Last week, local publisher/zine emporium Microcosm announced it was ditching its store in North Portland and moving all of its mail-order business to Bloomington, Indiana. Founder Joe Biel chalked the move up to gentrification, calling recent condo developments "sickening" and "disturbing." In an interview last Friday, Biel offered up more nuanced reasoning.
MERCURY: Are you being priced out of your current space?
BIEL: We need a space that's four times the size we have now, and we held out to try and find another place. We found some places that were cheaper than what we're paying now per square footage, but we couldn't find a place that could accommodate truck shipments and could be long term enough... But even for the lowest end building, people want $100,000 down, and no one can afford that but a developer, so they're essentially pricing out everybody. When Microcosm moved to Portland, the cost was one-third of what it is right now. And there wasn't this game of "let's develop every neighborhood in Portland simultaneously..."
I'm from Cleveland, so culturally it's very familiar. My friends founded a bookstore there five years ago—it's the best bookstore of its kind, and there aren't a lot of places like that anymore. Being around people who are very excited about the same things that I am is appealing, and that becomes a good component for doing what we're doing—and it's cheaper and simpler.
Do you think there's still going to be a place in Portland for businesses like Microcosm?
I don't know. To me, the hyper-gentrification that's going on here is really only beneficial for developers, and not for businesses. People will always do creative things here. But it's kind of like the same thing that happens in San Francisco and LA—the more moneyed interests you appeal to, the more those people are going to be the majority. And then the earnest, creative people who just want to make something are outnumbered.
Microcosm is closing up shop (311 N Ivy) on March 15. The good news? From March 8-15, they're having a closing sale with 10 percent off all merchandise. Go wish them adieu.