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Brian Miller
Real Estate Editor

March 4, 2021

On the Block: From surplus ponchos to electric trucks: Rivian is coming to Belltown

A high-tech truck showroom is poised to replace one of the city's most defiantly old-school retailers. Electric vehicle startup Rivian, the future tenant, and JPC Architects have filed plans to gut renovate the Federal Army & Navy Surplus store, at 2112 First Ave. in Belltown.

Rivian confirmed the plan, and issued a brief statement. It said, “Our approach to retail spaces emphasizes opportunities for adaptive reuse and celebrating the local character and flavor of the neighborhoods we join. Belltown and the space at 2112 First Ave. are a great fit for Rivian's presence in Seattle.”

Store photo by Brian Miller/Truck photo by Rivian [enlarge]
Prices for the new trucks and SUVs will run a little higher than the surplus store’s traditional wares.

An opening date hasn't been set, and will of course depend on permitting and construction. The new showroom will one of 10 “experiential spaces” planned for rollout this year in various U.S. cities.

Jack Schaloum, who owns the business with brother Henry, declined to comment on its future or that of their building. “We'll be here for a while,” he says, without specifying a timeframe. Check back in a few months, he suggested.

As for retail in general, he says, “It's sad. I don't know a store that's not suffering.” He estimates that sales during the 2020 pandemic year were down about 60% compared to 2019.

The company website was recently discontinued after about a 15-year run, mainly owning to shipping costs. That leaves the business reliant on declining brick-and-mortar sales at a time when “a lot of people don't want to come downtown.” Plywood now covers much of the storefront.

The family business dates to the early 1950s, when patriarch Izak Schaloum — a Holocaust survivor, like his wife — bought an existing sporting goods store farther south on First. (The business now claims 1917 as its founding date.) The family acquired its current building in 1979, according to a comprehensive profile in Crosscut three years ago.

The two-story Belltown building was developed circa 1902, and has 13,320 square feet. It had previously been a meatpacking plant and a shoe-part facility. Jack Schaloum told Crosscut that he and Henry had no plans to retire. That was before the pandemic, of course, which has hit all retailers so hard — particularly those without a strong online presence.

Azose Commercial Properties put the Schaloum building on the market last year for $6.5 million. Then the listing disappeared, and no prospective buyer has stepped forward. (Or the Schaloums may opt to be landlords, though generational succession remains unclear.) Project notes indicate a triple net lease for Rivian, with extensive renovations before it moves in. A seismic upgrade is planned, along with new storefront, elevator, roof and skylights.

The second floor may be used for offices. The renovation team also includes engineers KPFF and Hargis; no contractor is indicated yet. No schedule is mentioned.

Sometimes called “the Tesla of trucks,” the private, 11-year-old Rivian is now valued at around $27 billion. It has a plant in Illinois where pickups and SUVs are now being made in limited numbers; those models will supposedly start arriving this year, with production to gradually increase in 2022. The company has deep financial support, with BlackRock, Fidelity, T. Rowe Price and Ford among its backers. (Ford also plans to license some of Rivian's technology on its own models.)

And locally, Amazon's Climate Pledge Fund is an investor. Rivian also has an agreement to make electric delivery trucks for Amazon Prime.

Rivian founder R.J. Scaringe based his company in Michigan, a little west of Detroit — the traditional center of the U.S. auto industry. Update: The company now says the majority of its operations, measured by headcount, are now in Southern California.

The company has said it will sell directly to customers, like Tesla does, from its own company showrooms — instead of via the traditional dealership model. Here in Seattle, Rivian is now advertising for positions including vehicle operations manager and facilities manager.

The company has raised $8 billion since 2019. And of course there are rumors of a Rivian IPO this year; or it could go public via a SPAC (special purpose acquisition company). Scaringe said in January, concurrent with a nearly $2.7 billion funding round, “This is a critical year for us, as we are launching the R1T, the R1S and the Amazon commercial delivery vehicles. The support and confidence of our investors enables us to remain focused on these launches while simultaneously scaling our business for our next stage of growth.”

The R1S is an SUV slated to have a 300-mile-plus range; its base price is expected to start at $70,000. The R1T pickup truck should start at $67,000, with a comparable range. Early adopters, eager to be first in line, have already been putting down advance deposits.

Plans for Rivian showrooms have also emerged in Chicago and Los Angeles, according to Green Car Reports. The L.A. plan will repurpose an old movie theater.

First Avenue, north of Pike Place Market, is an interesting, peripheral choice for the Rivian showroom. Tesla has its direct-to-customer showrooms in tech-centric South Lake Union and at the upscale malls University Village and Bellevue Square. But that generally low-rise stretch of First, near Lenora Street, has remained somewhat gritty and resistant to gentrification. Rivian's future neighbor Patagonia opened its corner store in 1987. An Orvis store more recently opened up across the street. Parking lots are still plentiful. Rivian's arrival may bring a new charge to the neighborhood.

Got a tip? Contact DJC real estate editor Brian Miller at brian.miller@djc.com or call him at (206) 219-6517.

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