For the past 16 years, I’ve been proud to call Old Town Chinatown home to Floating World Comics. My connection to the art and comics scene in Portland started here. Everything has been connected to this neighborhood: the First Thursday art shows, the Goldsmith Art Blocks, animation fests and book release parties, being a destination spot for locals and travelers alike. It has been a privilege to identify as a Chinese-American business owner with a shop in Chinatown. My wedding was a few blocks away at the Lan Su Chinese Garden and my daughter grew up running around the shop.
We’re still here, which after the past two years is something that I’m happy to be able to say. I’m grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to wait things out in the same location since the pandemic started. But honestly, the past couple years have been lacking a lot of things that used to make this neighborhood so fun and special. I’ve been reflecting on this space – what am I holding on for? A past that might not be coming back… I accepted a sad realization, after 16 years, it’s time to move from Old Town.
I started looking at other neighborhoods for the shop. I was hoping to stay downtown, but availability was scarce. Something felt out of step. It didn’t feel right to try and go back to business as usual. Everything is still pretty weird, and I started feeling that surreal sense of liberation from the early days of the pandemic – when anything seemed possible and we might actually try something new.
My friend Tony Remple just reopened his record store, Musique Plastique, at the Lloyd Center with a storefront by the ice rink. Wait, the Lloyd Center? Didn’t that close last year? I asked Tony how the new shop was going. It was going great. They were throwing weekly parties with DJs and all their friends were coming to hang out at the mall.
In December 2021, the Lloyd Center got new owners with a two-year plan to bring in new local independent retailers and pop up shops. I contacted the manager and arranged to look at some potential spaces.
Walking into the Lloyd Center for the first time in many years I was surprised by all the natural sunlight bathing the first floor. Had that giant skylight ceiling always been there? The mid-century architecture functioned like a comfortable airport. The foot traffic was chill, but purposeful. I’ve never thought of a mall as calming and soothing, but the energy was fresh and relaxing. A friend remarked that it felt so peaceful that they “expected a deer to walk by.”
It all started to click: the free parking, easy access to transit, central location, a historic space turned blank canvas to be shaped by Portlanders looking to build community. It would be a big project, a bigger task than simply moving my shop, but the potential was too exciting to ignore. I decided: I am moving my shop to the Lloyd Center.
That shopping mall carries so many memories for Portland. I haven’t talked to anyone who didn’t work there at some point, or have some story about the place. It’s weird to have nostalgia for an old mall, but really, this is our heritage. We built these spaces, they outlived their original purpose, but they are ours to either let wither, or to reimagine…
Is an empty mall post-apocalyptic or pre-utopian? We get a say in it. I envision empty storefronts filled with exciting local, independent businesses. Local artist Eric “E*Rock” Mast is opening a Dreem Street shop next door to Musique Plastique. Another friend is starting a gallery upstairs. We’re calling it the “Lloyd Arts District.”
The location couldn’t be more different, but the spirit reminds me of the early years of Floating World. It reminds me of a scrappier Portland that we haven’t seen in a while. After two years of Covid taking so much away, it’s the type of rebirth and renewal story we all need. We have an opportunity to use this beautiful space that belongs to Portland, and actually create new memories there.
I want to give my sincerest thanks to our staff and all the customers who supported us during this tumultuous time. You’re the reason that Floating World is still here, and you’re the reason this change is possible.
We’ll have a Moving Sale to celebrate and say goodbye to the old location. Then we can’t wait to see you at the new space in the Lloyd Center this August. Take the escalator up from the ice rink, we’ll be upstairs next to the Gamestop and Gambit Games.
Things don’t have to go back to the way they were, and that’s okay. In the meantime we’re going to have some fun in the mall.Lloyd Arts DistrictLloyd Center