Tiny shops show their value for city, local entrepreneurs

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Jessica Spencer (left) and Julie Dieringer look at a necklace while shopping at a pop-up shop in downtown Portland. 
Portlanders who already embrace the “shop local” and “eat local” ethos, can now “dress local” too.

A new downtown store called Enchanted Alpaca features at least 40 types of “field to fashion” products made from the wool of alpaca raised in Glenwood, Wash., about 35 miles north of Hood River.

It’s not just quirky, but is also practical, says Carol Thayer, who owns the business with her husband, Rick Daugherty.

“It’s four times warmer than wool, weighs half as much as wool and wicks away twice as much sweat,” she says.

Since 2008, Thayer and Daugherty have run their shop in Hood River, showcasing the handcrafted skirts, coats, baby sweaters, socks, gloves, long johns and other creations by about a dozen local artists who use their alpaca wool.

They’ve raised alpacas on their 20-acre property in Glenwood for 17 years and have seen interest in the wool grow.

Now they’re bringing the alpaca collection to Portland, as one of this year’s downtown PDX Pop-Up shops, which officially opened for the holiday shopping season last week.

Thayer thinks it’ll be a perfect fit.

“It’s kind of been a growing community, trying to reclaim textiles in this country again,” she says. “We really are trying to show people where clothes come from. ... I would like to think people are willing to pay a little more to get things from a local source.”

The Enchanted Alpaca, 902 S.W. Morrison St., is one of four “pop-ups” created as part of the Downtown Retail Strategy in 2009 to showcase independent and local design talent, support emerging entrepreneurs, encourage downtown shoppers and activate vacant retail space to showcase the space for future tenants.

Four years into the program, the shops have proven their value to the city, shoppers and participating entrepreneurs.

“They are all so well thought out, professional and well presented,” says Jake Frances, co-founder of Boys Fort, a man-themed gift shop that originally opened in North Portland in 2001 and is now returning for its second year as a downtown pop-up.

Frances says his shop — which features the works of 48 local artists — was the most successful of last year’s pop-ups, bringing in more than $100,000 in sales during the six-week season.

The four pop-ups netted a combined $225,000 last year, and many expect this season to be a bigger one.

This year, Boys Fort is at a new location, in the lobby of the Governor Hotel, 614 S.W. 11th Ave.

The two other pop-ups this year include: Wolf’s Apothecary, 902 S.W. Morrison, which sells local health and beauty products as well as turn-of-the-century and modern home goods; and Emit, 535 S.W. Sixth Ave., a women’s apparel shop that blends performance fabric with modern fashions.

Other partners in the project include the Portland Business Alliance, Clean & Safe District, Portland Development Commission, Downtown Retail Advocate, Downtown Marketing Initiative, city of Portland, Vizwerks, BPM Associates and The Governor Hotel.

Excited about local shops

When it comes to shopping in Portland, downtown is just one choice. Neighborhood business districts are again marketing their unique personalities with a calendar of 31 holiday events, starting this weekend.

“Retail success during the holiday season contributes to a business’ overall health, is the key to job retention and growth throughout the entire year,” says Heather Hoell, executive director of Venture Portland, the organization that promotes and celebrates the 16,000 businesses in the city’s 50 business districts.

Hoell says she’s seeing some “good signs” pointing at strong sales for the holidays. The calendar of “Localize the Season” events will contribute to what she hopes will be a successful quarter.

This month Venture Portland distributed $30,000 to fund 12 economic development projects in the city’s neighborhood business districts, much of which went to support the holiday events.

One of the events that will continue for a second year is “Little Boxes,” which kicked off last year with 90 neighborhood shops on Black Friday.

Customers got a stamp from each shop they patronized, and the more stamps collected, the better chance they had to win a prize drawing.

This year it’s expanded to 170 participating businesses over two days, Nov. 23 and 24.

Little Boxes co-organizer Betsy Cross, a jewelry designer at Northwest Portland’s Betsy & Iya boutique, says sales last year during Little Boxes were huge, bringing in a ton of people who said they hadn’t thought of shopping local on Black Friday before.

“It’s a fun way to think about shopping, instead of a dreadful way, like getting up in the middle of the night,” she says. “This is just an alternative to that. A way to hopefully feel excited about the local shops and the warm, inviting atmosphere we have to offer.”

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