POSTED: 21 August 2005 - 9:00am HST

Big-Box economic woes

Big-Box Blues
Portland metro area considers keeping megastores from revived urban centers

by Laura Oppenheimer & Catherine Trevison
14 August 2005
published on

National megastores scouting the Portland region for sites search out one common ingredient: people, and lots of them.

That's why large retailers want to locate near centers designed for urban living: Portland neighborhood hubs and suburban downtowns.

But many elected officials worry that large stores will spell death for the centers, which have developed with millions of dollars in local government investment.

They want more authority to turn away the so-called big-box stores. Short of that, they want a strategy to help their own live-and-shop districts compete. Both will be considered this fall at Metro, the regional government.

Any decision will shape the way people spend their paychecks, their time shopping and their leisurely Saturday afternoons.

Politicians from Hillsboro to Gresham foot the bill for plans and land to carry out an urban revival theory that plays well in earthy do-it-yourself Oregon. They envision shoppers with coffee in hand combing farmers markets and popping into friends' condos down the block. Metro has designated about 40 such places as "centers," each with its own personality.

Meanwhile, large retailers prefer that people breeze into a parking lot and buy everything from pasta to socks at one low-cost store. Wal-Mart, for example, sells more merchandise than any other by catering to devotees who like saving time and money.

A balanced future lies somewhere between a retail free-for-all and total control of the market, says Metro Councilor Brian Newman.

"Even if you like big-box stores, and even if you shop there weekly, I don't think anybody can say with a straight face that they belong everywhere," he says.
Across the Portland region, visions of retail nirvana clash.

For a Big Box impact see
Island Breath: Big Box Impact Analysis

For more in on this issue see
Island BReath: Mall-Warting America

For a group trying to stop Wal-Mart expansion check out


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