Kraken fans and Amazon parents: a few reasons some downtown Seattle shops feel hopeful

Amazon just had its best Black Friday weekend ever. Meanwhile, brick and mortar retailers in downtown Seattle are hoping holiday sales will help them recover from a bad year.

With a modest increase in foot traffic downtown, there’s reason for optimism.

Years ago, Macy’s would throw a huge parade after Thanksgiving, to kick off the holiday shopping season.

Macy’s is gone now, and the old downtown department store is full of offices for Amazon, most of whom are working remotely now.

Early on a weekday afternoon, things feel kind of dead downtown. Shopper Nahla Shouh, visiting from Libya, is disappointed.

“I found it very very empty,” she says. “And usually in this time, December, most of shops are very busy, but I couldn’t find lots of people doing shops.”

caption: Nahla Shouh in Westlake Park is shopping with her children

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In downtown Seattle these days, customers are like the tide. Sometimes they’re not around, but then they come back. And although the stream of customers isn’t constant, it’s enough.

It’s enough for Mireya Fuentes, assistant manager at Candy Tyme in Westlake Center, to hit her sales goals week after week.

“I guess like in the pandemic and everything, it gets a little stressful, you just want to look at everything like ‘What are the numbers?’ But recently, we don’t have to worry too much about it, which is great. We’re doing really well.”

caption: Mireya Fuentes, assistant manager at Candy Tyme in Westlake Center

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There’s no carousel to draw families downtown his year, but Amazon restored the old star that Macy’s used to mount on the side its building, and hoisted that up. And there are other holiday light displays too, including an augmented reality display organized by the Downtown Seattle Association that visitors interact with on their phones.

caption: Westlake Park during the tree lighting ceremony in late November. In the background, the historic star mounted on the former Macy's building was recently restored by Amazon

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During a recent tree lighting ceremony, visitors filled the streets and sidewalks. Inside Candy Tyme, it was almost too busy for Fuentes to move around. She had to politely shoo customers aside just so she could restock shelves.

“I love when it’s busy,” Fuentes says. “Not only does it make time go by faster, but it’s just so much fun.”

caption: See's Candies, one of several vacant storefronts in Seattle's downtown core during what is usually the most imporant shopping season of the year.

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Even when things are slow, shops feed on a trickle of tourists. They include Vivek and Anita Gupta, from India.

“We are here to visit our daughter. She stays here, works for Amazon, and we’re finding some free time to shop.”

Vivek Gupta says they kind of like that there aren’t a lot of people around because they get good customer service.

caption: Even in the daytime, holiday lighting displays draw visitors to downtown Seattle

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But later on this particular afternoon, visitors will surge back, because there’s a Kraken game. On other nights, there are concerts at Climate Pledge Arena.

Sarah Kennedy is the manager at Fireworks, a gift store in Westlake Center.

“I see a steady stream of people going up to the monorail non-stop for all those events.”

The monorail has been a lifeline. It was built in 1962, but was recently refurbished. Now, 20% of Kraken fans use it to get to the games. Visitors arrive downtown, then they walk around a bit before climbing the stairs to the train.

caption: The Seattle monorail

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“It’s really been a great draw for people to stop in here real quick and get a couple of stocking stuffers,” Kennedy says.

One popular item at this store: A yodeling pickle Christmas ornament.

caption: Sarah Kennedy at Fireworks in Westlake Center holds up a yodeling pickle Christmas ornament, a popular item at her store

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It’s an item also popular on Amazon, where it has more than 5,000 five-star reviews. The connection illuminates the strange relationship Amazon has with downtown Seattle. On the one hand, it’s a competitor with retailers struggling to survive. On the other hand, Amazon benefits from having thriving retailers around its headquarters. It’s a source of delight for Amazon’s employees and their guests.

On board the monorail, I catch up with another set of Amazon parents, also from India: Archana and Vikrand Mahajan. This is their first ride.

caption: Archana and Vikrand Mahajan

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“It’s absolutely wonderful – the trees with the fallen leaves are also looking fantastic,” Archana Mahajan says. “In spite of it being cloudy – it’s a very nice place to be.”

We sit there, looking out the windows as the train shoots along its elevated track above 5th Avenue. And the city’s problems seem to fade away.

Article Source: KUOW