Barre3 Puts Flagship Pearl District Studio on Pause

We talked to founder Sadie Lincoln to find out what’s next.  

By Julia Silverman October 5, 2022

Sadie Lincoln, founder and CEO of Barre3: "We have been tested in the last two years like nobody’s business."

Back in 2008, before the nearly 175-franchises coast-to-coast (plus Canada, Japan, and the Philippines), before the Madonna endorsement and the How I Built This interview, before the West Village studio and the legions of imitators, Sadie Lincoln picked the Pearl District in Portland for her very first studio for Barre3, a group fitness concept that combines ballet barre exercises with yoga and Pilates.

Last week—amid rising rents and a distinct lack of foot traffic in the once-bustling Pearl—Lincoln let clients know that she was suspending classes at that location as of this Friday, with the future TBD.

Should the location eventually close permanently—and Lincoln’s very much hoping that won’t be the case—it’s got the feeling of an end-of-an-era of sorts, rather like Pok Pok’s closure on SE Division Street (its location remains shuttered, though new favorites have sprung up around it). When Barre3 first opened there, the Pearl was coming into its own as Portland’s version of SoHo swank. There was still plenty of new-kid-on-the-block novelty in its warehouses turned high-end galleries and restaurants, plus the mix of chichi big-box stores and indie boutiques, and new condo construction was a near-constant background rumble. 

These days, its parks are still lovely and the venerable Powell’s Books still holds down its border with West Burnside, but the condo market has stagnated and it’s not unusual to see tents pitched around the sidewalks, especially after sweeps in the bordering neighborhoods of downtown and Old Town.

Lincoln went on to open four other studios in Portland—in Southeast Portland, on North Williams, in Kruse Village, and in Cedar Mill—but the Pearl studio was a flagship and served as the training location for instructors from around the world who came to learn Barre 3 methods and served as a filming location for digital instructors—particularly useful during the pandemic, when local studios were closed for an extended period of time.

We spoke with Lincoln, Barre3’s founder and CEO, about what’s next for the Pearl studio, whether anyone from city hall has reached out since she announced the closure (nope), where else in the metro area she might seek to open a new studio (looking at you, West Linn), and what she wishes she’d known 14 years ago, when she first opened the Pearl studio’s doors.

Portland Monthly: Tell us some of your history in the Pearl.
Sadie Lincoln: During the global financial crisis, my husband and I took a big, calculated risk and put our life savings into that studio. That's our very first studio. And we had two little babies at the time, a 3-year-old and a 3-and-a-half-year-old. I grew up in Eugene, but we had just moved back to Oregon [from the Bay Area] to start our business together. I thought, ‘Where would I want to go as a young mom?’ In all of Portland, it was the Pearl. There was that beautiful teak boardwalk. There was Jamison Square. At the time there was Sip & Kranz, this cute little café where kids were welcome. There was a toy store, and Via Delizia, and Tanner Springs Park. I taught 19 classes a week, and it just took off. It was a smashing success.

So how did you get from then to now?
Well, we're making very calculated decisions, such as pausing operations in the Pearl, I'm hopeful we can really make sure that we're stable and that we will sustainably grow well into the future. We have been tested in the last two years like nobody's business. I mean, group fitness is probably one of the hardest hit industries. And we've done surprisingly well, in many ways. We're pretty resilient. A lot of our other studios have very full vibrant classes. The Pearl is a different story.

Why do you think that is?
I think it’s a combination of things. The foot traffic is down significantly. Look, it's my favorite studio in our whole portfolio. We just had it renovated. We have poured money and love into that studio for 14 years. And it used to be so vibrant. I mean, there was a guy that used to come with his cat, he'd walk by every day. There were little kids, there were dads, there were moms, there were people biking and Rollerblading, there were people who took their holiday picture at Tanner Springs Park. And the dynamic of that area has completely changed. My no. 1 priority is to ask our clients how I can meet them right where they are, whether that's at home or in a location where they feel very safe and taken care of. And unfortunately, they don't feel that right now in the Pearl.

Geography is at play here. Depending on where our studios were located, there was a direct correlation with how fast their business rebounded. Some of our more suburban versus urban markets certainly have come back quicker. That story, I think, is around how our routines have changed so much. We're not going into the office. And so having a studio near your home makes more sense than having a studio near your office.

I believe that it's going to turn around, I want to be part of the turnaround story. I want to reopen the Pearl studio. I don't want this town to negatively spiral like that. We have spurred other companies to open around us, because we had, you know, 75 women coming through those doors within three hours. And afterwards, they’d go and shop hang out. We were part of that renaissance in the Pearl.

So what’s next?
Well, no. 1 is I've signed that lease. I'm trying to stay open in the Pearl, I'm trying. I can't [right now] because of basic math. It's the highest rent and lowest foot traffic. The landlords are based in Ohio—we are putting pressure on them to lower our rent significantly, so we can stay in that location, so I can be a viable business there for the community. But candidly, we're just one little drop in their bucket. And they're not motivated. If I could do it again—you know, you learn as an entrepreneur—I would always look for local landlords. North Rim Properties, which owns our Williams studio and our Southeast studio, they're wonderful. They care so much about Portland and we care about them. I'm still paying rent every month [in the Pearl]. It's not closed. It just cost too much to operate, because our classes weren't full enough. I have to get up to a certain capacity so I don't lose so much money every month.

I do anticipate that the area will come back. I believe in our Portland community and what we've built. And so we're closely monitoring the business traffic in that area. And we're listening to our clients. We're asking them actively, ‘What do you need? Where do you want us to be open? How can we serve you the best as we move out of this?’