The husband and wife team of Jared and Brianne Mees started Tender Loving Empire in 2006 as a way to put out Jared’s first record release. The following year, Brianne Mees says, the couple decided to open a shop to complement their music label. “When you have a record label,” she says, “it’s all just on the internet and you can’t really touch it or hold it. We liked the idea of having a physical space, where people could feel like they were more part of it.”
The store allowed the pair to combine Jared’s passion, the records, with Brianne’s interest in handmade goods. After three years in a tiny northwest Portland space, Tender Loving Empire moved to its current location, downtown on SW 10th Avenue. Besides LPs and CDs from the twelve bands now on the label—mostly Portland acts like Typhoon, Loch Lomond, and Radiation City—and some other local music, the shop carries goods from about two hundred artists, eighty percent of whom, Mees estimates, are from Portland.
Jewelry, prints, and gift items make up a large portion of Tender Loving Empire’s wares. Block and Sons’ iPad holders, Schmidt’s deodorant, Bishop Art’s Portland Raindrop magnets, and Burdy Fly Away onesies are just a few popular items. Mees herself oversees the production of Make Waves, a series of ocean-themed dioramas. A house line of t-shirts, featuring designs by local artists, is screen printed at the shop, which also prints clothes, posters, and other flat stock for outside clients.
Tender Loving Empire’s West End location, within walking distance of eleven hotels, Mees says, means that most customers are visiting Portland from out of town, “wanting to take a little piece home” of the creative culture of the city. “It’s a cool spot for us to be in,” Mees says, “because rather than selling things made in Portland to people in Portland, we get to support Portland artists” by offering their creations to people from around the country and beyond.