Tender Loving Empire – Shop and Smile

Tender Loving Empire by Rochelle CarrA record label, retail consignment shop, and screen-printing studio focused on supporting handmade art and music while fostering community exchange.

I just happened to wander into this amazing “Portland Darling” last week. The article below is taken off their website. I couldn’t have summed it up any better. I absolutely fell in love with this place! A fantastic hidden budget gem in PDX that needs to be on everyone’s shopping radar. Gifts, baby things, hot music, t-shirts, jewelry and oh so much more.

The vibe in this place makes you SHOP AND SMILE. Special, Special, EXTRA Special.

Tender Loving Empire

From The Oregonian

by Ryan White

May 8th, 2010

It’s one thing to say a place is the size of a shoebox, and at about 150 square feet, the original Tender Loving Empire retail space would fit just such a description. But why bother with metaphors? Tender Loving Empire began in an actual shoebox tucked under Jared and Brianne Mees’ bed.

“We had tip jobs,” Brianne says. And they felt rich, which says a couple of things about where the couple was at in 2006. First, they were in Portland, which is way cheaper than Los Angeles, where they’d previously been. Second, they were living simple enough lives that working at McMenamins (Brianne) and the Hotel deLuxe (Jared) allowed them to finance a dream.

Jared wanted to release his first record. They had a friend who had a book. They wanted to help with that. With an extra bedroom and extra money, a business dedicated to local music and local art was born.

In 2007, they expanded to that tiny store in Northwest Portland. Last week, Tender Loving Empire got bigger, moving to a new home on S.W. 10th Ave., just south of Powell’s, and just across the street from the Ace Hotel.

After two years (at least) of lousy economic news and story after story of local arts groups struggling for funding, a locally driven arts-based business getting bigger? That’s news — even if the new store is still only in the neighborhood of 650 square feet of retail space.

Had they only opened a store, they might still be here. If they’d just opened a record label, they might not be here. If it was just a screen printing operation, they might be out of business. “We’ve worked way too much at a bunch of different things to make it work,” Brianne says.

Painted on the steps leading up to the second floor where, eventually, there will be an office, are some words by one of Tender Loving Empire’s bands, Idaho’s Finn Riggins: “Keep This Town Alive.” A mural above the entrance includes the words, “You are part of this place.”

Tender Loving Empire 2 by Rochelle CarrIn conversation, Brianne and Jared come back to one word time and again: community. Their business backs it up. There are 10 murals in the new store — all by local artists. More work from those artists can be found along the back wall, where there’s now room for a gallery, a benefit of more space.

Much of the store’s stock is locally produced pieces sold on consignment. Aside from records by bands on the Tender Loving Empire label — which includes Typhoon, Hosannas and Boy Eats Drum Machine — Jared says the added space has allowed them to begin building a broader selection of exclusively local music.

Then there’s the eclectic and colorful array of jewelry and trinkets and cards and shirts and toys and what have you. “They do a lot of people things,” says Jon Ragel, who performs as Boy Eats Drum Machine. “They don’t do a lot of Tweeting. They’re constantly meeting people and talking to artists. They have a lot of good ideas and learn a lot from simply being involved in the art scene.”

They’ve stuck to the plan, right down to the new store. The day they signed the lease on the new space, and finally felt free to spread the news, Brianne told the first people in the door at the old store. That happened to be Steve Dremov and his wife Jessica. “We told ‘em, ‘We’re designers and I just joined this collective,’” Dremov says. “We just took it from there.” The collective of designers at Merge Studio + Lab were looking for projects to build the business and its portfolio. Tender Loving Empire gave them a small budget (less than $1,000, Dremov says), and a blank canvas.

They hit estate sales and thrift stores and the ReBuilding Center. They re-purposed furniture. The cash register that used to sit on a counter Jared had slapped together now lives on an old dresser that’s had the back cut out. Jewelry hangs from old lampshades. Strips of cardboard run up one wall, across the ceiling, and down the other side. They call it The Mane. Nothing was wasted.

Which has been the key all along. It wasn’t that the business didn’t feel the rough economy. “There definitely was fear,” Jared says. But no panic. They spent only what they had to, they kept grinding away at all the different jobs the one job of running the company is. “It’s just tenacity and not giving up,” he says. “That sounds like a cliche.”

It is, but he and his wife also have a nice new space and a carefully considered and curated business that suggests such cliches pay off.


Definition of Urban Backpacker:

1. Of, relating to, or located in a city.

2. Backpacker redefined: Artful reviews that lead you from hidden budget gems to five-star destinations helping you find palate pleasing adventure, enjoyment, and story collection.

3. Pack bag. Travel there. See city. Eat food. Respect culture. Take picture. Share story. Be thankful. Repeat.