Portland has a secret holiday hot spot, where the parking is ample, the caramel corn is hot, local shops are selling everything from records to Legos and, out on an ice rink, children and adults alike are skating in circles around a massive Christmas tree. Sometimes, it even snows.
Of course, I am talking about Lloyd Center.
Some call Portland’s oldest mall “depressing” or “grim,” but those people are only half right. Yes, we ranked the mall almost last in our 2018 Portland mall ranking. Yes, the mall has lost all of its anchor tenants along with many smaller stores, foreclosures have been announced, movie theaters have closed, the food court has been decimated and some questionable poetry has been posted on the walls.
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But many of the central pillars of the Lloyd Center remain: the ice rink, Joe Brown’s Carmel Corn, someone saying they are going to revamp the Lloyd Center, access to MAX and tons of parking.
But that’s not all. As national retailers have receded, local shops have taken over some of the many empty storefronts. And on weekends, different fairs and swaps set up booths in the halls or empty stores.
Khary Gadsden, who was working at Cultural Blends on Friday, called Lloyd Center “Hawthorne under one roof.”
“It’s seen rock bottom and it’s starting to loop back up,” he said, noting that people appreciate the mall’s burgeoning renaissance.
“They don’t need another H&M, another Zara,” Gadsden said. “They need community.”
That community feeling is palpable among store owners. James Jones, owner of the Lego store Brickdiculous, said he set up shop at Lloyd after his friend moved his comic shop from Old Town to the mall.
Moustapha Gueye, the owner of Demba, which sells everything from NFL wallets to plush bunny purses, chatted with Mark Benthimer, owner and magician at All American Magic.
Both Gueye and Benthimer brought their shops over from Mall 205.
The real problem with Lloyd Center, Gueye said, is people don’t know it’s open.
“Lots of people in Oregon think Lloyd is closed,” he said.
But Lloyd Center is not closed, nor is it crime-infested or dirty. Crime has happened in the vicinity, but that’s something you can say about most of the city.
What Lloyd Center is is not very busy, with a lot of empty stores. But that isn’t all bad. It’s also warm on a cold day and kids can run down the hall without getting into too much trouble. Multiple people on Friday appeared to be out for an inside walk, and some were working in the mostly deserted but beautifully lit food court.
And if you’re looking for a place to truly experience the real feelings of the holiday season, and get some shopping done, there’s really no better place.
First, the gifts.
At Brickdiculous you can buy, sell, trade or just look at cool Legos. Next door, at Floating World Comics, pick up a comic book. On the other side, in what still looks like a Spencer’s Gifts, you can browse the record collection at Musique Plastique.
Need a cool vintage shirt or some envy-inducing sneakers? Cultural Blends has both things. Another place for vintage is Animal. Plant. Mineral. which also offers name-your-own-price mending, a direct rebuke of the fast fashion that used to dominate the mall.
Read more: Secret Roller Disco turns empty Lloyd Center department store into rolling dance party
If you can’t find the perfect Hanukkah/Kwanza/Christmas gift at a local store, the big chains that remain open offer goods almost hand-selected for the holidays. You’ll find what you need for the tweens and zoomers, as well as millennials trying to look like tweens and zoomers, at Forever 21.
For anyone who would appreciate a cute pair of holiday earrings or the latest whatever thing, Claire’s is still open. GameStop has, well, games, and Champs is slinging athletic gear, and for everyone else, Barnes and Noble has books, magazines and a million other things.
Those are just a few of the stores that are open for business, ready to fill all your gift-giving needs. And, if you get yourself to the Lloyd Center on Saturday, you can spend your money at the Mallrats Art Market and be the coolest aunt at whatever party you go to next.
After or before or in between the shopping, you’ll want to rent some skates and either gracefully or not gracefully, slide around the giant Christmas tree. Many days, fake snow falls from high above at 1, 3 and 5 p.m., creating a serious winter wonderland vibe.
Bring your family and take a family photo at Family Photo Studio next to the ice rink. Or, schedule a photo with Santa, who will be on hand frequently in the week leading up to Christmas.
Probably the hardest thing about the current state of Lloyd Center is the disappearance of the good food (picture me singing “I Will Remember You” to Taco Time), but, even though the full meal options are extremely limited, the treats are good. Cinnabon has what you need when it comes to cinnamon and sugar, and let’s mention Joe Brown’s Carmel Corn, the mall’s oldest tenant, twice, because they deserve it.
Possibly the best part of holidays at the Lloyd Center is the pathos the abandoned storefronts evoke, combined with the nostalgia created by the smell of Cinnabon and the joy of children shrieking and skates scraping the ice. The Build-A-Bear may be empty, but, after a trip to the Lloyd Center this holiday season, your heart will be full.
— Lizzy Acker
503-221-8052; firstname.lastname@example.org; @lizzzyacker
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