Business buzz: Luring high-end retail to Federal Way

By Tom Pierson, FW Chamber CEO

By TOM PIERSON, FW Chamber CEO

Black Friday: While you will not find me up and out before the dawn, our family has its share of die-hards who risk life and limb in their quest for the revered door buster.

Laughing at the face of their clocks at 4 a.m., scraping frost off vehicles in pitch dark — you will not hear a complaint. They are fine-tuned athletes and this is their sport.

What you will hear (year after year) is them asking: “When is Federal Way going to get its own Williams-Sonoma/Pottery Barn/Nordstrom?”

Federal Way is brimming with retailers, and there is a reason for it — our demographics are ideal. In a recent market study by the city, it was determined that not only could we sustain high-end retailers, but because of our prime location, Federal Way could attract shoppers both up and down the I-5 corridor and to the east as far as Covington and beyond.

Think you are going to the Nordstrom grand opening in Federal Way?

Think again.

There are many more variables that go into determining retail expansion than just location and income base. For Nordstrom, it is a numbers game.

To project market expansion, Nordstrom draws a 20-mile radius around each current store location and anything outside the circles can be considered. This formula doubly excludes Federal Way, which falls into both radiuses of the Tacoma and Tukwila store locations.

Well, there is always the chance Nordstrom Rack could relocate from the Auburn Super Mall. While it would not exactly be the same, just the name Nordstrom would bring a certain cache to town.

Speaking of cache, in terms of Crate & Barrel and Williams-Sonoma, it is a matter of aesthetics, and the perception of an area’s commitment to invest in upgrades.

It is no secret the former owners of the SeaTac Mall barely put a penny back into their property. Their unwillingness to invest in upgrades to keep the property fresh and attractive alienated the changing times and tastes of their customer base and was ultimately the kiss of death, resulting in miserable foot traffic.

Its decline also hurt the overall reputation of Federal Way, creating a “trickle-down” effect in the way other properties were viewed by possible investors.

But things change. The name “The Commons at Federal Way” reflects the new owner’s commitment in terms of massive revitalizations and enhancements inside and out. Anyone who has undergone a home remodel can appreciate the enormous challenge faced in renovating a 753,000-square-foot piece of property, while keeping businesses open (and attractive) during the chaos.

It is paying off. Since summer 2007, foot traffic is up over 30 percent — a number that will be dwarfed this shopping season.

Queue the trickle-down effect. Upgrades and investments can be seen throughout town: From Celebration Center’s new Black Bear Diner and the designs of a high-end sushi restaurant, to Gateway Property’s recent addition of See’s Candies, which opens January 2008, and the new high-rise hotel that will be located north of the Marriott site.

It’s just a matter of time before changing perceptions catch up with our changing landscape.

Don’t think so? Go grab something to eat at Metropolitan Market. I smile when I think of how many times I’ve heard Federal Way couldn’t support the gourmet grocery giant.

Meanwhile, enjoy investing your shopping dollars in the great variety of stores already vested in our community. It is probably a matter of time until those so called high-end retailers come calling.

Tom Pierson is CEO of the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce and can be reached at (253) 838-2605 or tomp@federalwaychamber.com.

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