The company says it’s leaving the Pearl District due to an increase in break-ins and a dispute with the landlord, but will keep its suburban stores open.
REI has announced plans to close its store in Portland’s Pearl District in early 2024.
An email sent to members of the outdoor gear retail co-op Monday cites an increase in break-ins and thefts in the neighborhood, but also says the store has “outgrown this location and as a result are not able to provide the level of customer and employee experience we strive for at REI.”
A statement sent to local media offered more detail on the closure, saying the store spent $800,000 on additional security in 2022 and experienced 10 burglaries that year. A car also crashed into the store on November 2022 on the day after Thanksgiving, when the store was closed for the company’s annual “Opt Outside” day. The car crash prompted a meeting between Mayor Ted Wheeler, Portland’s police chief and REI’s chief commercial officer, as well as the manager of the Portland store.
REI spokesperson Megan Behrbaum also told reporters that due in part to that incident, the building “requires significant investment to address issues that we have been unable to reach agreement on with our landlord.”
The store’s lease terminates in February. According to Behrbaum, more than 150 full- and part-time employees work at the Pearl location, and the company has informed them that they are welcome to apply for other roles within the company. Those who remain active through closure will receive quarterly bonuses through early next year, and severance pay will be offered to full-time employees depending on whether they leave or transfer.
REI is a member-owned cooperative: those without memberships are welcome to shop at the store or on the website, but members get additional perks, including extra discounts at sales as well as profit-sharing dividends (now called rewards).
The co-op, which was founded in 1938, is based in Sumner, Wash., and has locations in 39 states. The 35,000-square-foot Portland store, situated at NW 14th and Johnson, opened in 2004 following the closure of an REI location on Jantzen Beach that had operated since 1976. The Jantzen Beach store was the third REI to open, after the co-op’s flagship store in Seattle and its Berkeley location.
The Pearl District store is the only REI location in the city of Portland, but is one of several stores in the metropolitan area. Per Monday’s member email, stores in Tualatin, Hillsboro and Clackamas will remain open.
REI follows another major retailer — Walmart — in announcing plans this spring to close Portland stores but to keep locations open in Portland’s suburbs. Those closures drew national attention, but the company has never announced its reason for closing the stores.
Starbucks has also closed more than a dozen coffee shops in the past year, including three in the Portland area, citing safety concerns. One was situated in the Pearl district, at NW 11th and Lovejoy — a short walk from REI.
Two others closed over the summer; one, situated at SW 4th and Morrison, closed amid a union drive. Union leaders have criticized the closures as a form of union busting, and the NLRB has accused Starbucks of 29 violations of federal labor law.
REI has also seen an uptick in union activity in recent years, with four more stores — including the Eugene location — filing petitions for union elections with the National Labor Relations Board this month. Just three of the co-op’s 181 stores are unionized.
Chesley Lindsey served as a department lead in the action sports department at the Portland REI store until early November 2022. She says she was actively involved in efforts to unionize the store, and shortly before she left, workers at the store were very close to a vote.
Chesley notes that smaller stores seem to have had more success in their union drives, because it’s easier to form relationships.
“Spokane and Eugene just voted to unionize so it just feels like they’re trying to disband everybody,” Lindsey says. (In an email to OB sent after this story published, Behrbaum says Spokane has neither petitioned, nor voted to join a union, and notes that Eugene has only filed a petition to hold an election.)
A current employee of the Portland store who spoke to OB on condition of anonymity says there has been a continued push for unionization in recent months. The store cut several full-time employees’ hours in early winter, with management telling employees the cuts happened due to an accounting error: the company had overestimated the store’s operating budget and was forced to make cuts when revenue fell short of what had been projected.
“In any store, staffing schedules reflect current business need of the time. Attributing to an accounting error is inaccurate,” Behrbaum said in an email to OB after the initial publication of this story.
“When the hour cut happened for everyone, REI was really slow to give out resources, like telling people how to file for partial unemployment. Eventually management decided to put a food pantry in the office because people were coming to work hungry,” the employee says.
Multiple sources tell OB that in contradiction to its public statement that all Portland workers will be offered the option of transferring to a different store, current employees of the Pearl store are being asked to re-apply through the same process offered to outside employees. (“Portland employees can transfer to other open stores through the normal transfer process. That was shared in the morning staff meeting on Monday,” Behrbaum says.)
“I was shocked. That’s not how REI is supposed to work,” one employee says.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated from an earlier version.