“End of Downtown?”

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I was 13 when the first shopping center was built in Portland. It was a completely new concept and drew large crowds, including my family. Until then, there were two ways to purchase clothing and household goods. We could order them from the Sears or Montgomery Wards catalogs, or we could go DOWNTOWN. All the major stores were downtown, along with smaller shops such as jewelers. Shopping took most of a Saturday, tromping from store to store. Stores would deliver your packages so you didn’t have to haul them around with you.

The Lloyd Center opened across the river from downtown Portland. It had rows of stores in a large grid with open walkways. You parked in a large lot and then strolled the traffic free lanes. They advertised that “it never rains at the Lloyd Center” because the walks were covered. This was a direct jab at the downtown merchants who had to deal with Portland’s rainy climate with only awnings to protect shoppers.

The Lloyd Center has gone through many iterations since 1960. It has been enclosed, then opened up again. But now it is one of many “shopping malls,” a term that still makes me cringe when I hear it. While most of those are enclosed, they seem to be losing out to a “new” concept called “lifestyle malls.” These turn out to be strips of stores outdoors with music playing out of speakers disguised as planters.

And then, in some kind of ultimate irony, people are back ordering things, though now it is from on-line sites instead of paper catalogs. And many small towns are revitalizing Main Streets to the excitement of young people who are discovering the delight of DOWNTOWN.

19 thoughts on ““End of Downtown?”

  1. I was just talking about the Sears & Roebuck catalog with a neighbor over the weekend. I kind of miss them (there were never crashes when trying to look at the pages), but I will miss checking the quality of merchandise in person if malls and strip malls ever completely disappear.

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