Retail returns to historic Portland department store building

Muji's new store in the Meier & Frank building Joan McGuire Muji's new store in the Meier & Frank building

A Japanese retailer opens a store in the iconic Meier & Frank building in time for the holiday shopping season.  


It has been one and a half years since retail has been absent from the historic Meier & Frank building in downtown Portland, where Macy’s used to have a department store. Now a Japanese lifestyle retailer, Muji, has opened a shop in the building, proving it is not over yet for brick-and-mortar retail.

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Muji occupies more than 10,000 square feet of space in the building, which was once the flagship store and headquarters of the Meier & Frank department store chain. Macy’s took over the space in 2006 before closing its doors in 2017 because of declining sales.

The 15-story building, which spans a whole block between 5th and 6th avenues, seemed destined to house businesses and organizations other than retail, such as Oregon State University, which has an extension service, foundation and alumni association in the building. Brick-and-mortar retail stores seem a risky bet given the rise of online shopping. Large department stores in particular have been hit hard. The recent bankruptcy of Sears is a case in point.

But the lines inside Muji show people are still drawn to physical retail stores. Muji sells a variety of household and consumer products, including clothing, stationery and kitchenware. It is known for its simple design, minimal packaging and no-logo, or no-brand, policy.

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The company opened a pop-up store in advance of the opening, a common move made by retailers these days. A pop-up — a temporary retail space — allows businesses to check whether a store attracts foot traffic before they commit to a permanent location. It also builds brand awareness. Across the street from Muji is Lululemon, an athletic clothing store chain, which has a pop-up in the Pioneer Place mall.

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The Japanese retailer opened the downtown location on November 17, just in time for the start of the holiday season, the period when retailers make the most money. Only time will tell if the store’s location has longevity beyond the holidays.

Kim Moore

Kim Moore is the editor for Oregon Business magazine.

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