A Storied Beginning: The Mall That Flew on Pigeon Wings
In August 1960, the skies over Northeast Portland were filled with the flutter of 700 homing pigeons. These birds were not just part of a spectacle; they were messengers heralding the opening of Lloyd Center, a mall that promised to be unlike any other.
At the heart of this new retail haven was an ice rink, a feature that seemed almost whimsical for a shopping center at the time. It was a bold statement that Lloyd Center was not just a place to shop but a community gathering spot.
The mall quickly became a landmark, drawing people from all over the Pacific Northwest. Families would spend entire weekends there, shopping at anchor stores like Sears and Nordstrom, dining at the food court, and skating on the ice rink. The rink wasn’t just a gimmick; it symbolized the mall’s commitment to offering something for everyone.
During these early years, Lloyd Center was more than just a mall; it was a social hub. It was where teenagers hung out after school, families came for a day of fun, and where community events were held. The mall had successfully tapped into the era’s zeitgeist, symbolizing post-war prosperity and consumer culture.
The Heyday: When Lloyd Center Was the Place to Be
The mall’s golden years were marked by a bustling atmosphere and a tenant list that read like a who’s who of retail giants. Sears, Nordstrom, and Macy’s were the titans that anchored the mall, drawing in crowds that smaller stores benefited from.
The ice rink continued to be a unique attraction, hosting everything from casual skating sessions to figure skating competitions.
But it wasn’t just about shopping; Lloyd Center was a part of people’s lives. The mall was often the backdrop for significant life events—first dates at the food court, marriage proposals on the ice rink, and holiday family photos in front of elaborately decorated storefronts. It was a place of shared experiences, a physical space in the community’s collective memory.
However, even during these prosperous times, there were signs of the challenges that lay ahead. The retail landscape was beginning to change, with big-box stores and online shopping slowly gaining ground. Yet, Lloyd Center seemed invincible, a permanent fixture in Portland’s retail scene.
The Tides Turn: From Bustling to Hushed Corridors
New owners financed a $177 million remodel to breathe new life into the mall in 2015. The remodel included architectural upgrades and even a new three-story spiral staircase. However, the most controversial change was the shrinking of the ice rink.
This decision was met with backlash, as the rink had been a beloved feature since the mall’s inception. Instead of revitalizing the mall, the remodel alienated its remaining loyal patrons.
The advent of online shopping was like a slow-acting poison, gradually sapping the life out of Lloyd Center. One by one, the anchor stores began to close their doors.
Nordstrom (2015) was the first to go, followed by Sears (2018) and Marshalls (2019), and the final blow came when Macy’s (2020) shut down. Each closure left a gaping hole, both physically and metaphorically, in the fabric of the mall.
The COVID-19 pandemic further accelerated the mall’s decline. The extended lockdowns turned its once-bustling corridors into ghostly passages. The ice rink, too, felt the impact, with fewer skaters gliding across its surface. The mall that had once been a symbol of community and consumerism was now a shadow of its former self.
A New Lease on Life: The Community-Centric Revival
In late 2021, the mall was taken over by KKR Real Estate Financial Trust, and Seattle-based developer Urban Renaissance Group was brought in to chart a new course for Lloyd Center.
Their approach was different; instead of trying to lure back big retailers, they focused on turning the mall into a community space. Artists were invited to paint murals in vacant storefronts, and events like the Portland Film Festival were hosted to bring in foot traffic.
The mall started offering short-term leases and lower rents to attract local businesses. This strategy seemed to pay off, with several indie businesses setting up shop. One such business is Mortal Emblem, a tattoo shop that saw the mall’s cheap rent and community focus as an opportunity rather than a limitation.
However, this new direction has its challenges. While the mall is now home to about 75 tenants, large sections remain empty. The absence of anchor stores is keenly felt, and the mall’s long-term survival is still questioned. Yet, there’s a sense of cautious optimism. The community events and local businesses have brought back some of the mall’s lost vitality, offering a glimmer of hope for the future.
Lloyd Center Today: A Mixed Bag of Nostalgia and Innovation
As of August 2023, Lloyd Center operates from 11 am to 7 pm, housing various tenants, from tattoo parlors to comic book stores.
While the mall has successfully attracted a new generation of shoppers, it still struggles with issues like empty spaces and the lack of anchor stores. The ice rink, though smaller, remains at the heart of the mall, a nostalgic reminder of its glorious past.
The mall’s current state evokes mixed feelings among the community. For some, it’s a sad reminder of what once was—a bustling hub now reduced to a quieter version of itself. For others, it’s a symbol of resilience and adaptability, a place that refuses to be relegated to the annals of history.
What Lies Ahead: The Uncertain Yet Hopeful Future
Rumors abound about the mall’s future, from the possibility of a Home Depot setting up shop to whispers of a Major League Baseball franchise.
While these remain unconfirmed, one thing is sure: the ice rink is here to stay. It’s a small but significant assurance, a nod to the mall’s storied past as plans for its future are carefully laid out.
The mall’s long-term survival hinges on adapting to the changing retail landscape. Yet, there’s something to be said for its enduring presence. Lloyd Center may no longer be the retail giant it once was, but remains a part of the community—a place of shared memories and new beginnings.
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