PORTLAND, Ore. — Nike has abandoned its efforts to reopen its long-shuttered community store in Northeast Portland and now plans to make the store's closure permanent.
"Nike’s commitment to supporting and uplifting Portland’s North and Northeast community is unwavering," the company said. "We are reimagining Nike’s retail space, permanently closing our current location at 2650 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, and considering future locations as part of this community’s long term revitalization plan. True to our roots, we will seek the input of local community organizations and leaders to determine the best new location."
Portland community leader Ron Herndon said a Nike representative called Thursday night to inform him the community store would be closing permanently.
"It's very disappointing," Herndon said. "I wish we could have had a different outcome."
Herndon and the Black United Front approached Nike nearly four decades ago and urged the company to build its first ever factory store on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, then called Union Avenue.
The store opened in 1984 and became a Portland institution, eventually outgrowing its original home and moving to its current location in 2000. But the outlet went on an indefinite hiatus last year following a prominent rise in shoplifting.
Nike quietly closed the store at some point in October, with no official statement other than a message on the company's website saying "Closed for the next 7 days." Seven days quickly turned into weeks and then months with little word from Nike, although there were indications that the company was working behind the scenes to try to get the doors back open.
In a letter sent to Mayor Ted Wheeler in February, Nike officials confirmed that the store had closed due to "deteriorating public safety conditions and rapid escalation in retail theft," and referenced prior meetings between Nike officials, city staff and the police, but said they had not yet reached a workable solution to reopen.
Nike offered to directly pay for dedicated police support to reopen the store, either by contracting off-duty uniformed Portland Police Bureau officers to guard the store or by entering into an agreement with the city to fund additional full-time officers. The offer included a deadline of May 1, with Nike hinting in the letter that the closure could become permanent if the city didn't accept one of the ideas.
Internal city emails obtained by KGW showed that several officials in Wheeler's office reviewed the letter, but that the city couldn't agree to the company's proposal because it couldn't spare any police officers. It wasn't a question of money, according to the city's emails — the city simply didn't have enough officers on staff and couldn't get more trained and certified fast enough.
Wheeler reiterated that position in a statement Friday, saying that he was "very disappointed" with the decision to make the store's closure permanent.
"My team and City Staff have worked tirelessly and in good faith with Nike for almost a year to offer creative solutions to their safety challenges," he said. "Ultimately, the City cannot offer Nike, or any other private business, with dedicated off-duty PPB officers due to PPB’s staffing shortage. I remain committed to supporting Nike’s future success in Portland and look forward to their future investments in our community."
The Soul District Business Association called the closure decision "a major economic blow" to the local business community in a news release on Friday. The organization said the store's presence signaled that major brands "were welcomed and needed in predominantly BIPOC-influenced economic spaces," giving the community confidence and economic stability and attracting further businesses and investment.
"This news has landed like a lead balloon in our district," SDBA Executive Director John Washington said in a statement. "We had all been holding our breath since last November when the store quietly shuttered its doors due to internal and external theft and safety issues. But, like so many of us riding out the fallout of the pandemic and protests, we held out hope that Nike, city officials and community leaders would recalibrate and realign order. But it looks like it's game over."
The SDBA said Nike leadership had assured the group that the store's closure "is in no way a message of abandonment from the N/NE community" and that the Nike leaders had pledged to work towards "'reimagining' what a more premier retail experience could look like."
Referencing Nike's statement pledging continued support for the North and Northeast Portland community and the plan for "reimagining" its retail spaces, SDBA called for the reimagining process to include a plan for what will happen to the shuttered store's building on MLK Jr. Boulevard.