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Vacant storefronts are common downtown but rare in Seattle suburbs

caption: Gray sky over Northgate on November 9, 2021.
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Gray sky over Northgate on November 9, 2021.
KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

The pandemic was tough on retailers. Vacant storefronts are still common in downtown Seattle and its surrounding neighborhoods.

But further outside the city center, in places like Northgate and Alderwood, retail spaces are not vacant. In fact, vacancy rates in the greater Seattle metro area are hovering around a record low rate of 2.6%.

Elliot Krivenko is an analyst with CoStar, a company that tracks real estate data. He says the reason for the low vacancies is that old, suburban shopping centers are being redeveloped.

“We have an old Sears in Alderwood Mall that is now a new apartment building, where a Sears used to be.”

A lot of these redevelopment projects are centered around future light rail stations like Northgate. The redevelopments there include retail, but they’re no longer all about retail, because they include office space and apartments.

Krivenko described a redevelopment project near Lynnwood's light rail station that will include offices and apartment buildings, along with a movie theater and retail spaces.

“It’s a very significant redevelopment of that retail into a mixed use community that will really fit in well with that transit station once it opens.”

The Seattle metro area has an extremely low amount of retail space per capita, relative to other metro areas, Krivenko says.

Another reason retail vacancy rates are low outside the downtown core, he adds, is that people are spending less money in downtown Seattle, instead spending more money in the neighborhoods where they live and now work remotely.

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