Chris Yen never expected his sports-heavy childhood to lead to a career, but that’s exactly what happened.
In 2017, Yen opened Laundry, a sports retail store carrying hundreds of vintage jerseys, hats and tees. But Laundry, 1723 Alberta St., wasn’t a product of years of collecting and planning; Yen describes it as a “happy accident.”
“I was just trying something out; it was an experiment,” says Yen, 40, who holds a degree in English Literature and previously worked in publishing. The experiment succeeded: in 2017, Willamette Week called Laundry “the most original vintage shop Portland has seen in years.”
The shop has since worked with professional stylists to outfit stars like LeBron James and Odell Beckham, Jr., to name just a few. And in March of this year, it moved from Chinatown to its new home on Alberta Street. “I’m happy with the prospect of the Concordia neighborhood,” says Yen, a Phoenix, AZ, native and father of two. “There’s greater access to foot traffic and to residential families and children.”
On a rainy-May Monday, I decided to check out the store for myself. In its windows hang brightly colored items of clothing on a 1920s antique rack from a German department store. I step inside. The small shop is white and clean. In the middle of the front room, a 1960s metal garment conveyor holds more colorful jerseys. On the back wall, dozens of vintage ball caps line clean shelves below traditional Chinese woodwork. It’s clear that Laundry is something different and special.
Because sports retail companies didn’t start manufacturing broadly for fans as consumers until the 1980s [and not before then] Laundry carries mostly vintage items from that era until today. Yen estimates that 99% of his merchandise is sourced from within 30 miles of Portland.
“We buy from professional pickers and resellers, and sometimes from regular folks who have outgrown an article of clothing or a team,” says Yen. He sells lots of Damian Lillard, Brandon Roy, and Rasheed Wallace jerseys, but also carries merchandise from lesser-known sports team including The Breakers, who played football for the United States Football League in Portland circa 1985.
Also represented are the two women’s basketball teams that have played locally; Portland Power, an American Basketball League team active from 1996- 1998, and Portland Fire, a WNBA team from 2020-2022.
Yen grew up in a Chinese family that first immigrated to the US in the 1870s. Under the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and The Geary Act of 1892, Chinese immigration was restricted and the Chinese already here required licenses to work. Opening up and working in hand laundries enabled them to support their families because it required no English and whites considered the work undesirable.
Yen says he chose the name Laundry because it connotes accessibility, and it emphasizes the strong impact clothes have on how people view each other. In addition, Yen wished to pay homage to the Chinese laundries that form an integral part of his cultural heritage. That tribute is also reflected in the store’s décor, with its gorgeous Chinatown wood carvings and big red lantern in back.
The store is open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. every other day. Yen says he’s excited about the new location and hopes to sell some presents for Father’s Day “The aim of the store is to try to tell a story.”
Dina Sage is thrilled to be the new editor for CNews. She’s looking forward to paddle boarding, bike riding and tasting new ice cream flavors this summer.