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A Sway and Cake on every Pike/Pine block — between 12th and 11th Ave

Tamara Kilburn has new racks to fill as she opens a second Sway and Cake at 12th and Pike (Image: Margo Vansynghel)

For years, the high-windowed corner of 12th and Pike was filled mostly with people, packages, and mail coming in and out of the Post Options Business Center. Those years are over. And no, the longtime Capitol Hill shipping and mailing business is not closing. It just gave up some of its lesser-used space to a new tenant in the building, the upscale multi-brand clothing boutique Sway and Cake.

The boutique will be the second outpost of the Sway and Cake family on Capitol Hill. The other is tucked away in the nearby preservation and small biz-friendly development Chophouse Row. The second Sway and Cake opens at 12th and Pike next week.

Owner Tamara Kilburn doesn’t have to stray far from her original store. The new space is only a three-minute walk from Chophouse Row, where Sway and Cake sits between bicycle shop Good Weather, vegan restaurant Plum Bistro and gift shop Knack. A great location, Kilburn says, but, as she realized a couple of months ago, it doesn’t have the street foot traffic or light she craves.

The Long Kumi Kimono (Image: Niki Cloud)

She knew she needed a street-facing location, but had no real plan to look for one — until a couple of months ago. On one of her regular trips to Juicebox, the juice café on 12th, she noticed the empty storefront space on 12th and Pike, now with a new wall and its own entrance. “I was like: I’m just going to call. The leasing agent ended up being a client, which was great.”

Four months later, Kilburn is putting up finishing touches on the space, which will also include the Sway and Cake offices where she hopes to hire at least two more people to help run the growing business.

Kilburn describes the new store as the bigger sister of the Chophouse Row store and its focus on younger and less expensive fashion. The new store on 12th will be more upscale and mostly a way to build out Sway and Cake’s own fashion collection which launched last September.

The Chophouse Sway and Cake

Both Capitol Hill newbies and longtime Seattle fashion fans should be familiar with Sway and Cake. Kilburn, a former stylist in New York, debuted a downtown apparel store of the same name in 2002, with offshoots of the same name opening in Bellevue and downtown. In 2013, after her son was born, Kilburn closed up shop to dedicate more time to him.

“When he was old enough to get into preschool, I decided to rev it back up again,” she says. She started a “private shopping loft,” on 10th between Pike and Union, in October 2017. One of her clients was Liz Dunn, the developer behind Chophouse Row. Dunn asked her if she wanted to do a pop-up shop at Chophouse during the holidays. The store became permanent in 2018.

Capitol Hill and Pike/Pine, in the meantime, seem to be fostering a growing fashion retail scene. The neighborhood’s vintage bonafides remain with newbies like Rove joining the picture and the latest new addition — Capitol Hill Vaudeville — representing a true neighborhood throwback. But even with Totokaelo moving its headquarters to New York, the neighborhood’s higher end fashion retailing scene is strong with new shops like Black Friday-friendly Ritual joining the mix of bars, clubs, and restaurants along E Pike and global brands like Scotch and Soda opting to include a Capitol Hill outlet in their plans for the city. There are more big brands to come.

Now, Kilburn is ready for expansion again, too. Things are different from 16 years ago. People find their way to the shop through social media, and online sales have leaped up. Around 40% of Sway and Cake sales are made online today, Kilburn says.

The city is very different now, too, with much more disposable income and people with non-Pacific Northwest styles coming in.

This hasn’t necessarily made Seattle more fashion-friendly, Kilburn says.

“It’s not a big fashion town. There’s not a ton of boutiques for how big we are and how fast we’re growing. There are a lot of fashionable people here, but there’s a lot of them that have the kind of money where they travel and will shop in their free time in New York or LA. Or the people that work at the big hitter companies have stylists. Some of them come here, but it’s more the cute little add-ons [that they buy]. The stylists will go down to LA and rent out half an area in Barneys and just swoop in and ‘private shop’ for their clients.”

So why bother opening a high-end, fashion-forward store in Seattle? It’s a bold move at a time when retail stores are under increasing pressure in what some call a “retail apocalypse.” As online sales intensify, retailers are closing or downsizing their brick-and-mortar presence. Add expensive Seattle real estate to the mix, and you get a somewhat dire picture for an independent boutique retailer.

Kilburn admits she’s taking a risk. “Anytime you work for yourself, it’s a risk,” she adds. “You have to be a little crazy to be in retail. There’s absolutely no guarantee. I’ve always been a risk taker. But nothing is going to happen if you don’t just jump in with both feet.”

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