PORTLAND, Oregon -- The outdoor retail giant REI announced Monday that it plans to close its store in Portland’s Pearl District early next year, citing an increase in crime and theft.
In an email to customers Monday, REI said its store in Portland “had its highest number of break-ins and thefts in two decades, despite actions to provide extra security.”
It plans to close the location ahead of its lease expiration in February.
REI is the latest major retailer to close Portland stores, and the highest-profile among them to publicly blame theft as the reason. Nike closed one of its Portland stores to public access, telling city officials the closure was due to shoplifting. Walmart also recently closed its only two Portland stores for underperformance.
Retailers large and small, meanwhile, say theft is a growing problem in Portland, and that city officials have been slow to respond.
REI opened its Pearl District store nearly 20 years ago in 2004, relocating the Jantzen Beach location it had opened in 1976.
The company said Monday it was “evaluating opportunities” in Portland but stopped short of saying it was actively planning a new location in the city.
“While we do not believe a downtown Portland location will be possible in the near term, our stores in Tualatin, Hillsboro and Clackamas remain open and ready to outfit you with the gear and advice you need to enjoy life outside,” REI told its members in an email.
The company said its theft problem came to a head last November, when a car crashed through the glass front doors of REI’s Pearl District store on Black Friday. It was the store’s third break-in in a week.
After the Black Friday incident, REI spokesperson Megan Behrbaum said, the company’s chief commercial officer and Pearl District store manager met with Mayor Ted Wheeler’s office and the Portland Police Bureau to share their “concerns for the safety of our employees, members, and customers.”
Cody Bowman, spokesperson for Wheeler’s office, said the mayor’s staff and PPB worked directly with REI to find ways to address crime in the Pearl District, including more police patrols in the area and focused efforts on designated days to intercept and arrest shoplifters.
Behrbaum said REI has made costly investments in store security, including replacing the store’s windows with security glass, hiring around-the-clock private security and installing a surveillance trailer at the store’s loading dock. Despite its plans to close the store, she said the company is installing new security sensors for its remaining months of business.
But the volume of break-ins, shoplifting and other crimes is “overwhelming systems in place,” Behrbaum said in an email. In 2022, REI spent more than $800,000 on additional security, she said.
“Yet, we still experienced 10 burglaries, including one event that shut down our 14th street entrance for more than two months,” Behrbaum said. She said over the past two years, REI has made significant investments on securing its Portland store.
The company added that it has “outgrown” the Pearl District store and that the building needed “significant investment” to address unspecified “issues.”
Behrman said that REI has also been unsuccessful in working with its landlord to address safety issues at the store and implementing other improvements.
“The extra security measures required to keep customers and employees safe are not financially sustainable,” Behrbaum said. “We will continue to invest in these areas through the remainder of our lease, but cannot justify continuing this expense through a lease extension beyond early 2024.”
The landlord, Brolin Co., did not respond to an email for comment.
Meanwhile, the mayor’s spokesperson said that Wheeler is “committed to further supporting REI to help ensure we retain their business in Portland and help them succeed.”
The Pearl District REI store employs more than 150. The company said its employees are welcome to apply for positions at other REI stores. In the meantime, they will receive quarterly retention bonuses for not leaving early, Behrbaum said.
She said the company will also offer severance pay to its full-time workers that leave REI after the store’s closure.