By  on May 8, 2008

Portland may practice eco-friendly policies such as promoting sustainable construction and urban planning that favors open space over development, but that's not stopping retail.

The city is gentrifying its retail core, with changes radiating from Pioneer Place Courthouse Square over the past year.

"Many retailers want to be here," said Lisa Frisch, downtown retail development manager for the Portland Business Alliance, noting a shortage of larger downtown spaces. "We have 3,000- to 5,000-square-foot places readily available. For an H&M or Zara that want at least 15,000 square feet, it's a little more difficult."

As such, the area is friendly to independents and smaller chains. Jeri Rice, a veteran Seattle specialty retailer with stores under her name, recently opened a boutique in the area, selling a mix of ready-to-wear arranged by color and lifestyle — such as a $1,095 Gaultier black skirt, a $690 Effetto cashmere and taffeta cocktail dress or a $325 Ralph Lauren striped blouse.

"Portland has always been a great market for high-end sophisticated clothing," said Rice, whose mother once dressed the local social set at her legendary Helen's of Course boutique.

Longtime Portland specialty retailer Mario's also has an updated store up the block, catering to the designer customer with labels such as Dolce & Gabbana, Prada, Chloé, 6267, Diane von Furstenberg, Tory Burch, Jimmy Choo and Stella McCartney.

Another independent retailer and manufacturer with two local stores, Sameunderneath, features casual fashion crafted from sustainable materials, especially bamboo and cashmere. The business model of owners Ryan and Amy Christensen includes a strong education component. Ryan Christensen, who's half Italian and half African-American and whose parents were both teachers, speaks to urban students about how he grew his business using environmentally sound principles. "I tell them how I went to banks with my tattoos and earrings and I didn't get a bank loan the first time," he said, sitting in Sameunderneath's 806 Northwest 23rd Avenue store, a neighborhood of boutiques among Arts and Crafts-style homes, where rents run $24 to $28 a square foot. The company now sells to 100 boutiques in four countries.

Besides the city's urban-sophisticate demographics, retailers appreciate that Oregon has no sales tax, a lure for tourists and visitors from nearby Washington State.Seattle-based Nordstrom became better positioned to Oregon fashion customers recently, beefing up its downtown Portland store with in-store boutiques for Chanel rtw and accessories, Gucci handbags and labels such as Oscar de la Renta, Burberry Prorsum, Dries Van Noten and Lanvin.

Brooks Brothers relocated to a new 12,000-square-foot store on nearby Southwest Morrison Street, while down the block, a new Macy's occupies the old Meier & Frank department store across from Pioneer Place shopping mall, which is partially underground.

Macy's manager Paul Brown said the store's merchandise is evolving, and the retailer expects a sales boost from guests in a 330-room hotel, The Nines, being constructed on nine floors above the store. "There's room to grow our contemporary fashion business," he said.

But even the big players display an environmental conscience in this town. The six-story Macy's was renovated according to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design's eco-friendly standards and all waste from the building now is recycled, Brown noted.

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