What a new downtown JC Penney means for Capitol Hill retail

Earlier this week, the Seattle Times broke the news about reported on the return of JC Penney to downtown Seattle:

JC Penney is returning to downtown Seattle after leaving nearly 30 years ago, becoming the latest moderately priced clothing-store chain to set its sights on a growing number of shoppers who live and work in the city’s urban core.

The Times left out another important factor in JC Penney’s sight-setting: Capitol Hill.


At a forum on the Capitol Hill retail economy hosted by Capitol Hill Housing earlier this year, experts emphasized that one limiting factor in retail growth on Capitol Hill is our proximity to downtown and University Village.

Real estate developer Dana Behar explained the situation in two dimensions: size of population and trade area.

“Capitol Hill is where you went for entertainment — but also shopping,” Behar said back in May. Downtown’s growth and University Village’s success, then, means Capitol Hill’s economic foundation has grown to emphasize entertainment more and more.

“I don’t think it’s possible to have services when they’re replicated downtown,” Behar said.

So, where does that leave Capitol Hill retail? First, there’s the existing small indies and specialty boutiques that are trying to rise above the challenging bottom line set by national chains like JC Penney. As for new growth, experts at the forum agreed that if there is a new type of retail space that should be developed on the Hill it should be something in the hospitality category. A hotel leverages our existing entertainment economy but wouldn’t face the same level of competition with downtown office worker-powered retailers.

That leaves the new JC Penneys and Targets of our area to U Village and downtown — the new 2nd Ave Target is planned to open in 2012 — and Capitol Hill’s “big box” retailer economy intertwined with our downtown neighbors.

(Update: Scoop credit is up for grabs. The Daily Journal of Commerce had the story early this week.)

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40 thoughts on “What a new downtown JC Penney means for Capitol Hill retail

  1. Cap hill just needs to embrace the nightlife/entertainment angle and run with it. Seattle overall is a very boring city. It needs a true entertainment neighborhood. If a neighborhood would ever embrace that role, it would make money hand over fist, as there’s just not a ton to do in Seattle compared to other big cities. There is however already a plethora of shopping spots. And sushi spots. That’s another thing Seattle needs. Variety in food options. There’s just waaay to many sushi or pho restaurants and not enough medeterrainian, French, African, south American, and every other kind of food option you can think of.
    Basically Seattle needs to stop being a city of clones, regardless of the industry being spoke of, and start being a bit more creative.

  2. Why go to Cap Hill and pay for parking for one or two stores you want to visit when you can pay almost the same rate downtown and get dozens of stores? And for that matter why pay parking at all when you can go to U Village or Northgate? Unless a large store provides free parking on Cap Hill it won’t succeed and their number crunchers know that.

  3. For most major retailers, opening a retail store is a long term decision. In 5 years time, LINK light rail will be open on Capitol Hill, and it will whisk us to the Westlake Station in a mere 3 minutes, University Street in 5 minutes. Target will be right across the street from the University Street station entrance at Benaroya Hall. Well, up 1/2a block, I think if we timed the trains, we could eat a burger at Dick’s and walk into Target within 10 minutes. So many of ua on the hill are transit savvy, we won’t even think twice about hopping on the train to go do some of our shopping downtown. National retailers spend lots of money on market research, and my gut instinct tells me that they feel the same way.

    In essence, with the opening of Link light rail, we will become, from a marketers perspective, de facto downtown residents. I see the retail core strengthening as time goes on. Pioneer Square is losing Masins furniture due to similar reasons that Elliott Bay Books left that neighborhood. The stadiums have not necessarily been the panacea for retailers that many had hoped.

    Whereas downtown may become our shopping district, Capitol Hill may become downtown’s entertainment and restaurant district. I think it would be in the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce to develop a marketing plan aimed at hotel and conventioneers the tout the ease of coming to the neighborhood from downtown (LINK) and the plethora of dining and entertainment options available..

  4. I’d love to have Home Depot or Lowe’s in Capitol Hill. I know many property owners are doing renovations or constructions on their properties in Capitol Hill area and have heard some of them complained that some hardware stores in Capitol Hill don’t have everything what they need so they have to drive to SoDo to shop Home Depot.

    We don’t need typical big box retailer with huge parking lot in Capitol Hill… I’d love to see Home Depot or Lowe’s to come up with urban store concept like 2 or 3 stories store on smaller lot just like new Target in downtown Seattle.

  5. True, especially now since parking hours on CapHill now have been extended to 8 pm. Plus, there really isn’t much space on CapHill big enough to do a “big box” store of any great size.

  6. I agree Rob. We have the potential as a city to be the hippest place in the Universe.

    Maybe in 10 years it will start to look like it.

  7. My answer would be for Fred Meyer to take ALL of the retail space in Broadway Market, including the gym and have a 60-70% sized FM store. Food, clothing, electronicsm houseware, maybe the outside deck space could be the garden center.

    With the opening of Link light rail in 2016, downtown retail is only going to be. 5 minute trip away. I think for marketing purposes retailers now consider us to be downtown residents.

  8. Yeah…I’ve never understood the “Capitol Hill needs a big box hardware store!” argument when there’s two big box hardware stores within a 10 minute drive (obviously a bit longer during rush hour) in Sodo and on Rainier.

    Also, there’s a fine average size hardware store in South Lake Union a block off of Westlake.

    And, Cap Hill isn’t even ZONED for that kind of development; there’s no ROOM to put a big box store, and it would be budget busting for any retailer to build such a store and foolish, when there’s stores not that far away.

  9. Not sure how this will affect Capitol Hill retail…not to be mean, but your average Cap Hill resident probably doesn’t shop much at your Grandma’s favorite department store. The only reason I can see locals shopping there, would be to buy houseware/bedding things which you really can’t buy on the Hill anyway.

  10. As you said, household purchases would probably be a category that is targeted. Between Target, JCPenney, Bed Bath & Beyond, and to an extent, Macy’s, the household side of things ought to be covered. I wonder how much electronics Target will carry? Does JCPenney even carry electronics anymore?

    My next guess for moderate priced retail in Seattle would be a DSW opening up somewhere in the vicinity.

  11. I’m a capitol hill dork who shops at JC Penney. I can’t afford the expensive local clothing shops, and old navy quality has plummeted – not that it was ever that good quality to begin with anyway.

    I’m looking forward to having my two favorite stores within walking distance. I barely drive, but this will cut down on my driving even more!

  12. I’m sure Capitol Hill wasn’t the driving force behind the downtown JC Penney. Downtown’s retail crowd is very diverse, not just affluent people shopping at Macy’s and Nordstrom. There’s also a lot of people who get there from the Central District and Rainier Valley, via good public transit options.

  13. @Michael: “Cap Hill isn’t even ZONED for that kind of development”
    yes that is true. but did you know capitol hill used to have a Fred Meyer? It was in broadway market, where the QFC is now. it wasn’t very big, but it was indispensable for those of us who didn’t have a car. I miss it. taking a bus to target is a royal pain in the butt.

  14. I agree with Janie and others. I miss the old, huge Fred Meyer on Broadway.

    I wish something would take over the Safeway on 15th; they are a fine store inside, but they are so ugly outside, and make no effort to present something interesting or user-friendly to pedestrians and cars passing by.

    The windows are generally covered with icky, sun-faded stuff. It does not deserve that prime location if it can’t be community-friendly.

  15. Yeah, I know right? because Fred Meyers are architectural wonderlands which are covered in beautiful works of community-friendly art on the outside, unlike Safeways.

  16. Big box retailers will insist on big parking garages like at the Target at Northgate. Unless they’re entirely underground they’re an eyesore. To me they’d be a blight on the Hill.

  17. There are so many ways to get around Seattle that don’t involve cars that it always surprises me when people complain about the parking fees. Most people I’m friends with in the city don’t use cars as their normal mode of transportation, even more so when going downtown. I always feel bad for the people stuck in traffic downtown; hopefully when the light rail is finished, more people will be able to avoid that problem.

  18. Frankly, I wish there were more options for lodging on Capitol Hill. I am regularly asked by out of town family and coworkers for suggestions on where to stay in Seattle and I can’t in good conscience recommend the Silver Cloud Inn. A moderately sized hotel between Broadway and 15th would be perfect.

  19. From what I’ve heard, the downtown Target won’t have parking. It sounds like it’s being designed slightly differently than the typical “Northgate” Target to match the more urban locale.

  20. There are some cute B&Bs, and the pricing is comparable to hotels. I send my in-laws there so that they’re close, but not too close.

  21. Years ago a semi-clandestine ring of elderly widows on Capitol Hill rented their spare rooms to guests, illegally I think. My father always stayed with one of them, in her house near Volunteer Park. They were essentially one-guest B&Bs, very pleasant and inexpensive.

  22. No store is beautiful to behold, but some do a better job than others, by FAR.

    You would know if you went back far enough to remember the old Fred M.

    If you can’t appreciate careful urban installations that is your problem; my problem is a lack of practical stores; I don’t need another burger, sushi, cocktails or wine joint, we have too many. I need practical, community-minded big names like FM or whoever, as long as they are not allowed to skimp on installation as Safeway did. Not saying FM is the answer, but please no more burgers, sushi, dog supplies, and booze.

  23. Burgers, sushi, dog supplies, booze, closed-in-6-months art galleries, dance your 20-year-old heart out clubs, burgers (oops I mentioned them already), dogs dogs and more dogs, cocktails, happy hours, dogs, burgers, cupcakes, ice cream, pizza, dogs and, well that’s what we have here.

    Would anyone object to a sensible, useful store???

    I mean what if I just want to live normally and do the occasional home improvement project? Must I have car to drive to stores? OK that is so lame. As a Seattle native I am ashamed of how unfriendly it has become to not be a car owner here.

    Capitol Hill is more than a bunch of restaurants, nightclubs and pet stores.

    At least it was.

  24. Yes, getting around on the bus may be easy. But remember you’re going shopping to BUY THINGS, and presumably bring them home. If you need anything bulkier than a few items of clothes, who wants to lug it home on the bus? That’s one reason someone might choose to drive somewhere, if they had a choice.

  25. plus, it’s not just the parking spaces. It’s the volume of cars that would choke the location just trying to enter/exit the garage. Even Northgate’s Target backs things up, it would be even worse squeezed onto CapHill.

  26. @Michael Strangeways. There are plenty of non-snooty, non-judgmental people who shop at Penny’s. I don’t patronize the store. But I do recognize that many do, and that the addition of that store downtown would be a good thing.

  27. The QFC just north of there on 15th is hardly a jewel, either. Why pick on Safeway?

    I agree…we have too many of the same kinds of places.

  28. Seattle is NOT boring. There are a billion things to do here everyday. Sounds like you just need to broaden your experiences a little and branch out to explore some new things. We are a bustling mini city with tons of amazing neighborhoods to explore, a myriad of cuisines and cultures, surrounded by all the year-round outdoor adventure you can cram in. Screw the shopping. Who needs shopping when we’re surrounded by all this art, music and wilderness and food.

    If you are bored with Seattle, that is a personal failure. I suggest aimlessly wandering in new areas once in awhile.

  29. Not everyone in the universe drives, ya know. I suppose the people ignorant enough to still support big box stores probably do drive though, so you’re probably right.

  30. I live 4 blocks away, I almost always carry my stuff just fine.

    You are right though, large items need a car, just as well go to Home Depot or Lowe’s.

    I am thinking of the many smaller items, a gallon of paint or a pot for a plant or whatever.

  31. I agree, bring back Fred Meyer at the Broadway Market where the QFC is located. Were FM to take over that location’s entire retail space, we could have a decent photo electronics, hardware, housewares, soft goods, jewelry and the other amenities that come with a FM.

    Presently on Capitol Hill, the closest sporting goods store is in the U-District, the only hardware store is Pacific Hardware and there is no place to shop for clothing basics such as jeans, underwear, socks, etc.

    The Broadway Market QFC is terribly merchandised; the cosmetics and health and beauty aids departments leave much to be desired. Housewares, hardware, stationary not much better. This location has the parking a FM would require.

    Also, it would be nice to have a Northwest icon such as Fred Meyer on the Hill as opposed to IKEA or Target. I have actually contacted Fred Meyer corporate in Portland about this and they returned my phone call and were very receptive but it went nowhere, but that was three years ago. If enough people started calling the Portland headquarters, perhaps Fred Meyer would re-consider the notion.

    Have a nice day!