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Friday, November 16, 2018

Lloyd Center Eyes Future with Migration Burger Shack

Lloyd Center Mall has been in gradual decline for most of the last 15 years. That's not really a secret and there are a variety of reasons. But there are efforts underway to transform the place for the 21st century. Migration Brewing's Burger Shack pop-up is part of that strategy.

The Burger Shack opened this week in the third floor food court area in the space formerly occupied by Billy Heartbeats Diner, a 50's-style eatery. It features cheap eats alongside craft beer from one of the area's aggressively expanding brands. This is billed as a temporary arrangement, lasting through the holidays. We'll see.

Migration, if you aren't aware, has been kicking around the local scene for a number of years. The original location on Northeast Glisan features a popular outdoor patio and practical pub. The second location, opened earlier this year, is a pub and production facility in Gresham. These guys are bigly on growth.

The pop-up menu is pretty dumbed down, perfect for frantic holiday shoppers who need a bite to eat and a break from shopping. The Classic Burger with fries and a soda costs $10. The same items with a beer go for $11. Not bad, eh? They also offer a Double Classic, a Veggie burger and a Fried Chicken sandwich, as well as some sides.

For beer, they're leaning on canned product made in Gresham. They had several choices when I stopped by on opening day. There are also wine and cider options on the board. Ideally, you'd like to see draft beer in a place like this. But that apparently isn't part of the plan for now. It's understandable if the situation here truly is temporary.

Whether the Burger Shack is permanent or temporary, it's a smart move. Migration, which isn't the  household name it might like to be, exposes its brand to a general audience that's more likely to buy beer in stores than hardcore beer fans. With the brewery expanding production and finding spots on more store shelves, the timing is ideal. Marketing 101, you might say.

This a win-win for the mall, as well. They're adding another food option for mall patrons to visit during the high traffic holiday season. Plus, this is the kind of place that will appeal to millennials who like craft beer, but aren't necessarily fans of mall culture. That's probably especially true of Lloyd Center, which has lost some luster and gotten some bad press in recent years.

When it opened in 1960, the mall was widely regarded as one of the best in the country. It has undergone several significant facelifts over the years, the most significant of which was (arguably) covering and enclosing it in the early 1990s. I've belonged to an athletic club across the street from Lloyd Center for 30 years and I've watched some of the changes happen. I've also seen the decline in holiday shopping traffic.

Developments over the last decade or so haven't been especially positive. The growing popularity of Amazon and online shopping in general has crushed traditional retail. Lloyd Center lost anchor tenants (Nordstrom and Sears, for example) and many smaller, non-chain stores. Its movie theater closed years ago. A number of vacated storefronts were in evidence on my visit.

But all is not lost. Mall owners launched a $50 million renovation project several years ago. They've made progress, though much remains to be done. The reimagined mall will place less emphasis on anchor tenants and more on lifestyle concepts and artisan shops. Drawings show a modern movieplex, a fitness center and other modern amenities. On the flipside, a vintage spiral staircase with terrazzo columns recalls the mall's early, open air days.

The Lloyd district itself has undergone a dramatic transformation in recent years, with residential high rises and street-level shops. There's more of that on the way. The updated mall, although it will certainly look to attract visitors from outside the area, will strive to serve the burgeoning residential clientele that lives or will live within walking distance. There are still questions about what the final form will be, but it's sure to be interesting.

As I think about what Lloyd Center might be, I can easily see it housing a couple of pubs and maybe even a brewpub. That scenario would fit with the goal of serving the local residential community, as well as patrons drawn from outlying areas. Whether the Migration Burger Shack is an experiment or the leading edge of what's coming, it makes a lot of sense. The future is now.

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