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Aug. 13, 2022

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In Our View: Start of holiday shopping, end for Lloyd Center

The Columbian
Published:

Today marks the unofficial beginning of the Christmas shopping season. With retailers rebounding from last year’s pandemic-induced slowdown, and with worries about supply chains and increasing prices, there is an air of unpredictability surrounding the season.

And while we encourage Clark County residents to step away from their computers and visit local retailers, we also take a nostalgic look at a sea change in commerce across the river.

Portland’s Lloyd Center, a landmark when it opened some six decades ago, is hosting what likely will be its final Christmas season. Lenders expect to foreclose on the mall before the end of the year and make long-range plans to redevelop the 18-acre site.

That might mean some mix of retail, residential and office space — the go-to combination for modern urban development. It might mean an enormous warehouse for an online retailer. It might mean a ballpark to lure a major-league team. Nobody really knows, but the apparently unavoidable transformation will be reflective of changes in American retail and cities.

As Carl Abbott, a professor emeritus of urban studies at Portland State University, wrote in an opinion piece for OregonLive.com: “It was better suited to the 20th century than the 21st. Malls all over the country have closed in the face of retail transformations that have seen the downsizing of department store chains like Macy’s and J.C. Penney and the rise of online shopping.”

When Lloyd Center opened in 1960, with more than 80 stores and more than 1 million square feet of rentable space, it was billed as the nation’s largest urban shopping mall. Sitting in Northeast Portland, it was designed as a challenger to downtown shopping on the west side of the Willamette River.

The construction signaled a movement that saw malls drawing customers away from the downtown core of every major city — typically to suburbs that were suddenly accessible because of the new interstate freeway system.

Lloyd Center thrived for decades before falling on hard times in recent years and beginning a precipitous decline. Nordstrom left the mall in 2015, Sears and Marshalls followed in 2018, and Macy’s closed this year.

Now, New York-based KKR Real Estate Finance Trust says payments on its $110 million investment in the mall have been overdue for more than a year, leading to plans for foreclosure.

For Portlanders — and for many Clark County residents — the demise evokes childhood memories of shopping, eating at Manning’s restaurant or skating at the ice rink. But more than anything, the alterations are reflective of a changing society.

As Bloomberg wrote this week: “The pandemic sped up this metamorphosis of the retail industry … Retailers who were not adapting to changing trends efficiently or quickly enough struggled most and were left behind.”

Locally, Vancouver Mall is at near capacity, with eight new stores opening in recent months. Several retailers told The Columbian they expect a robust shopping season compared with last year’s pandemic-stricken Christmas.

With shoppers heading to stores today and over the next couple weeks, we encourage Clark County residents to focus their spending on local businesses. Shopping at a large chain sends a big chunk of the money out of state to the headquarters, and buying locally generates sales taxes that benefit the community.

But if you want to make a nostalgic visit to Lloyd Center while you have a chance, well, we can’t blame you.

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