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A tiny fashion cluster

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Monday, December 01, 2008

WestEndFashion1 WestEndFashion2.jpg WestEndFashion3.jpg The West End Fashion District in Portland is a cluster of high-end boutiques that are independently owned.

PORTLAND The West End Fashion District of Portland, a four-block stretch pinched between West Burnside and Southwest from Ninth to 13th, is hailed by fashion critics as a sort of high-end boutique-central for the modern female fashionista. What once was an area in dire need of a youthful facelift in the past three years has turned into its own trendy entity.

Some credit the blocks’ early increase of foot traffic to the new Ace Hotel and American Apparel store. But since then, there’s been a surge of small, independently owned shops moving in — seven at the latest count. And despite horrific fall retail sales, these shops are open despite the down economy.

“I didn’t know the retail market would get this bad,” says Pamela Baker-Miller of Frances May. The young shopkeeper co-owns the store with her grandmother, Connie Codding. “I chose to open here because I felt I could help shape the development of the neighborhood.”

Stores such as Frances May as well as newcomer Raddish Underground quench the desires of shoppers willing to pay a little more for individualized items — a niche market escaping Portland’s commercialized Pearl District and Northwest 23rd Avenue.

Gina Johnson, who co-owns Raddish Underground with partner Celestial Sipes, says the two were considering the West End for a while before moving in.

“As it turns out, it was a great decision. The people and the shops around are right up our alley.”

Baker-Miller says events such as a Dec. 6 holiday bash offering free gift-wrapping and 20% off will help to promote the neighborhood and encourage people to support local fashion. Johnson considers First Thursday art openings and the shops’ position close to the streetcar line to be added benefits.

As for the state of the retail market, Baker-Miller is optimistic. “I have faith that it will change.” For now, though, the girls of the West End are sitting pretty.    

CHRIS MILLER


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