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Special shops help make downtown holidays pop

Program aims to give temporary shops a permanent home
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT Jessica Lind, a ballerina for the Nutcracker, browses art at the Saturday Market Annex, one of four

From the hubcap clocks and salvaged tables to the bow ties, vintage comics, mustache wax and 'man cave' candles, Boys Fort clearly knows its audience: guys who long for simpler times.

Part whimsy, part high-end urban design, the downtown 'manthropology' shop, as co-owners Richard Rolfe and Jake France dub it, is one of four Portland 'pop-up shops' that opened last Friday to kick off the all-important holiday retail season.

Now in its third year, the pop-up shop program - which pairs local artists with vacant storefront space - has become a major piece of the downtown holiday retail strategy.

'This is an amazing collection of the best international and national holiday shopping right here in downtown Portland,' Mayor Sam Adams told a large gathering of downtown business leaders, shoppers and media assembled Friday in the Galleria - home to Boys Fort as well as the Portland Saturday Market Annex, another pop-up shop that features rotating displays of the market artisans.

The Galleria, 600 S.W. 10th Ave., won't have empty space to host pop-up shops forever, though; in 2013 it's destined to be the new home of a Target 'urban lifestyles' store, modeled after one in San Francisco, although no lease has yet been signed. Local shop owners say they look forward to its opening, hoping that it will increase foot traffic in the blocks around the Galleria, just outside of the downtown retail core.

Until then, however, the Portland Business Alliance - which represents the downtown merchants - continues to draw on Portlanders' love of locally handmade goods with the pop-up shops, which lease each space for just $1 for the eight weeks through Dec. 31.

Landlords and other partners take care of their electricity bills and help with signs and marketing. The idea is to activate empty spaces downtown to boost pedestrian traffic, and hope that the tenants might choose to lease the space permanently afterward.

Both Crafty Wonderland, 802 S.W. 10th Ave., and Portland Design Collective, 902 S.W. Morrison St., celebrated their one-year anniversaries in their permanent space after leasing their pop-up space. In all, last year's five pop-up shops brought in $150,000 in sales.

This year's two other pop-up shops are Downtown Artistry, 940 S.W. Morrison St., and Trillium Artisans, 318 S.W. Taylor St.

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Tribune Photo: Christopher Onstott • Richard Rolfe, coowner of Boys Fort, a second pop-up shop in the Galleria downtown, is thrilled to offer local designers (including himself) a place to showcase their works. Merchants big and small are optimistic for a better retail season than last.

Boosting stores' markets

All are hoping to see an influx of holiday shoppers, despite recent events that might have scared some people away from downtown Portland.

Just before the city cleared the Occupy Portland protesters out of a two-block encampment last weekend, Portland Business Alliance President Sandy McDonough, along with Adams, fielded questions about the cleanliness and safety of downtown. Both said it's a case of perception versus reality - that the majority of downtown is still one of the most clean and safe in the nation.

'Perception is powerful,' McDonough said. 'Let's make sure people know that.'

The business alliance boasts a number of new tenants downtown, including including big names like Sephora, Nike, H and M and Starbucks, and lesser-known names like Chicago-based Freshii - a build-your-own meal franchise with two downtown locations, plus a host of smaller businesses as well.

The alliance's marketing campaign also includes 40 themed downtown itineraries - date night, 'eater excursion,' girls' night out - that are posted at downtownportland.org, along with maps. Other events include a photo contest, storefront art installation, free parking Thursday evenings and festive LED lights that are also green, installed using techniques approved by the Urban Forestry Department.

Shannon Quimby, owner of a design company called Endurawood, based in Southeast Portland, was thrilled last Friday to be showcasing her unique table designs at Boys Fort.

Made from turn-of-the-century lumber that's been salvaged from the old Sellwood Trolley Barn, her rustic tables and benches stand alongside custom belts and wallets, 'chief' and 'ninja' mugs, and walls of custom wood paneling from Kenton Collective - the store co-owners' design company - that would be the crowning touch on any man cave.

'The creative is just oozing here,' Quimby says. 'It shows how deep Portland is in the world of the creative - we all do something different, but it all goes together.'

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• Neighborhoods look to pay it forward

On Dec. 10, shops along Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard will be brimming with even more activity as usual - storytelling, acoustic bands, dancing, cocoa, cider, roasted chestnuts, roaming carolers and a wreath raffle for customers, among other festivities.

Other neighborhood shopping districts throughout Portland are also pulling out all the stops to attract holiday shoppers, hoping to see a better sales year than last.

'This is a critical time,' says Heath Hoell, executive director of Venture Portland, the 25-year-old organization formerly known as the Alliance of Portland Neighborhood Business Associations. 'The economy requires small business owners to encourage shoppers to get out and spend money in the holiday season.'

The organization adopted a new name this past summer to encourage people to venture into undiscovered parts of their own community, she says: 'Portlanders like to shop local, with an emphasis on being able to walk into their own neighborhood and explore.'

Venture Portland just distributed $44,000 in grant awards to its members to help with holiday efforts, in addition to the $115,000 the business districts raised in private investments throughout the year - a portion of which they'll donate to charities within their own district at the end of the year.

In a parallel effort to promote Portland's smaller neighborhood businesses, about 40 independently owned boutiques will participate in a first-time event called Little Boxes.

They'll keep their shops open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 25, and give a 10 percent discount to anyone who shows a receipt from a different participating business that day. There are also raffle drawings at each shop.

Betsy Cross and her husband, Will Cervarich, co-owners of a jewelry boutique in Northwest Portland called betsy and iya, came up with the idea just a few weeks ago.

'I was watching a Macy's commercial; they said they're opening (on Black Friday) at 12 a.m. - it sort of fired me up to do something about local shopping,' says Cross.

They put out word to other local businesses and received a huge response. Portland's savvy shoppers will see and appreciate the reciprocity between businesses, Cervarich says: 'I feel that's what sets this event apart from 'Come to Macy's at 12 a.m. and save 50 percent.' '

For more info: www.littleboxespdx.com; www.apnba.com.