Retail Revival: Food carts add to downtown's vibrancy

Retail Revival: Food carts add to downtown's vibrancy

Food carts have been part of Portland’s downtown street scene for decades but they weren’t specifically called out as a key to Portland’s retail strategy.

Indeed, the 2009 Downtown Retail strategy identified the parking lot at Southwest Tenth Avenue and Alder Street as a prime redevelopment opportunity. Tell that to the dozens of food carts operating at the lot or their dedicated fans and customers.

Scott Andrews, chairman of the Portland Development Commission and a real estate industry executive, went so far as to call the proliferation of carts and pedestrian activity a form of development.

Brett Burmeister, owner and managing editor at Food Carts Portland said the 200 to 225 carts operating in downtown contribute to the vibrancy that makes Portland increasingly popular with retailers.

Here's what Burmeister had to say.

Portland Business Journal: How important are food carts to the downtown retail environment?

Brett Burmeister: They create a community space. When you put 10 or 15 carts on a lot, it’s a small business ecosystem. The food carts deserve a lot of credit for bringing people downtown.

PBJ: Block 216, aka the Tenth and Alter lot, was identified for redevelopment. What role do the carts play there?

Burmeister: The carts, along with the arrival of Finnegan’s Toys & Gifts and the boutiques in the neighborhood have transformed the neighborhood. O’Bryant Square at Southwest Park Avenue and Stark Street isn’t “Paranoid Park” anymore. Now, it’s a place where people sit and eat their lunch. It feels safe as a result of street food. There’s no other reason for people to be there.

PBJ: How supported are the carts in terms of marketing?

Burmeister: The city of Portland really does want to include food carts in its vision for downtown. Travel Portland pushes it in its marketing materials. Food carts are changing the street landscape across the country. In Portland, we’re ahead of the curve.

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