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Portland's local stores and shops are highly valued by the city's residents.

Section Summary

Respondents are nearly unanimous in their support of Portland’s small-scale shopping and business districts scattered amongst the city’s different residential neighborhoods. For a variety of reasons, many Portlanders prefer to shop at the independent, locally-owned stores that are found in neighborhood business districts. However, these highly-valued shopping areas are not located in all neighborhoods and do not serve all shoppers equally well. There are many calls to expand access to shopping and retail outlets, both in certain neighborhoods and downtown. Some would also like to see more community and political support for “green” shopping and businesses that commit to sustainable practices.

Many people see shopping as inextricably linked to housing. Portlanders are quite skeptical of newer developments, like the Pearl District, which they perceive as less accessible both for shopping and living because of its upscale feel. A small number of people, especially youth, speak of the importance of the local malls and shopping as a way to build community. Most people, however, appreciate the relative lack of malls and big box stores in close-in areas of the city, believing that this helps preserve cherished small-scale neighborhood shopping areas.

Summary of Main Ideas

  1. The most highly prized retail areas are the distinct business districts located within walking distance of residential neighborhoods.
  2. Certain groups of people experience Portland’s shopping options as too limited.
  3. Shopping centers should be accessible to many types of people.

Summary of Tensions and Disagreements

  1. How does the issue of homelessness impact businesses and shopping?
  2. Do malls contribute to or detract from Portland’s shopping experience?


  1. The most highly prized retail areas are the distinct business districts located within walking distance of residential neighborhoods.
  • Respondents speak of wanting to preserve and enhance the small, distinct neighborhood shopping districts that include a variety of locally-owned restaurants, coffee shops, brew pubs, farmers markets and many other businesses.
  • These shopping districts create an appealing sense of livability, as well as comfort in knowing that one does not have to travel far to find what one needs or desires.
  • Thriving mixed-use neighborhoods should include centers with a variety of small, independent businesses rather than franchises or “big box” businesses (for more on the qualities of local businesses that residents appreciate, see Economy: Business).
“I appreciate Portland's focus on controlled growth, and development of neighborhood business districts, rather that sprawl and mall oriented shopping."

“Continue to build distinct community retail areas.”

“More local shopping and restaurants built into communities like 23rd or Hawthorne.”

“Clearly establish a preference for promoting the development of villages within the city, with shopping, schools, medical care, libraries decentralized into small crossroads-based villages surrounded by vibrant neighborhoods. The central core would remain essential for participation in the economic life of the region, but centralized shopping malls, big box stores and national chains would be discouraged and local, small vendors preferred."

Sample Strategies:

  1. “No more building of single family housing. Well designed, multifamily structures that are self contained with shopping venues and direct access to transportation…"

  1. Certain groups of people experience Portland’s shopping options as too limited.
  • To some respondents, Portland still feels like a small town with minimal retail diversity.
  • Another group acknowledges that Portland has many shopping options, but feel that their specific interests or tastes are not accomodated. These residents see room for improvement in neighborhood shopping districts as well as in downtown.

    In Neighborhoods:

  • Some individuals belonging to ethnic or cultural minority groups feel that neighborhood shopping districts do not cater to their tastes or styles.
  • A number of people are also concerned that gentrification of neighborhoods such as Alberta Arts and Mississippi have reduced shopping options for long-time neighborhood residents.
  • Many neighborhood residents do not want access to boutiques to override access to basic amenities and services in neighborhood business districts.
  • Some neighborhoods lack access to farmers markets and grocery stores that sell local, high-quality produce.


  • Some high-end shoppers feel that options are limited for them downtown. They would like to see:
    • More access to high-end men’s wear;
    • More name-brand retailers of clothing as well as housewares; and
    • Shopping options on par with those currently available at upscale malls in Hillsboro and Tualatin (e.g., Bridgeport Village).
  • Others express general concern over the number of businesses closing downtown and fear that this trend will negatively impact the shopping options and overall livability of the downtown area.
“Making small businesses thrive through monetary assistance instead of buyouts would be appreciated. We don’t just want Anglo culture continuing to dominate neighborhoods that are experiencing rebuilding (i.e. gentrification).”

Sample Strategies:

  1. In urban renewal areas, existing small businesses should qualify for monetary assistance in order to avoid displacement of businesses, and to sustain diverse shopping options.

  1. Shopping centers should be accessible to many types of people.
  • Respondents touch on accessibility issues in this section that have to do with affordability and physical access to shops.
  • Many people are skeptical of newer developments like the Pearl District, which are less affordable and accessible both for shopping and living.
  • Some people feel that the development of upscale shopping and housing should be prevented if it does not incorporate affordable living and shopping options.
  • Mixed-use housing and businesses should be developed, with businesses on the street level and housing above.
  • Store owners should be able to easily increase access to their stores, whether it is making a more pedestrian or bike-friendly environment or increasing parking space.
“Stop so many of the upscale housing and shopping, it’s getting out of hand, especially in the Pearl area and now close in eastside is beginning to go the same way.”

"Easy access to downtown from East suburbia (hop on a Max Train and downtown in 20 minutes or less), business is thriving (easier to shop downtown than at the mall and more fun)."

"Transportation and parking is a big deterrent to downtown. Portland is a small city but I like to see more people walking and shopping by making an easier way to park your car or ride from the big outer area to Portland a good place to go. Max, trolley, and buses are great improvement but we need new kind of transportation that will be easy to commute."


  1. How should businesses and shoppers deal with the issue of homelessness?

    Limit the impact of homelessness on shoppers: A portion of respondents believe that people’s shopping experience downtown is adversely affected by the number of people living on the streets. Some people even argue that businesses lose revenue and business because potential shoppers are deterred by the fear of encounters with people experiencing homelessness. Others think that tourists are also negatively impacted by homelessness when they visit Portland’s downtown or ride the MAX. These respondents generally advocate for immediate efforts to get homeless people off the streets and away from storefronts and shopping areas.

    Work with the community to address the root causes of homelessness: Some respondents are concerned by the idea that people experiencing homelessness should be made less visible to improve the comfort level of shoppers or downtown business owners. These individuals view solving homelessness as a social responsibility that should be shared by businesses as well as community members. They would like to see the business community take an active role in directly addressing the root causes of homelessness, rather than trying to patrol storefronts or criminalize people without housing. They are willing for shoppers to feel some discomfort, if this helps focus attention on the problem of homelessness and the need for more permanent solutions.
    [Note: refer to Social Issues: Homelessness]

  2. Do malls contribute to or detract from Portland’s shopping experience?

    Some people express their appreciation for malls like Lloyd Center, and would like to see malls expanded and/or new malls built. Malls have a particular appeal to young people. They offer not only shopping but also a social setting and an important community and public space to mingle with friends.

    However, an even larger group of respondents actively opposes the concept of more malls and “big box” stores, attributing these stores to the decline of small, locally-owned businesses and shopping districts. They also feel that the look and feel of large, big box stores and malls detracts from the distinct, charming shopping districts where more "human scale" storefronts and independent stores and restaurants line the streets.

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