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Downtown pop-ups put down roots

Temporary stores to return next year in Old Town/Chinatown


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Jessica DeVries, Jenny Mosher and Claudia Martinez (crouching below) yarn-bomb the Kvinneakt statue downtown last week, part of the downtown retail strategys campaign this holiday season. Temporary pop-up stores have drawn shoppers downtown since 2009, but this year theyre on hiatus. Four years ago, Portland’s downtown was nearly a ghost town.

Vacant storefronts were so prominent that then-Mayor Sam Adams launched an initiative to draw shoppers to the little-explored blocks around the Galleria mall.

He found a few small entrepreneurs who were selling locally made goods but couldn’t or didn’t necessarily want to open a brick-and-mortar shop.

The Portland Business Alliance and other groups provided small grants to help get them set up in temporary shops in vacant storefronts for the holiday season.

Building owners gave the shops practically free rent, and the PBA made “shop local downtown” their new mantra.

So began the holiday “pop-up shop” tradition.

Four years later, the downtown pop-up shops have been so successful that they’ve come to the end of their run — at least for now.

“We’ve actually run ourselves out of business,” says Lisa Frisch, retail program director for the Portland Business Alliance. “We don’t have vacant space for the pop-ups.”

The program is on hiatus, but will launch next year in another neighborhood: Old Town/

Chinatown.

“Old Town has a great creative class environment,” Frisch says. “They have a lot of different software development firms, active and outdoor companies setting up shop there. It’s a natural expansion of the business development going on in that neighborhood, to add a retail element.”

Back downtown, there were 14 pop-up shops over the four years. Three of them have put down permanent roots.

They are Boys Fort, which opened in May at 902 S.W. Morrison St.; Bridge & Burn, which opened in April at 1122 S.W. Morrison; and Crafty Wonderland, which opened in 2010 and moved to its current location at 808 S.W. 10th Ave. a year later.

Both Bridge & Burn and Crafty Wonderland had participated in the first year of pop-up shops.

Boys Fort and Bridge & Burn are two of the 40 retailers that opened this year in downtown Portland, driving the vacancy rate below 5 percent, according to Frisch.

During the recession, that vacancy rate was twice as high. The PBA credits not just the pop-ups but their overall Downtown Retail Strategy, which focused on enhancing retail revitalization in the downtown area.

Besides the 40 new stores opening this year alone, there’s been an increase in leasing activity.

Eleven of the 13 spaces the pop-ups had occupied are now leased.

If you haven’t been downtown in a while, it almost looks like a new city.

H&M opened in 2010; Shreve and Co., Sephora, Starbucks, Nike and Joe’s Burgers filled the entire block of Morrison, from Southwest Fourth to Fifth avenues in 2011; and Tory Burch opened in 2012.

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Claudia Martinez puts legwarmers on the Kvinneakt statue, part of the wardrobe she and other artists designed and knit in past weeks. The yarn-bombing and other promotions continue through the end of December.

Pop-ups become popular

Besides taking the model just across Burnside, Frisch says the PBA has been hosting visitors from a number of cities in the U.S. and Canada interested in the pop-up model, and she’s traveled to speak about it as well.

“Each city creates a program specific to them,” she says. “Our program is about locally made products.”

Frisch is aware of three cities so far that have created similar programs after visiting with Portland:

• “Make Covington Pop” is an initiative of the Covington, Ky., nonprofit called Renaissance Covington, which aims to revitalize the city’s urban core. The program launched last year with two pop-up shops and was looking to double this year.

• “Project Pop Up: Downtown” is a program of Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, in conjunction with the city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority, Department of City Planning and Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership.

• A boutique called Migration at the Bay Centre Mall in Victoria, British Columbia, uses the pop-up store model to feature local designers and fair-trade products. Each designer gets a section of the store that features their line.

Yet another sign the pop-up phenomenon has hit the mainstream: Google this week announced it is launching their “Winter Wonderlabs” — a series of holiday pop-up shops in six cities to let shoppers check out their new products.

Portland won’t see a Winter Wonderlab, but it will get to be part of another guerrilla phenomenon.

Dressing up statues

Last week, Mayor Charlie Hales helped kick off the PBA’s newest downtown holiday retail strategy — “yarn bombing.”

Three local artists have been working in past weeks to temporarily outfit popular downtown statues with festive handmade sweaters.

Three local artists — Jessica DeVries, Claudia Martinez and Jenny Mosher — first decked out the deer and otters in the “Animals in Pools” statues, and the man with the umbrella state in Pioneer Courthouse Square known as “Allow Me.”

In the spirit of keeping Portland weird, two days later all but one arm of the umbrella man’s sweater was ripped off by an unknown assailant.

“We were all pretty sad, expecting it to disappear or get ruined by the weather, but not two days in,” DeVries told the Tribune. “We put a lot of work into it. “You’re not supposed to be emotionally atached to your art, but we are.”

DeVries, 31, says she was thrilled to be selected for the project because she’s long admired yarn bombing and other public art here and in Chicago, where she used to live.

Martinez, her cohort, was part of yarn-bombing the Broadway Bridge in July for the bridge’s centennial celebration.

DeVries and her friends, who gather every Sunday to work on crafts, work with the statues’ measurements as they design the pieces and knit them at home.

DeVries often knits on the bus to her classes at Portland Community College, where she’s pursuing her master’s degree in art therapy.

The artists bring the pieces to the site to assemble, surrounded by onlookers.

They’ve tried to match each piece with the statue’s personality, and the physical constraints.

In the case of the umbrella man, they had to sew the right sleeve to the rest of the sweater after dressing the statue because the whole sweater couldn’t fit over the umbrella. “It’s kind of a big problem-solving puzzle,” DeVries says.

This past week, just in time for the Civil War, the ducks and beavers in the “Animals in Pools” got cozy in their sweaters, scarves and hats.

And the “Kvinneakt” (nude woman) statue on Southwest Sixth Avenue, between Alder and Morrison streets — made famous by Mayor Bud Clark in the “Expose Yourself to Art Poster” — got covered up with a sparkly snowflake-encrusted shawl and matching leg warmers.

She didn’t get a sweater because “her hair is massive,” DeVries explains. “It was about how to make her look nice and make her feel feminine.”

The remaining “Animals in Pools” statues — the bears and seals — will get decked out with their wooly wear next week through Dec. 6.

The yarn-bombed statues are supposed to last through the holidays. But whatever happens, DeVries says, she’s glad to help encourage people to come downtown and take a look. Or for others, to look twice at something they see every day.


The Portland Business Alliance has three downtown holiday promotions underway:

• Ugly Sweater Photo Contest — Beginning Dec. 2, a social media campaign will encourage people to post photos of themselves in ugly sweaters to Instagram, Facebook

or Twitter using the hashtag #uglysweaterpdx and fill out an entry form online. Weekly winners receive a $50 gift card to Pioneer Place to buy a new, nonugly sweater. At the end of the contest, a grand-prize winner will be chosen by a panel of judges to receive a downtown holiday getaway that includes hotel, dinner, breakfast, a show and shopping spree.

• Ugly Sweater Decorating Party, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7 at Punch Bowl Social in Pioneer Place — Sweatshirts and glitzy holiday material will be available to decorate sweaters, or attendees may bring their own. Participants are encouraged to bring warm clothing donations for Transition Projects, Inc., a Portland organization that helps people transition from homeless to housing. SmartPark will provide free parking for party-goers.

• Magic Moments — Shoppers can stop by the Magic Moments photo booth ay Boys Fort (902 S.W. Morrison St.) and show a receipt from a downtown retailer to receive free daily giveaways. Run by a local couple, the Magic Moments booth is open 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Dec. 5, 12 and 19.

• For more, visit www.DowntownPortland.org.