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Holiday gift shops pop up in downtown Portland

Harriet Baskas

An art 'robot' welcomes visitors at the Portland Saturday Market Annex.

Portland, Ore., is well-known as a hip, bike-friendly city with a sizzling street food scene that boasts more than 600 food carts and trucks clustered downtown and scattered throughout the neighborhoods.

The city currently starring in the IFC channel’s cult hit "Portlandia" is also a sales-tax-free urban shopping mecca hosting its third holiday season of art-and-craft-filled "pop-up" shops in the downtown retail core.

Popular nationwide, especially during the holiday season, pop-up shops are temporary stores that allow retailers to test concepts while filling empty storefronts and avoiding long-term leases. In Portland, which has an official pop-up shop program, potential retailers compete for subsidized short-term downtown spaces. Winning applicants receive funding to help with insurance, utilities, setup and decorations.

“Pop-ups have become an annual tradition in Portland,” said Laura Guimond, spokesperson for Travel Portland. “They complement the local boutiques and international brands that keep downtown streets full year-round.”

And they help draw both locals and visitors — and their wallets — downtown during the holiday season.

Portland’s four pop-up shops opened in early November and will disappear New Year’s Eve. Each is filled with unusual and handcrafted gifts by the many artists, craftspeople and independent designers who call the Rose City their home. And there seems to almost no overlap in the inventory.  

Harriet Baskas

Richard Rolfe at his Boys' Fort pop-up store in Portland, Ore.

“We had three weeks to move things in and set up the store,” said Richard Rolfe, who created the eclectic Boys’ Fort with his interior design firm partner Jake France. Filled with offbeat, custom-built furniture, reclaimed lighting fixtures and many items reworked and repurposed by more than 70 local artists, the shop is frilly-free, but “not just for boys,” said Rolfe. “It’s laid out with a rustic living room, an attic-like bedroom and other spaces filled with one-of-kind and found objects that just keep rolling in.”

Other local artists' work is also being showcased at a shop called Downtown Artistry and Trillium Artisans, a nonprofit boutique representing more than 50 local artists. Artists from the Portland Saturday Market — the city’s popular outdoor, weekend market — are showing their work inside, in the Portland Saturday Market Annex.

“We’re open seven days a week and reaching people who can’t get to the weekend market,” said Rick Curtis, an annex manager. “We’re also hosting demonstrations and showing a lot of work that vendors just don’t have room for in their outdoor booths. It’s working so well we’re already thinking of setting up a permanent shop as well.”

Find locations, hours and more information about Portland's holiday pop-ups at the Downtown Portland website.

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Harriet Baskas is a frequent contributor to msnbc.com, authors the “Stuck at the Airport” blog and is a columnist for USATODAY.com. You can follow her on Twitter.