BOYS’ FORT

2011 HAS BEEN a good year for men's retail in Portland. However, when Jake France and Richard Rolfe brought their proposal for a holiday pop-up to Downtown Retail Development Manager Lisa Frisch, they wanted to avoid the clothing market in favor of an eclectic home and gift store, like a giant stash box for grown boys—and it's no coincidence that the merchandise literally includes a stash box for every price range, and the name they chose captures the whimsical, tactile feel of the place: Boys' Fort.

France and Rolfe recently co-founded an interior design firm, Kenton Collective, but their roots are in set design for the theater, and their combined work experience spans New York, Seattle, and Belgium, as well as Portland. While part of the initial motivation for Boys' Fort was to attract clients to their company, they seem rather enamored with what they've created in the store, and are open to the possibility of pursuing a long-term location if the holiday season goes well.

By the time this issue hits the streets, Mayor Sam Adams will have cut the red ribbon in the atrium of the downtown Galleria to signal that 2011's four pop-up shops, including Boys' Fort as well as the Portland Saturday Market Annex, Downtown Artistry, and Trillium Artisans, are open for business. For just under two months they will play host to a retail season in a downtown that's suddenly teeming with new shops, from corporate tenants like Nike and Sephora to mid-sized firms like John Fluevog to small, thoughtful shops like Woonwinkel, Lille Trousseau, or any of the tenants in the Blackbox Building.

The Downtown Holiday Pop-Up Program felt like an emergency procedure when it first set out two years ago to activate the troubling number of un-leased storefronts. By contrast, this year was reportedly the most difficult yet for finding vacant locations, since so many spaces have recently been leased. Love it or hate it, even the historic Galleria, currently housing both Boys' Fort and the Saturday Market Annex, will be dominated by a Target store before the close of 2013. A huge diner, bar, and bowling alley project from a Denver developer called Punch Bowl Social is slated to open in Pioneer Place Mall by the holiday season of 2012, along with three other as-yet-unnamed prominent retailers scheduled to take up residence in the shopping center by late 2012 and early 2013. Two of what started as last year's pop-up projects, Crafty Wonderland and the Portland Design Collective, are celebrating first-year anniversaries.

We rarely get good news these days on the economic front, but in downtown Portland at least, something seems to be working.