Atlanta leaders look to support legacy businesses

Legislation being considered by City Council would offer financial assistance to longtime businesses
Thomas Portis  prepares to mix paint at Southwest Paint and Decorating, Thursday, July 10, 2024 in Atlanta. The Southwest Paint and Decorating Center on Ralph David Abernathy Blvd. has remained open for five decades since Portis purchased the business. He and his family have kept it afloat through hardships over the years like the COVID-19 pandemic.(Hyosub Shin / AJC)

Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

Thomas Portis prepares to mix paint at Southwest Paint and Decorating, Thursday, July 10, 2024 in Atlanta. The Southwest Paint and Decorating Center on Ralph David Abernathy Blvd. has remained open for five decades since Portis purchased the business. He and his family have kept it afloat through hardships over the years like the COVID-19 pandemic.(Hyosub Shin / AJC)

In 1973, a local paint and wallpaper store in the West End was set to shutter its doors when its previous owners decided to get out of the business. That’s when Thomas Portis, Sr. decided to take it on as his own venture.

The Southwest Paint and Decorating Center on Ralph David Abernathy Blvd. has remained open for five decades since Portis purchased the business. He and his family have kept it afloat through hardships over the years like the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I feel just about as good, if not better, most days when I leave work than I did when I came to work,” he said. “So I think that speaks pretty highly of how much I enjoy it.”

Looking back, Portis said he attributes his success to two ingredients: service and quality. But there are a few things he’s looking to upgrade — replacing the floor and repaving the parking lot are on his list.

A polaroid shows Southwest Paint and Decorating Center in it's early years of operation during the 1970s. Thomas Portis and his family has kept the business open for five decades.

Credit: Courtesy of Thomas Portis, Jr.

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Credit: Courtesy of Thomas Portis, Jr.

The longtime paint store may soon be able to receive financial support from the city of Atlanta to keep its facilities up-to-date. Atlanta City Council is considering a new pot of money specifically to help legacy businesses stay afloat.

Council member Jason Dozier introduced legislation to establish a $1.8 million legacy business fund through Invest Atlanta that would help local institutions with storefront upgrades, social media campaigns and more.

Dozier told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that while the city has made significant investments for legacy residents, there are no programs on the books for legacy business owners.

“As the business landscape has changed so much, we want to keep these institutions in Atlanta for another 30, 40, 50 years so that future generations of Atlanta can experience what we have experienced,” he said.

Businesses that have operated in Atlanta for 30 years or more would be eligible to apply. While the criteria hasn’t been officially set by Invest Atlanta, Dozier told the finance committee on Wednesday that small businesses with brick-and-mortar locations would be prioritized.

“I know that many of our grant programs across the city that are implemented by Invest Atlanta can be oversubscribed,” he said. “There’s a lot more folks that are in need than there’s money to give out. This creates a separate opportunity for these legacy businesses to be able to tap into funding.”

With the 2026 FIFA World Cup on the horizon, city leaders are looking to spotlight authentic Atlanta experiences for its international visitors. Dozier said the program would also be used to support legacy businesses during the massive tournament.

Other major cities across the country have already implemented similar programs — including Birmingham, Alabama; San Antonio, Texas; and San Francisco.

Father and son Thomas Portis and Thomas Portis Jr. pose for a photo at Southwest Paint and Decorating, Thursday, July 10, 2024 in Atlanta. The Southwest Paint and Decorating Center on Ralph David Abernathy Blvd. has remained open for five decades since Portis purchased the business. He and his family have kept it afloat through hardships over the years like the COVID-19 pandemic.(Hyosub Shin / AJC)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

icon to expand image

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

While Portis has family ready to step up and take on the business when he decides to retire, the grant funding would also help business owners who don’t have an obvious successor. But the longtime paint store owner in the West End said he doesn’t have any plans to retire soon.

“I think about (retirement) but not too often,” Portis said. “However, with 50 years behind me, you can imagine that I am getting older. But I enjoy the customers, they’re pretty great.”

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