At the corner of Washington Ave and Marion Street a new phase in Portland retail is in the works. Two years ago developer Jed Harris bought a rundown, two-family house with the intent to shake things up. He’s demolishing the structure this month to make way for a new take on bricks and mortar: The Black Box, a retail incubator made entirely of shipping containers.
“I think this will add a bunch of dynamism to this stretch of Washington,” said Harris, who owns and redeveloped the nearby J.J. Nissen Baking Co. He’s worked with tenants such as Roustabout, The Drifter’s Wife and Oxbow to revive this thoroughfare dividing East Bayside and Munjoy Hill.
“I see a need for some small, flexible retail spaces on the peninsula. These will be funky units with approachable entry costs and flexible lease terms. If someone wants to try a pop-up shop, great! Come on in for a few months,” he said.
Harris is working through the design and city permitting process now and envisions a bar, art gallery, retail shops, even an ATM occupying the 40-foot-long, 9-and-1/2-foot-tall and 8-foot-wide spaces. “It’s kind of like a food truck that could move on to a restaurant. It will be low-commitment, monthly rates,” he said. The Black Box will also have patio seating.
His plan calls for five containers in the front that will house businesses and one in the back for restrooms and utilities. If all goes well, he expects to be open by the fall. “It’s not a big built out. Once they are on site, it will move fast.”
Harris, of North Atlantic Properties, has not yet marketed the project so has no tenants signed up. But he’s confident the flexible spaces will appeal to a variety of entrepreneurs. “The focus is to get retail back here. It’s kind of an island,” he said of the neighborhood that is growing residentially, but doesn’t see much foot traffic from tourists. “This is something different for Portland. It will be hip and functional.”