PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Imelda’s and Louie’s, the shoe and apparel store that has operated on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard for nearly 29 years, will close its doors for good before the end of 2022. Owner Pam Coven said she’s ready for the next chapter in her life.
In its decades of operation, the business has seen highs and lows. Coven said some of the lowest lows came in the last few years during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Coven opened the store in 1994, a few years after she moved to Portland from Chicago. She’d previously worked in small boutiques and thought she could bring a new flavor of shoe shopping to Portland.
“At that time, when we opened up on 37th off of Hawthorne, it was still pretty rough around the edges,” Coven remembered. “Hawthorne was definitely on the verge of becoming what it’s been known for.”
Imelda’s remained on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard for decades, later moving down the street to 34th Avenue and expanding to include the men’s store called Louie’s. It became an anchor in the area as other boutiques and restaurants moved in to create the bustling shopping stretch the street is now.
Coven said the decades brought many bright spots including expanding to a larger space, opening the men’s store, and opening additional stores in The Pearl District and on Northeast Alberta Street.
“Portland was just sort of, you know, becoming this great creative community and it felt like we were riding that wave,” she said.
But with the good times came hard times. Coven said it was difficult when she and her business partner went their separate ways – and then, of course, there was the pandemic. She said it was the hardest thing her store ever went through.
When the pandemic began, Coven closed her stores and laid off all but five employees. She decided to permanently close her store in The Pearl District.
For months, business remained slow and her shops were targeted by burglars. Thieves broke into the Alberta store three times and in October 2020, they backed a vehicle into the front of the Hawthorne store, ran inside, and stole everything they could grab.
Before the pandemic, her stores had only been broken into eight times in the 27 years she’d been in business.
After the pandemic break-ins, she told KOIN 6 News the crimes had shattered her confidence in staying afloat. She said she saw it as a personal challenge to make it to the other side of the pandemic and still be around.
In 2021, she decided to close the Alberta store and now, even though the pandemic has eased, Coven is charting a new course and will close the Hawthorne store.
“I’m a fighter. I have always been someone that doesn’t turn away from a challenge,” Coven said. “I was determined. I was hopeful that we could come up the other side and we did and we made it through. But I think things stack up and you kind of have to re-evaluate what’s important.”
She said Portland still has a lot of work ahead of it when it comes to addressing crime and homelessness and that those things have big impacts on business owners. She wishes city leaders would have addressed those two issues sooner.
Coven said she’s in a place where she can step away from her business, but has friends who are business owners who can’t leave their livelihoods. She said they need leadership to make necessary changes.
“I don’t think that they feel like the city has been there for them,” she said.
There were other factors that contributed to Coven’s decision to close. She said supply chain issues and staffing issues have been ongoing challenges, and with her youngest child heading to college soon, she’s ready to pivot to other endeavors.
Already, she’s been approached about new retail business opportunities, but said that’s not the direction she wants to go. She’s ready to work outside of retail.
Since the store announced its closure on Friday, Coven said she’s been flooded with support from customers. People have been coming into the store to make final purchases and sending her emails telling her what the store has meant to them over the years.
“I’m going to miss Hawthorne,” she said. “I’m going to miss seeing some customers that have become friends.”
Coven hasn’t set an official closing date yet and said it will depend on how quickly she sells out of her inventory. She predicts the store will remain open until mid- or late December. Until its final day, Imelda’s and Louie’s is offering closing sales on its remaining products.