Shortly before noon on Friday, a crowd quietly gathered at the corner of 6th and Pike Streets, waiting to pay their last respects to the Nike store in downtown Seattle before it closed.
“I’m heartbroken,” said Richard Green, from Tacoma. .
“Quite disappointing,” added West Seattle’s Jacob Boas. Boaz said he was disappointed at the prospect of shopping “at least weekly” at the downtown store and going all the way to Bellevue Square, where a new Nike store will open later this year.
Green and Boas aren’t the only ones unhappy with Nike’s departure. The store has been almost iconic throughout much of Downtown’s modern and tumultuous history. Its departure sounds an ominous note for a downtown that has failed to make its progress since the pandemic.
While other urban areas appear to have recovered well from the pandemic, travel to downtown has clearly been disrupted. Although crowded with crowds, parts of downtown can sometimes feel like a zombie movie set with sparse crowds, empty storefronts, and a lot of dark news these days. .
Just days after the news of Nike’s departure broke, word arrived that the Regal Meridian 16 Theater on the same block would be closing, and Amazon confirmed that it was pulling out of the giant tower near its headquarters. The week before, Facebook announced it was leaving its offices at Arbor Block 333, a six-story building on North Eighth Avenue.
“Downtown is a mixed bag,” said Jeffrey Rosen, a commercial real estate broker at Seattle Pacific Realty, which specializes in retail. “Some recovery is underway — and some collapse and extinction is also underway.”
Nike has not disclosed why it left downtown, a staple of its retail business for more than 26 years. Local wags blame now-familiar culprits: COVID, lack of downtown parking, and especially street crime. And sure enough, Friday’s crowd was watched over by a band of security guards.
Despite hearing some of the stumped Nike enthusiasts at the store on Friday, the place was still able to draw a crowd. Told. “everytime.”
Of course, when Nike opened its store as Nike Town in 1996, there would have been more crowds. Revive retail in general and downtown Seattle retail core in particular.
Early success was met with setbacks. His downtown Nike store had its windows smashed during the 2012 May Day riots — Nike was seen as a villain of globalization — and was boarded up during the 2020 Floyd George riots. The shoplifting rate, says the staff.
But today, the Nike brand thrives thanks to 257 retail stores, clearance stores and factory stores. (The latter can be found at Tulalip, Facteria, and North Bend.)
By contrast, the story of downtown Seattle since the mid-1990s is decidedly more complex.
The region has long since returned from its early pandemic shutdown. As of late 2021, the Downtown Seattle Association estimates that more than 300 new street-level businesses have opened downtown since March 2020. This includes big retailers like Uniglo and the PCC Community Market (which actively booms at lunchtime).
Reports of crimes such as robberies, assaults, rapes, and robberies fell in 2022 compared to 2021, but homicides remained the same, according to Seattle Police Department dashboard data through November. John Scholes, president and CEO of the Downtown Association, said the number of tent encampments has decreased. “We still have work to do,” added Scholes. “But we are certainly on the right track.”
But obviously downtown still has a long way to go. Many of the challenges that preceded COVID, such as shoplifting, competition from online retailers, and brick-and-mortar stores in local malls, are equal or worse. Even the 2022 holiday season, with COVID restrictions largely gone, wasn’t enough to revitalize retail icons like Nordstrom.
As of 2021, about 500 downtown street-level businesses have closed since the pandemic began, likely increasing since then, leaving many stores empty, according to the DSA. Retail vacancy rates in the downtown central business district are currently around 13.5%, up from less than 2% in 2019, said Damian Sevilla, who specializes in Seattle-area retail sales and First Western property leasing. I’m here.
The statistic also doesn’t include spaces where business owners still pay rent but aren’t actually operating, Sevilla said. “They are just dark.”
(In contrast, downtown Bellevue retail vacancy has risen from about 5% in 2019 to about 1.5% today, Sevilla said.)
Empty Seattle stores are snowballing into downtown traffic. As more stores close, shoppers have fewer reasons to come downtown.
“A lot of the retailers that I used to come downtown before… have left,” says Tim McCall of the Puyallup area, who was at the Nike store on Friday. is fading to
Many local retailers believe downtown still has a strong attraction that can’t be found anywhere else. Pike Place Market, Waterfront and the Space Needle “are going nowhere,” says EJ Reiser, manager of The North Face, Nike’s across from his 6th Avenue.
Reiser believes the luxury shoe store has or had one of the best retail outlets in the city. “They are making mistakes,” he said of the closure. “I mean, it’s crazy that they’re moving without knowing the ins and outs.”
That bullishness of downtown Seattle is shared by many retail pundits, but there are some big caveats.
Downtown needs to attract more “experiential” retailers who can give shoppers a better reason to come downtown off the screen. It has to be an entertainment tenant,” says Sevilla.
More importantly, downtown Seattle needs to attract more office workers who “shop on their way to work or on their lunch break” but are now working mostly remotely, said a retail analyst and managing director at GlobalData. Neil Sanders says .
But since last summer, the downtown Seattle office has averaged just 42% of its pre-pandemic employees, according to data posted by the DSA. Without more offices and a “population” of his workers, Mr. Sevilla says it will be difficult to rebuild his critical mass retailers downtown.
“Retailers cannot survive on lunch traffic alone,” he says. “They should be more pop”
Meanwhile, shoppers like Evan Ballito who was at Nike on Friday are wondering how long it will be before they mourn the loss of another downtown retailer. When he sees pull up, he says, “I wonder what’s next.”