Can an Indie Takeover Bring Back the Lloyd Center’s Glory Days?
In recent years, there has been an increasing cultural fascination with the idea of “liminal spaces,” evidenced by popular Subreddits, Twitter pages, and other corners of the Internet devoted to the concept. These are physical places that feel frozen in time, or in transition between different states of existence. Think empty school hallways during summer break, or a cleared-out parking garage—once and future hot spots that are currently silent and motionless. Lloyd Center is a textbook example.
Billed as the biggest mall in the world when it opened in 1960, its once-bustling three stories of storefronts are now mostly shuttered, sans a handful of surviving staples (a couple of jewelry stands, Forever 21, the ever-resilient Hot Topic).
However, hard by the T-Mobile near the ice rink, in the space formerly occupied by athletic headwear retailer Lids, there’s a shop that stands out from the rest of the mall’s fluorescently corporate brick-and-mortars. With windows decorated in colorful spheres, a minimalist display of records and screen-printed shirts, and a large wall-mounted TV playing static-y, experimental music videos, it has the feel of something less “profit-driven-mall,” and more alternative, art-focused, and prototypically Portland.
And it is. This is Musique Plastique, the first of what may soon be many local indie stores setting up shop in Lloyd Center, and helping move it out of liminality into a brighter—and unexpected—future.
Tony Remple opened Musique Plastique, a record shop and label geared toward synth-heavy electronic music, in the heart of the Alberta Arts District back in 2015. But when COVID hit, as with so many other businesses, he was forced to close his doors and move the business online.
“It was so disruptive in so many ways to business life,” says Remple. “One of the big life lessons coming out of it was ‘don’t get too attached to the times.’”
When 2022 rolled around and Remple found himself on the hunt for a new storefront, a unique opportunity presented itself: Lloyd Center, which had faced foreclosure and a seemingly imminent demise at the end of 2021, was under the new management by Urban Renaissance Group. Rent was cheap, and URG was eager to fill the empty spaces. With the help of Dane Overton, who runs Intro to Rhythm, a “freeform mix series and live-streaming audio station” that is now headquartered out of Musique Plastique, Remple took a gamble.
“It was this raw space where we could set up shop and hopefully carve out a business again,” Remple says. “We decided to go on a short-term lease for a few months and see how it could work, and it seemed to be really interesting. So we just signed a one-year lease.”
With business going well, word of Remple’s bold move started to spread to other small-business owners, including, Jason Leivian, who opened Floating World Comics more than 16 years ago and had found himself in a similar pandemic business funk. With a dwindling number of First Thursday galleries and art-focused businesses in Old Town, where Floating World had been located since it opened its doors, the neighborhood wasn’t what it used to be, and Leivian was itching for a change.
“For the last two years, I’d been sort of keeping my head down, waiting for things to come back in Old Town, or at least turn into something new,” says Leivian. "And then realizing, ‘OK, that’s actually not going to happen…’ Coming to that conclusion was difficult.”
Once he made up his mind to move locations, he found himself discouraged by high rents around town. But when he saw Remple’s Instagram post about making the move to Lloyd Center, he was intrigued, if not entirely convinced.
“I didn’t even know it was still open,” Leivian says. “But when I came down to walk around and check it out, everything here just kind of exceeded my expectations.”
Touring Lloyd Center was “like learning what a mall is all over again” for Leivian. There was natural light, free parking, shelter from the elements, and, even for a supposedly “dead” mall, fairly regular foot traffic of people looking to shop. On top of that, he says there was a sense of excitement and community in the air around Musique Plastique, which had by that point started hosting regular noise shows, parties, and DJ sets—many in collaboration with local “audiovisual media collective” Spoiler Room—at its mall storefront.
“I realized I hadn’t had any fun the last two years of my business,” says Leivian. “And what Tony was describing just sounded like a party.” So, after 16 years, he packed up the Old Town shop and made the move across the river, officially opening their doors for business in the mall on August 10. Floating World is located in the previous Torrid location, on the second floor next to Gambit Games (which has recently started hosting Magic: The Gathering tournaments).
However, simply reopening Floating World in the mall isn’t the end of the story for Leivian.
“That’s just phase one,” he explains. “The second part is making Lloyd Center as a whole more successful for us to all succeed.”
He views himself as an “ambassador” for Lloyd Center, with the aim of getting as many other local, independent businesses to make the move as possible. And so far, it seems to be working.
Next in line is Dreem Street, a small-run, hand-printed clothing company run by Matthew Chambers and Eric “E*Rock” Mast, currently in the process of building out their storefront in what used to be the Vans store, just a few doors down from Musique Plastique. According to Leivian, there’s a tattoo shop and a comedy club both lined up to tour vacant spaces in the coming weeks, as well.
Beyond retail spaces, Leivian envisions a bright future for the food court. He imagines something akin to Pine Street Market, where “all our best local restaurants could do their take on mall food.” (Sizzle Pie recently commented on his Instagram post announcing Floating World’s move: “The mass exodus to the mall has begun”). He also has plans for more live events, and has been in communication with the Hollywood Theatre about setting up a screen for film showings, and Hollywood-affiliated Movie Madness, which hopes to host a VHS swap.
There are bigger-picture ideas in the works, as well: Floating World employee Sam Ashurst, an independent filmmaker who recently moved to Portland from the UK, is on the hunt for grant money to open a sliding-scale film studio in the empty Macy’s (or one of the mall’s other large anchor stores), with the goal of providing a soundstage and other equipment to local film and television creatives from marginalized groups.
“If we can make this a very Portland, indie mall, how cool would that be?” asks Leivian.
- Floating World, Dreem Street, and Musique Plastique are hosting a “Mall Party” to celebrate the new shops’ openings on August 19. It will feature live DJs, and a live-edited, audiovisual performance by Spoiler Room from 5 to 7 p.m.
- Floating World Comics is open 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Monday–Tuesday, 11 a.m.–6 p.m. Wednesday–Friday, and 11 a.m.–7 p.m. Saturday–Sunday.
- Musique Plastique is open 11 a.m.–7 p.m. Tuesday–Saturday and 11 a.m.–6 p.m. Sunday.