After being left for dead, can an independent takeover bring back Lloyd Center’s glory days?
In recent years, there has been a growing cultural fascination with the idea of “liminal spaces,” evidence of the popularity Subreddits, Twitter pages, and other corners internet devoted to the concept. They are physical places that seem frozen in time or in transition between different states of existence. Tthink of empty school hallways during summer vacation, or an empty parking lot…past and future hot spots this are currently silent and motionless. Lloyd Center is a textbook Example.
Bsick as the largest mall in the world when it opened in 1960, its three floors once bustling with storefronts are now mostly closed, minus a handful of surviving staples (a few jewelry stalls, Still 21, the ever-resilient hot topic).
However, hard by the T-Mobile near the ice rink, in the space formerly occupied by the sports headwear retailer Lidsthe‘a shop that stands out from the rest of the mall fluorescent corporate bricks and mortars. With windows decorated with colorful spheres, a minimalist display of screen-printed records and shirts, and a large wall-mounted TV playing static and experimental music videos, it feels like something less “for-profit mall,” and more alternative, art-driven, and prototypically Portland.
And it’s. This is Plastic Musicthe first of what could soon be many local independent stores setting up shop in Lloyd Center, and helping him out liminality in a brighter—and unexpected—coming.
Tony Fills opened Musique Plastique, a record store and label focused on synth-based electronic music, in the heart of Alberta’s arts district in 2015. But when COVID hit, as with so many other businesses, it was forced to close its doors and move the business online.
“It was so disruptive in so many ways to business life,” said Fills. “One of the great life lessons that came out of it was ‘put on‘not get too attached to the time.‘”
When 2022 came and Fills found itself looking for a new storefront, a unique opportunity arose: Lloyd Center, which had faced closure and seemingly imminent demise at the end of 2021, was under the new management of UrbanRenaissance Group. The rent was cheap and URG was eager to fill the empty spaces. With the help of Dane Overton, who conducts Intro to Rhythm, a “freeform mixer series and live audio station” which now has its head office at Musique Plastique, Fills took a bet.
“It was this raw space where we could settle down and hopefully recreate a business,” Fills said. “We decided to do a short-term lease for a few months and see how it might work, and it seemed like really interesting. So we just signed a one year lease.”
With business is goodword of Fills‘s bold move started spreading to other small business owners, including, Jason Levienwho opened Floating World Comics over 16 years old from and had ended up in a similar pandemic commercial funk. With a dwindling number of First Thursday galleries and art-focused businesses in Old Town, where Floating World had been located since its opening, the neighborhood was‘what it wasand Levien wanted a change.
“For two years I‘I kind of kept my head down, waiting for things to come back to Old Town, or at least turn into something new,” said Levien. “And then realizing, ‘Alright, that‘it won’t actually happen…’ Coming to this conclusion was difficult.”
Once he decided to move, he found himself discouraged by high leases around the city. But when he saw Fills‘s Instagram post about the move at Lloyd Center, he was intrigued, if not fully convinced.
“I did‘I don’t even know it was still open,” Levien said. “But when I went down to walk around and check out, everything here kind of exceeded my expectations.”
The Lloyd Center tour was “like learning again what a mall is” for Levien. There was natural light, free parking, shelter from the elements and, even for a so-called “dead” mall, quite regular foot traffic of people wanting to shop. In addition to that, he says there there was a sense of excitement and community in the air around Musique Plastique, which had by then begun to hold regular noise shows, parties and DJ sets—many in collaboration with locals “audiovisual media collective” Spoiler Room – in its mall showcase.
“I realized that I didn’t have‘I haven’t had fun for the last two years of my business,” said Levien. “And what Tony was describing sounded like a party.” So after 16, he packed the store in Old Town and crossed the river, officially opening at the mall on August 10. Floating World is located in Torrid’s old location, on the second floor next to Gambit Games (which recently started hosting Magic: The Gathering tournaments).
However, just reopen Floating World in the mall.‘t the end of the story for Levien.
“This‘it’s just the first phase,” he explains. “The second part is to make the Lloyd Center as a whole more successful so that we all succeed.”
He considers himself a “ambassador” for Lloyd Center, with the aim of getting as many other independent local businesses to relocate as possible. And so far it seems to be working.
The next is Drem Streeta small hand-printed clothing company run by Matthew Chambers and Eric “E*Rock” Mast, currently building its storefront in what used to be the Vans store, a few doors down from Musique Plastique. According Levienthe‘his tattoo shop and a comedy club have also lined up to tour the vacant spaces in the coming weeks.
Beyond commercial spaces, Levien sees a bright future for the food court. He imagines something like Pine Street Market, where “all of our top local restaurants could do their share of mall food.” (Sizzle Pie recently commented on his Instagram post announcing Floating World‘move : “The mass exodus to the mall has begun”). He also has plans for more live events, and has been in communication with the Hollywood Theater about setting up a screen for film screenings, and Hollywood affiliate Movie Madness, which hopes to arrange a VHS swap.
There are also broader ideas in the works: Floating World employee Sam Ashurst, an independent filmmaker who recently moved to Portland from the UK, is seeking a grant to open a film studio in sliding scale into the void Macy’s (or one of the mall’s other flagship department stores), with the aim of providing a soundstage and other amenities to local film and television makers from marginalized groups.
“If we could make it a very Portland-like independent mall, would that be cool?” request Levien.
- Floating World, Dreem Street and Musique Plastique are organizing a “mall party” to celebrate the new stores‘ opening on August 19. It will feature live DJs and a live edited audiovisual performance by Spoiler Room from 5-7 p.m.
- Floating World Comics is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Tuesday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday through Sunday.
- Musique Plastique is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. from Tuesday to Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday.