Portland’s future development sparks local attention

Portland has gained national attention for its livability, growing food scene, and authentic spirit.  We are at a crossroads as we consider what the future might hold for this wonderful city of ours.  The local movement certainly has a foothold here in Portland, but we must continue to represent our local businesses and non-profits in future development projects and city politics.  Portland Buy Local board member, Deb Tenenbaum’s thought provoking op-ed encourages us to think carefully about responsible and sustainable development:

I have lived in Portland since 1999. I realize that doesn’t make me a native, but that also doesn’t stop me from loving and feeling invested in this city.

One of the reasons my husband and I moved up here was Portland’s independent feel. Since then, watching the growth of incredible restaurants, the opening of businesses in previously undesirable areas such as Bayside and the proliferation of shops in smaller neighborhoods such as Rosemont has been so exciting.

Through the years, Portland has gained more and more national attention as a great place to visit, work and live. It is all of those things.

However, I can’t help but worry about the future of our city. Growing up in Massachusetts, my friends and I spent a lot of time in Cambridge’s Harvard Square. Like Portland, it was a diverse, vibrant and funky place, with its own identity powered by independent shops and restaurants. And then an influx of chains moved in. The Limited, Abercrombie & Fitch, Pacific Sunwear and Starbucks, to name a few, changed the look and feel of Harvard Square, making it no longer unique but more like the mall in my hometown.

These chains could pay more for rent, thus increasing rents for the entire area. During this period, many local businesses closed down or moved, unable to absorb the increase.

Most of these chains later found the Square not as profitable as they hoped, so they shut down and moved on. Behind them they left inflated rents, increased vacancy rates and a slightly tarnished image for the Square.

While independent businesses are moving back in, Harvard Square is still fighting to regain what it lost after its chain bubble burst and to rebuild that image of independence it once had.

I look at Portland now and worry that what happened down in Cambridge could also happen here. As a board member for Portland Buy Local, I posted on our Facebook page the recent Portland Press Herald story about the development of a Chipotle, Dunkin’ Donuts and another national retailer in the former Century Tire space on Marginal Way (“Developer plans retail mall in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood,”Dec. 30).

We had never seen such engagement in an issue, with 99 percent of the over 100 comments against more chains. I also looked at the Press Herald’s Facebook comments on that article and found the same thing.

While I admit the Century Tire building is an eyesore and the street it is on has a number of chains already, what those comments say to me is that people in Portland are worried about the increasing number of chains moving into town. The national coffee shops, restaurants and furniture and clothing stores that have moved into downtown Portland over the last few years have created a sense of alarm that our city is losing its unique identity.

I was relieved to see I wasn’t alone in my concerns. However, I know comments on Facebook aren’t going to solve the problem.

What we need is more thoughtful consideration from city residents and city leaders alike.

Residents, if you want to protect Portland’s distinctive character, the best thing you can do is shop locally when you can. Before making any purchase, see if you can buy it locally first (the Portland Buy Local directory is a great place to start).

Independent businesses are up against incredible competition from national and online outlets. At the same time, they are the ones truly dedicated to our city. They take risks on new neighborhoods. They enliven Portland with new foods, products, services and ideas. They give back to our community. They are a reason Portland lands on all those “Best of” lists.

The time is now for this planning and discussion if we don’t want to end up like too many other cities and towns nationwide that have lost their identities. Let’s not lose all that makes Portland so special just because we didn’t take the time now to stop, think and plan.

Debra Tenenbaum is a resident of Portland and a board member of Portland Buy Local.   Special in the Press Herald

In light of the recent developments and national chains moving into the city, we will be working this year to find more ways to preserve Portland’s independence.  We invite you to join us.  If you’d like to be part of this movement, please email us at

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