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Typically shopping is not a big part of my travels. I may spend a bit of time purchasing souvenirs, but when I travel I’m usually busy seeing the sites and trying the local food. But shopping in Portland Oregon is different. This is a city that offers shops and shopping experiences unlike any other I’ve seen in the U.S. Instead of giant malls there are loads of neighborhoods filled with well-curated thrift shops and boutiques selling high-quality local goods. Shopping in Portland should be on any visitors to do list.
Favorite Portland Shopping Areas
I’ll recommend several shopping areas in Portland including the Hawthorne District, Division Street, the Pearl District, Mississippi, and Downtown. My list is hardly exhaustive, but if you enjoy shopping at independent stores, then each of these four recommended areas will provide you with hours of fun.
The Hawthorne District offers some of the best shopping in Portland. It has become increasingly popular over the past decade, as is evidenced by the development of mini-malls and condo buildings. But there are still hundreds of independent shops and restaurants along this major thoroughfare of Portland. I’ll discuss the plethora of thrift and vintage stores here later, but it’s important to note that this is also a great street for dining and entertainment. If like me, shopping makes you hungry, then be sure to stop at Nick’s Famous Coney Island, Por Que No?, or Jam on Hawthorne. In the heart of the Hawthorne District is the historic Bagdad Theater which shows newly released movies.
Division Street--or Division/Clinton Street--isn’t as large as the Hawthorne District, but also offers great shops. I particularly enjoyed ReBelle’s, an eclectic store full of clothes, jewelry, homegoods, and aromatherapy. Across the street is Fumerie, a high-end perfume store specializing in lesser known brands and scents. One of my favorite ice cream stores, Salt & Straw has a location here, as does the best Thai food restaurant ever--Pok Pok.
Mississippi Street is great for many things including shopping and it's best known store is probably Paxton Gate. Science geeks will love all the books, rocks, plants, and specimens available for sale. Or if you've always dreamed of a taxidermied animal in your home, then this place is for you. I've never purchased anything here, but it's seriously fun to browse. Nearby is Flutter, a beautifully curated thrift store that also sells new gift items. If you're in this area in the evening, head to one of the restaurants or bars. For live music check-out Mississippi Studios.
Adjacent to downtown, I’ve watched the Pearl District develop over the years and have been delighted to see it succeed. It’s hard to believe that this was originally an area full of rail yards and warehouses, but now it’s full of great shops, art galleries and restaurants. In the evenings the Portland Center Stage at the Armory offers two stages for live theater at reasonable prices. When you get hungry head to Oven + Shaker which offers terrific pizzas.
Finally, Downtown Portland shopping has really evolved. When I started visiting Portland almost three decades ago all this area was known for was a large Nordstrom and the mall, Pioneer Place. Now there are dozens of high-quality boutiques offering homegoods and clothing. A recent addition to downtown is Muji, a Japanese department store selling clothing, food, and cleaning items. Even if you don’t need to make a purchase, this peaceful and fragrant store is worth perusing.
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Vintage Shopping In Portland
Every city has its fair share of vintage and thrift stores, but Portland is exceptional. Thrift and vintage purchases fit in nicely with a city devoted to sustainability. Why purchase a new item when re-using something instead cuts down on landfill?
I found that many of the Portland thrift stores are well organized with reasonable pricing. Add to that some really friendly staff and it’s easy to see why thrift shopping is a popular pastime here.
Two neighborhoods are especially fun for vintage and thrift shopping--the Hawthorne District and Division Street. Most of the shops are local, but you’ll also find a well-stocked Buffalo Exchange in Hawthorne. (For anyone unfamiliar with Buffalo Exchange, this is a chain of resale stores throughout the U.S.)
My favorite vintage store is Artifact, located on SE Division Street, which offers a mix of clothing and home decor. Here I discovered a pink, faux fur jacket for $18. This store was founded by Leah Meijer, who’s mom, Marcee, also owns a nearby vintage store called Village Merchants.
For a thrift shop with a really big selection, I’d recommend the House of Vintage, a 13,000 square foot space located in the Hawthorne District. On the side of the building is a mural of famous people and their quotes including Dostoyevski and Virginia Woolf.
Made in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest
During my very first visit to Portland over thirty years ago I discovered the Made In Oregon stores. With the exception of wine, those of us living in California don’t seem too concerned with items made in our state, but in Portland--and Oregon--locally produced goods are important to its citizens.
The Made In Oregon store is well stocked with food items like wine, beer, chocolate and snack foods. These are ideal gifts to bring home. There are five locations including one in the Portland Airport.
More recently my brother, Erik, introduced me to a small chain of stores in Portland called Tender Loving Empire (TLE), that sell items made in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest. TLE offers a nice selection of food items, but the product options also include clothing, music, jewelry and toiletries. Every visit to TLE includes a purchase for Jason of Hot Winter hot sauce which is made of all organic ingredients grown in Oregon. I’d also recommend trying Jacobsen Salts, locally produced salt infused with a range of sweet and savory flavors.
What I love about these stores is the outlet they provide for small artisans, farmers and producers in the region to market and sell their wares. It’s not easy to compete in a world of retail giants, but Made in Oregon and TLE are doing their part to level the playing field.
MadeHere stores feature high quality, design savvy products made in Portland and the Pacific Northwest. While visiting last month with my son and sister, we enjoyed browsing this store's Pearl District location. They offer a wide range of items including snowboards, backpacks, jewelry and food products. Their second location is on Mississippi Street.
What I love about these stores is the outlet they provide for small artisans, farmers and producers in the region to market and sell their wares. It’s not easy to compete in a world of retail giants, but Made in Oregon, MadeHere, and TLE are doing their part to level the playing field.
Portland Saturday Market
The Portland Saturday Market has been a city institution since 1973. Open every Saturday and Sunday from March through December, this sprawling outdoor market in the Old Town section of Portland sells a wide range of handcrafted items and food. The section of the market near the riverfront was my favorite since there are several booths here offering pottery and glassware.
Even if you are not in the mood to purchase anything, the Saturday market is still a great attraction since it offers live entertainment, plenty of tasty food, a beer garden and a scenic setting near the river.
Buy Books while in Portland
Portland is home to the world’s largest independent bookstore, Powell’s, with an inventory exceeding two millions books. Their flagship store, Powell’s City of Books, is located in the Pearl District, and sells both new and used books. I LOVE THIS STORE. Over the course of thirty years I’ve spent dozens of hours strolling the isles of Powells trying to decide which book to purchase. While most of my reading is done on an tablet, I love the opportunity to purchase a real book while in Portland. My sister, Beth, introduced me to Powell’s Books for Home and Garden in the Hawthorne District which has the best collection of cookbooks I’ve ever seen. Even if you can’t make it to Portland, check out Powell’s online store which is a great alternative to Amazon.
No Sales Tax In Oregon!!
Maybe I should have started the article with this, but did you know that Oregon has no sales tax?! Yes, that’s true, everything you purchase in this state is automatically cheaper than purchasing it in your home state (unless you live in Alaska, Delaware, Montana or New Hampshire). So do you need any more reasons to shop in Oregon? I think not!
Shop at the Airport–Really!
No, I have not lost my mind, you really should shop at the Portland Airport.
Shopping local was an important part of the Portland culture long before it became trendy throughout the U.S., and surprisingly the airport has been the centerpiece of this effort. Whether it’s Pendleton wools, Tender Loving Empire, Henry’s Tavern or Blue Star Donuts, the airport has always featured some of the city’s--and the state’s--best shops and restaurants.
But what I just learned is that the pricing at these stores and restaurants is identical to their other locations. Really! So if its been a quick trip to Portland and you are in desperate need of some souvenirs, don’t despair that you’ll be paying “airport prices.” Instead, show up early to the airport, buy what you need and then enjoy one of the restaurants you didn’t have time for in the city. Shopping in Portland Oregon just keeps getting better and better.