August 9, 2001

Downtown becomes a shopping mecca

  • Nationalization of Seattle’s retail is having an impact on urban development.
    Staadecker & Company


    The change in the landscape of downtown Seattle — which includes the geography from King Street to the south, Denny Way to the north and between Interstate 5 to the east and the waterfront to the west — has been dramatic during the last 20 years.

    Many of you will remember when downtown included Rhodes Department store, the J.C. Penney building, the Bon Marche and Frederick and Nelson. The specialty stores at the time included Best Apparel, Nordstrom, I. Magnin, Klopensteins and Frank Moore shoes. And, the only major employer was the Boeing Co.

    Today, the Bon and Nordstrom anchor either side of Westlake Mall and adjoin Pacific Place, and specialty and national retail stores abound. And the major companies that call Seattle home include Microsoft, Amazon, Immunex and the list goes on.

    In addition to the two known quantities that describe human existence — being born and paying taxes — people shop! And in downtown Seattle, the choice of shopping experiences is changing at a lively pace and offering exceptional choice to Seattle for a retail experience.

    National retailers’ impacts

    Why do national retail stores want to be in Seattle? And, how does this affect our urban development? These two questions were posed to me and I will try to enumerate the reasons as I have experienced them in bringing national clients to Seattle.

    Downtown Seattle is vibrant. The Downtown Seattle Association has worked hard to provide an area of enjoyment for the person shopping downtown. As every major publication keeps reminding us, shopping is now entertainment. Currently we are all enjoying the installation of the Market Foundation “pigs,” during the winter holidays the carousel at Westlake entertains us and the seasonal banners add to the lively streetscape. Lately, we have also been aided by the roving ambassadors that are available to answer any and all questions from tourist, or even residents, with a need to know how to get from here to there.

    Tourists continue to visit Seattle and bring dollars with them. We have all been on a trip and felt the need to buy some memory of our experience. Something catches our eye that we haven’t seen at home and we make a purchase. Downtown Seattle is home to many specialty retailers that offer unique items not found anywhere else.

    Many of the national retail stores recognize the needs of the Seattle market and offer items not found at other locations. With the expansion of the Washington State Convention and Trade Center, Seattle will be able to host a whole new category of convention and trade associations. According to the estimated attendance figures on the WSC&TC calendar Web site, during July and August of 2001, Seattle will host over 37,832 people attending various seminars, trade shows, conventions and conferences. The potential retail sales are impressive and I haven’t even scratched the surface of hotel/motel occupancy rates or restaurant statistics.

    Our harbor also assists our retail by serving as host to the impressive cruise ships that we see lining our docks. These floating hotels are home to tourists excited to experience the sites and sounds of Seattle. These visitors to our city also shop Pike Place Market and climb Harbor Steps leading into downtown Seattle.

    Downtown office buildings also provide a steady stream of shoppers. The number of employees in the downtown area could easily equate to entire populations of many small communities. The added convenience of purchasing items without having to make several stops on the commute makes downtown shopping a good idea.

    Friendly shoppers

    We enjoy the experience of shopping. We grew up with the understanding that service was part of the shopping experience. A national retailer will enter a city for many reasons, demographics, climate and competition. However, retail is about sales and service. Most successful retailers understand that the only difference among them is service. And that works on both sides of the counter. Seattlelites are known for being “nice.” With a committed sales staff and great merchandise, Seattle is a retail dream.

    And Seattle is known. When I make calls to clients and ask them to entertain the idea of locating in Seattle, no one says “Where’s that?” Seattle is in the same category as San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Paris. One example of this is the national magazine ad for St. John Knits. Along the edge of the page are the names of significant major metropolitan cities with free standing St. John stores. Seattle is right there along side the major shopping meccas throughout the United States. And the list of examples is long. Tiffany, Escada, Louis Vuitton, Eileen Fisher, Mephisto, Bailey Banks and Biddle are all retailers with an exciting presence in downtown Seattle.

    Retail, by its very nature, is subject to change, and the retail make-up in Seattle will continue to evolve. You can be sure of new and exciting retail concepts as the Puget Sound area continues to be economically strong and attract a worldwide clientele.

    We should be excited about our future and proud of what we’ve accomplished in our downtown. As we marvel at the energy of our downtown, let us not forget the visionary retailers (particularly the Nordstrom family) who worked with our local politicians and developers to bring this excitement back to downtown Seattle. We owe a great deal to these people and our continued thanks for their ability to bring us to this vision.

    Charles Staadecker is a commercial real estate broker with Staadecker & Company of Seattle.

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