It says something about the state of Capitol Hill retail — or its media? — when a store in the middle of Pike/Pine closes shop and not a single “news” outlet notices. For six weeks.
So, here’s the “olds.” Turns out, in mid-June, vintage and design retailer Atlas Clothing quietly closed its 10th Ave location a year and a half after moving to the new location after a decade on Broadway. A Facebook post about a big “75% off” sale is one of the only online references to the closure.
“The location itself really never took off like I hoped it would,” Atlas owner Jamie Hoffman told CHS.
Atlas moved to 10th Ave from Broadway in early 2009.
Hoffman said he decided to consolidate his retail business in Fremont where the rent is lower and, he says, there seems to be a better demographic of shoppers for vintage clothing. Atlas lives on as a wing of Hoffman’s Fremont Vintage Mall where the businessman says he also benefits from the higher margins provided by furniture and knick-knacks for young urban hipsters on a budget.
“The demographics [on Capitol Hill] have changed a tremendous amount. A lot of my core shoppers have dispersed so much,” Hoffman said. The Capitol Hill his Atlas used to cater to is more likely to be found north of the ship canal or, he says, in areas like Rainier Valley where he is also planning to eventually open a shop.
But what about Capitol Hill’s cultural place in the city as a “cool” and “edgy” area? Won’t the Atlas brand suffer being associated with Fremont vs. Capitol Hill?
“When you look at Capitol Hil, it’s gotten less cool,” Hoffman said. “You’ve got big highrises going up. You’re going to have fewer young, cool hipsters.”
We won’t bother with the “high rises” thing — though six stories does not a high rise make, there is indeed a development project about to dig in at 10th and Union and another at 11th and Pine. But there are some trends playing out.
- Food + drink is king + queen: For one, the Hill is an obvious food and drink hot spot. There are three (three!) new indie sandwich joints opening in the next two weeks.
- High-end or highly defensible: Elsewhere, where retail is moving in, the move is toward either higher-end – or toward more “defensible” business models. The Internet doesn’t, yet, do used DVDs well.
- Hospitality: Meanwhile, the whole idea of Capitol Hill “retail” is being turned on its head. At Capitol Hill Housing’s annual meeting earlier this summer, the forum topic was retail and the big takeaway was that traditional retail — big or small — can’t compete here. We’re too close to downtown and University Village. The Internet is too powerful. There are easier ways to make a buck of beer and (really tasty) pizza. Instead, experts at the forum were talking about the possibility that, if there is a new type of retail space that should be developed on the Hill, it might end up being something in the hospitality category — how about a hotel tower at the Broadway light rail station when it opens in 2016?
Working in the midst of those big trends, Hoffman says that despite the challenges for independent retail to survive in the Internet era, the Atlas business is doing fine in Fremont.
“I hated leaving,” Hoffman said. “I was really excited about that neighborhood. But the cost of doing business was incredibly high.”
The exit of Atlas — successful business or not — is the exit of a colorful piece of recent Capitol Hill history. In 2007, you might remember the problems that came along when the Stranger reported on secret concerts being held at the old Broadway warehouse space.
Meanwhile, the two-location Red Light Vintage and the national chain Crossroads Trading continue to do clothing-specific second-hand business on Capitol Hill as do consignment stores like Le Frock and Take 2.
Anne Michelson, who owns the building on 10th Atlas moved to after Hoffman sold his Broadway building, tells CHS she has tried to keep rents reasonable to support small businesses and let Hoffman out of his lease because of Atlas’s struggles.
She is now looking for a new tenant for the space that also is home to the BOTH Collective dispensary and the Sweatbox yoga studio. Hoffman said he’s helped make a push for a new tenant that is interested in the space. That tenant, of course, is not a retailer.