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Two more downtown retailers close shop

Slow sales spur clothing stores Barcelino and Georgiou to call it quits

With clothing and shoes discounted 50 percent, sales are brisk this week at the sleek European-themed men's shop Barcelino.

But this is not the perfect sales event: Barcelino, which opened with Pioneer Place II in 2000, is closing its store at the downtown shopping center June 30 and pulling out of Portland.

The California-based retailer has stores in Seattle and Bellevue, Wash., plus several in the San Francisco Bay Area. It came to Portland with high hopes, said Robert Browning, Barcelino's regional director.

But business here never developed as anticipated, said Browning, who blamed the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and the area's struggling economy, as well as expensive rent and high operating costs.

Just across the street, the women's clothing shop Georgiou is marking down prices for the same reason: The store, on the ground floor of the SmartPark garage on Southwest Fourth Avenue between Morrison and Alder streets, will close June 2, the latest of several retailers to occupy the space in the last decade.

However, observers say the two closures don't mean that downtown retail is faltering. They say Portland is staying healthy in a sour economy, although they also use words such as 'challenging' and 'fragile' to describe the atmosphere.

'It probably has more to do with the larger economy than anything else,' said Christopher Finks, former vice president for marketing of the Portland Business Alliance. Finks is now the Portland director of the Cohn Marketing Group, a national company that does destination and travel marketing.

'I think the focus needs to be kept on downtown in particular because of these pressures from the national economy,' Finks said. 'Now is the time we must focus with laser beams on keeping it vital.'

Not just retail

'It's definitely a challenging environment for retail. However, that's not exclusive to retail you can see that across all lines of business, ' said Allyson Reed, general manager of Pioneer Place, which occupies four blocks of downtown and houses a mix of shops that include both Saks Fifth Avenue and Tiffany & Co. The Rouse Co. owns, operates and manages the shopping center.

Reed said there are other retailers interested in both the 5,000-square-foot space that Barcelino will be vacating and in the 3,000-square-foot store available since Seattle-based Cutter & Buck moved out a few months ago.

Cutter & Buck Inc., a sportswear manufacturer, closed all of its retail stores to focus on its wholesale business.

Reed expressed long-term optimism, pointing to growth in the Pearl District, in the West End and on the riverfront. 'Look at the rate the residential market is being developed,' she said. 'As that density increases, it therefore expands the need for goods and services, places to eat, to go to the movies.'

Downtown will get another venue for moviegoing June 13, when Regal Entertainment Group opens a six-screen Regal Cinema Art theater on the top floor of Pioneer Place II. The theater will screen a mix of movies, from first-run features to alternative and foreign films to restored classics.

The theater, with seating for 1,100, was part of the planned retail-entertainment mix for Pioneer Place's expansion. But Sundance Cinema, the original intended tenant, pulled out because of financing problems.

Crowds didn't come

Browning said the theater opening is happening too late for Barcelino; without the theaters, the predicted crowds of people did not visit the mall.

'Our store had significant sales deficiencies,' he said, which prompted Barcelino to negotiate with Rouse to get out of its lease.

Barcelino stores elsewhere are flourishing, Browning said.

'The truth is, he said, the Portland store 'is probably in the toughest market.'

Retail trade employment in the region that includes Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas, Columbia and Yamhill counties in Oregon and Clark County, Wash., is showing some effects from the creaky economy but it's been less affected than other trade sectors, said Amy VanderVliet, Oregon Employment Division economist for the Portland metro area.

Still, retail isn't exactly flush with new employment opportunities. In April 2003, VanderVliet said, there were 97,000 retail jobs in the region, 2,100 fewer than a year ago.

Retail jobs hit an April high of 104,100 in 2000 and dropped to 102,700 in 2001.

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