Oregon artisans, once isolated by the COVID-19 pandemic, thrive amid the holiday shopping season


Oregon artisans, isolated in workshops amid COVID-19 closures, appear more in the foreground than ever.

They occupy empty retail spaces in downtown Portland, and vacation shoppers are paying more attention to long-standing businesses with locally made products.

“People have missed the tactile aspect of shopping and want to hear the story of the manufacturer and learn how something is created,” said Anthony DeLeon of Orox Leather Company, a family-owned business that opened a second store in Portland at spring 2020, weeks before the coronavirus pandemic turned downtown Portland into a ghost town.

This Black Friday, however, people lined up to shop for handmade leather bags, belts and wallets at Orox’s second location, 914 SW Morrison St., and the original boutique, 450 NW Couch. St., where buyers can have a monogrammed purchase instantly.

MadeHere, a gift shop in Portland’s Pearl District representing more than 200 regional growers, is also seeing a “lively” start to holiday shopping, said general manager Lauren Stumpf.

In a decline in Amazon purchases, its customers decided to buy only from locally made or owned companies.

“It looks like people want to continue to stimulate Portland’s economy and see our small businesses continue to stay open and keep downtown vibrant,” she said.

On Saturday, people were looking for stocking items – like 33-bottle pocket-sized beer tasting diaries and Miss Hannah’s Gourmet popcorn – and shopping for personalized gift boxes to bring or ship to the family.

“Our food, apothecary and home item categories have really been the mainstay during COVID precautions,” Stumpf said. “Now that people are vaccinated and feel more comfortable going out, we are starting to see an increase in clothing and accessories. “

Holiday shoppers in Old Town Chinatown and downtown Portland stores also find items handmade by local artisans in unlikely places. The old Microsoft store at 300 SW Yamhill St. is a ceramic gallery filled with clay pieces hand-formed by members of the nonprofit Oregon Potters Association, for example.

Rent for the temporary PDX pop-up store: free, thanks to the sponsorship of Downtown Portland Clean & Safe and the Portland Business Alliance.

Stefanie Nagorka of the Oregon Potters Association said that although the NW Ceramics group’s annual show has been canceled for the second year in a row due to COVID-19, the studios have ‘buzzed’ and manufacturers are thrilled to be a part of the revitalization of the city center.

“Our mission is to educate, inspire and transform lives through clay,” she said of the 400-member pottery group, the largest in the state. “The walk-in traffic here has been enormous. “

A vacant retail space at 719 SW Morrison St. is another Pop-Up Shop PDX for designers with the Come Up Aboriginal Market. Lluvia Merello exhibits Kusi Coya bags and other accessories she’s crafted alongside pieces from other artists who can once again meet customers, face to face.

Sales were also strong at the Makers Union PDX pop-up store at 820 N. Russell St. Each week a new set of vendors sell crafts and host free manufacturer-led demonstrations, classes and tastings.

“We’re bringing in about three times what we originally expected in sales,” said Frank Barnett, one of the volunteer organizers.

Barnett has noticed that customers are making tough decisions about who to stay on their shopping list this year.

“They may or may not spend the same, but they buy less of the more thoughtful gifts that are made locally or sold in small businesses,” he said. “A lot of people say they just cut back on their holiday shopping. “

At Makers Union’s PDX pop-up store Friday night, textile designer Lindsey Fout of Last Chance Textiles promoted a “sip n shop game night,” in which adults were treated to Baltic Porter drinks. of Threshold Brewing and were challenged by Fout to play controllers.

She carefully positioned round wood pieces over one of her American West inspired bandanas – this one in a brown and white checkerboard pattern. The gaming table? A tree stump in the center of the store floor.

Portland client Jena Lee was gone. Afterward, she said she spent more time in the small shop than she thought, discovering items made by new sellers for her.

She wishes more stores had games. Cornhole, maybe, she asks?

“There is nothing better than supporting someone from around here and seeing cool stuff in person, putting it in a gift bag and taking it home,” she said. “There is no delay in delivery.”

John Maher, president of the Oregonian Media Group, is volunteer chairman of the board of directors of Portland Business Alliance.

– Janet Eastman | 503-294-4072

[email protected] | @janeteastman


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