The day after Thanksgiving, CNN ran reports featuring videotape of shoppers rampaging a Michigan Wal-Mart on what experts contend is the biggest sales day of the year. The footage looks like a Godzilla movie: A woman's purse snags another shopper and she is spun around. A wave of shoppers, wide-eyed in frenzy, shoves the woman to the ground. You can see a man step squarely on the hapless women's back—as if she were the curb. More people swarm over her—all in hopes, apparently, of getting The Next Great Deal.
Now, an argument could be made that Portlanders, in general, are against shopping at Wal-Mart, but that didn't stop 21,000 locals from storming the world's biggest Costco in Hillsboro that same weekend. According to Costco's GM, the new store, which opened in mid-November, so far generates up to $700,000 bucks a day in sales. It raked in nearly $2.8 million in sales in the course of the big weekend as the shoppers came to celebrate and tussle with one another to find their own Next Great Deal—and perhaps a gross of baby quiches to boot.
But what about the retail world beyond the big boxes? WW visited two different points in the shopping stratosphere—trolling the bargain bins at Goodwill and strolling the open-air lanes of Tigard's trendy, spendy new Bridgeport Village—to witness how two very different retail worlds absorb the gift-wrapped rush of the dreaded holiday season.
En route to Southeast Portland's Goodwill Outlet Store, a.k.a. "The Bins," you'll pass a pet store, Aquariums Live, proclaiming to be home to "Portland's Biggest Piranhas." The claim is wrong; the biggest piranhas are at Goodwill. The usually tranquil outlet store, which occupies 20,000 square feet of concrete set in an industrial area, transforms the day after Thanksgiving as shoppers line up 20 deep to get their mitts on new merchandise as it's literally rolled out. Objects are tossed, sometimes flung, as clocks are rejected for stemware and broken toys vetoed for CDs in cracked cases.
Josie, 66, has a shopping cart filled with books. Her hair is red with about an inch of white roots at the scalp. She ferociously pushes the buttons on her cell phone to check the online value of her books. Like many Bins regulars, she supplements a meager income by buying used goods on the cheap and reselling them online for a profit. At Goodwill, Josie buys hard cover books for 50 cents and paperbacks for a quarter, and then turns around and sells them on eBay for $10 to $100 each.
Javier, 32 and from Mexico, speaks minimal English. He checks to see if any parts are missing from a Shark's Tale game. His son, niece and nephew sit—one per cart—a few feet away. He says he shops at Goodwill because it "is cheap."
Sergey, also 32, has a basket of 20-odd toy cars. Originally from Kyrgyzstan, Sergey makes complicated machine parts in a Portland factory. He buys the cars to send to his family, which lives on Russia's border with China. He smiles broadly saying, "I buy American toys...there are many families in my home country who want them."
Although just 12 miles away, Bridgeport Village is as far removed from Goodwill as Kyrgyzstan is to Portland. Here you'll find valet parking, a concierge and carolers draped in dark velvet capes singing as you enter. Bridgeport opened this past May, proclaiming itself the home of Portland's toniest shopping—and it is—from a Carl Greve Jewelers store to an 18-screen movie theater (the biggest multiplex in Oregon).
Unlike the folks at Goodwill, today the Village's shoppers are well-coiffed and slickly manicured, and seem to prefer black designer apparel accessorized with oversized shoulder purses. The pace is slow, and the customers' killer shopping instincts are cloaked in courtesy. They open doors for each other and wait patiently as the well-heeled cross the streets of this European village-themed mall.
At Bridgeport, Erica, 53, floats from Anthropologie and Cole Haan to PF Chang's. She sports a carefully microdermabraded face and carries a bag from the Container Store as she examines a glistening Christmas ornament at Crate & Barrel. "I think I will do my tree in fuchsia and silver this year," she remarks.
She hesitates, and contemplates her decision. "They're all so pretty, I don't know which to choose," she says. "Maybe I'll do pink. Pink is the new black, after all."
Erica is enjoying what Bridgeport Village's marketing director, Josie Smith, calls the "lifestyle style." (Apparently, Bridgeport retailers don't just sell stuff—they make it part of your life, too.) Smith says "lifestyle style" retailers do not have big holiday sales. She contends sales-crazy shoppers are at the big-box stores (cue CNN) and not Bridgeport. Perhaps some of the shoppers at Bridgeport are stealth piranhas.
Most of the Bridgeport shoppers, like those at Goodwill, are not here because of sales. The fact that this is "Black Friday" seems unimportant. These people peruse Goodwill's big, blue sales table and Bridgeport's space-age Apple Store because these places intertwine with the style of their lives—on a daily basis.
Not that these retailers' relatively laid-back attitude to the holiday rush doesn't translate into big bucks. Bridgeport Village says its merchants will ring in 25 to 30 percent of their annual sales during this current holiday season. By the end of the three-day Thanksgiving weekend, lowly Goodwill generated more than $20,000 in sales, not bad considering glassware can be purchased at 29-cents per pound.
Leaving "The Bins" that day, shoppers passed a row of 20-inch televisions with prices starting at $15. On the screen, the CNN story was running and the bin divers stared, mouths agape, as those holiday shoppers stormed over each other at Wal-Mart. Sometimes, it seems, living outside of the big box is the best holiday present worth hoping for.
Goodwill Outlet, 1740 SE Ochoco St., Milwaukie, 230-2076. Bridgeport Village, 7455 SW Bridgeport Road, Tigard, 968-8940. Costco Wholesale, 1255 NE 48th Ave., Hillsboro, 681-2801.