committee called Lower Southeast Rising among her many affiliations.
“I do like to stay busy,” said Chapin, who had four children. “I like to read mystery novels. I recently read one that kept me up half the night, I didn’t want to quit. I have kids, they’re in 50s and 60s, so I get to see them occasionally. My son lives in Portland, my other son and daughter live in the Eugene area. My oldest daughter passed away in 2015.”
She added, of her busy life: “I do like days when I say, ‘OK, I’m not going to do anything, not looking at my to-do list. My to-do list gets wild and crazy.”