Northgate North Shopping Center (wpastudio.com)

Two recent stories in the national media illustrated why I think it’s important to separate the push for density, which solves or mitigates a whole series of objective social problems, from the aesthetic distaste for bix box stores and chain restaurants.

First, the Atlantic takes the angle that in-city big-box stores reduce driving:

The researchers then took this data on the frequency, length and type of trips people were making and calculated monthly vehicle-miles-traveled estimates before and after the Target. Before, residents were driving about 97 miles a month for their cleaning supplies, patio items and such. After, that number dropped to 79.6 miles. The frequency of shopping trips to downtown Davis didn’t change much, suggesting the new Target was siphoning more business from far-flung big boxes than local downtown stores.

This result is consistent with my anecdotal experience — sometimes, the easiest thing to do is go to Target, even if it’s farther away — but I’d also suggest that big box stores, while not meeting the narrow-storefront nirvana of urbanists, need not be the pedestrian-hostile sea of parking we experience every day.

Consider the Northgate North complex that is, well, north of Northgate Mall, which consists of three big box stores (and several others) stacked on top of each other in one city block. I would never suggest this is ideal urbanism. The free parking garage isn’t great, the transit access is barely adequate, and it’s hardly a pedestrian paradise. Nevertheless, it’s a compact form for three big-box stores, and vastly superior to what you’d find from those exact same chains near Southcenter.

More after the jump.

Similarly, Matt Yglesias makes the case for much-maligned chain restaurants as a potential force for good in the world:

I don’t know why it is that no beloved Bay Area taquerias have become Patient Zero for a major national chain with a publicly traded stock, an international expansion under way, and an ambitious proposal to launch a second restaurant concept but the fact of the matter is that they haven’t… Loving unique local restaurants is great, but in life it’s ideas that scale up that change the world.

Part of the urban sneer at suburbs is that they’re packed with chain restaurants. I certainly understand the aesthetic appeal of local establishments, but it’s just that — an aesthetic preference, and sometimes you just want a Grand Slam.

Densification is about taking all the forms that people know and use, and adapting them to be more sustainable. That’s hard enough without also trying to make it render large, efficient corporate operations obsolete.

161 Replies to “Chains, Big-Box Stores, and Urbanism”

  1. As one who schleps on Central Link and MT#41 to get to this store for my household items, I’m looking forward to the opening of the Target in downtown.

    1. I drive from QA to Northgate and I look forward to Target opening downtown. It’s a crappy drive, so I rarely go. Now if only the Ross downtown was as nice as the one at Northgate.

      1. Or if poor old Woolworths had been allowed to keep their very profitable business open in that very lucrative location not occupied by that trashy Ross. But the brain trusts at the Woolworth corporate level decided that the future was athletic shoes.

        (Yes, I am still bitter. That was an absolutely gorgeous store, and the only place you could buy affordablehousehold stuff downtown, especially after Penney’s closed.)

        Back to 2012: I live three blocks from the Beacon Hill Link Station, and Target will be adjacent to the University Station. You can be sure I and my neighbors will be there frequently.

  2. I agree 100%. While the big box store complex at Northgate North isn’t perfect, it is far, far preferable to the type of development you would see in the burbs where you’d invariably have 3 big box stores surrounded by 3 big parking lots – often with no good pedestrian connections between the 3.

    I’d call Northgate North a near miss. They could have made the street level stuff a bit nicer, and redoing the intersection/entrance to Northgate Mall itself would certainly make the north complex more easily accessible for pedestrians (I tend to bundle my trips to Northgate Mall and Northgate North into one trip and walk between the two sites).

    And, of course, if they wanted to get fancy they could integrate Northgate Mall and Northgate North with some sort of skybridge over Northgate Way. That would certainly improve things!

    1. Well, I would actually prefer to shop in the SouthCenter area but transit isn’t quite as convenient as the Link/41 combo to Northgate, even though it is farther for me to travel to Northgate.

      1. When Link is finished, it will be a very nice ride to the south end of the mall. Getting from the Northgate Link station to Northgate North will be a very long walk; even longer when the mall doors are locked.

      2. “when the mall doors are locked”

        You mean at the same time the Northgate North would be closed?
        And why would it be faster to walk through the mall? Go straight up 1st Ave NE, and turn right. It’s not under cover, but it’s about the same distance.

      3. The station will have some kind of improved sidewalk going north, and hopefully the mall owner will extend the improvements to Northgate Way.

      4. “You mean at the same time the Northgate North would be closed?”

        That Target actually stays open until 11 p.m. daily, which is later than the mall — though I haven’t been to the Mall lately, so maybe they leave the doors open later for restaurant access these days.

      5. FWIW, the #41 heads up 5th Ave NE after it leaves the transit center, dropping you off right next to the building. The #16 stops out front. To get to the U-District, I guess you’d have to take the 41 and transfer at NTC, but you shouldn’t really have to walk all the way back across the mall lot.

    2. We go to the Northgate Target occasionally, and overall it’s just as depressing going and coming as it is at Southcenter, maybe even more so in that huge parking garage where drivers go ’round and ’round.

      Taking 3 big box stores and parking lots and stacking them on top of one another doesn’t really change anything, except the size of their overall footprint.

      1. I was actually impressed with the garage design. 1) they have ramps that take you directly to/from the Target store level so less going round and round. 2) the ingress/egress of the garage is in back, away from Northgate way and is regulated by a stop light. Reduces congestion impacts on a busy arterial street. 3) The garage is designed so it is less obvious that it is a garage when viewed from Northgate way or NE 5th.

        What is unfortunate, is that it doesn’t look like there is going to be complimentary development in the vicinity of this building anytime soon. It’s sorta stuck there all by itself with a large park behind it and venerable 1-2 storey apartments to the west of it. In my opinion, this concept would have been better suited to the U-District or Wallingford.

        As a case in point for the great potential for this style of development, you can look to the contrast between box stores in the Chicago area. Elston ave is a transit starved street in a semi-light industrial area near I-90 that has several box stores including a large Target, Home Depot, Micro-Center, Best Buy, and recently departed Circuit City. Traffic is horrendous along this corridor with delays of up to 30 minutes from the freeway exits. There are no bus routes on this street.

        Contrast that with a number of urban concept stores recently installed in high density neighborhoods. In the Uptown neighborhood an urban Target concept went in with limited underground parking opened and the majority of customers arrive on foot (and/or from transit). HomeDepot has an urban concept in the Lincoln Park neighborhood with 2 levels of parking overhead. Walmart is opening an urban concept in the Lake View East (boistown) neighborhood where they are guaranteed to have 90+% of their customers arrive on foot.

  3. I live on Kent East Hill and I can eat at a mix of chain and individual restaurants.

    For example, what I consider the best Indian restaurant in Puget Sound — India Combo — is right up the street from me.

    There are beautiful Italian, Thai, Barbeque restaurants dotted all around the exurbs — from Lakewood to Kirkland. Many of them offering more authentic cuisine than the over glamorized Seattle proper versions, and often at 1/3rd the cost of eating!

    As far as big box stores, yes, when I lived in Seattle, it was easy to find 3 stores that sold Bolivian knit caps, and harder to find a low cost place for hammers and cleaning supplies.

    Lower density and personal can mean a wider and more diverse shopping environment that allows the smallest and most unique places to thrive at low cost malls.

    And some of the food courts like Southcenter, host a variety of interesting chains that go beyond the standard — like the fantastic Sarku…completely unique in how they cook their chicken.

    1. “When I lived in Seattle, it was easy to find 3 stores that sold Bolivian knit caps, and harder to find a low cost place for hammers and cleaning supplies”

      I have to agree with Bailo on this point. I wouldn’t live in either downtown or Belltown until there’s a decent hardware store, a full-size grocery (Pike Place will do for produce and meat/fish, but Kress doesn’t cut it for everyday needs), an Apple Store (maybe in the Office Depot building at 4th and Union?), a general electronics store that isn’t a depressing Radio Shack, and yes, someplace like Target.

      Living in Capitol Hill I am blessed with 7 grocery stores within walking distance, and a decent hardware store (Pacific Supply). But at least once every 6 weeks or so I ZipCar to Northgate to fill the trunk with miscellany from Target or BestBuy. I wish I didn’t have to, and while I’d love local options for these items, I’d rather have an ‘urban big box’ within walking distance than have to drive/bus for it.

      1. What about the Fred Meyer on Capitol Hill? I haven’t been there for years but I remember when it openned and it seemed like the first place in the northwest anyway that brought a big box and grocery into an urban neighborhood in a way that “fit”.

      2. I know many reviled it, but when I lived in Vancouver BC I really liked having a Home Depot right on the Canada Line in between Broadway/City Hall and Olympic Village stations.

      3. Wow, so that’s why the Broadway QFC has a small hardware section? A bit of googling revealed that Kroger merged with Fred Meyer and they created the hybrid concept “QFC Marketplace” specifically for the Broadway location? I had no idea that used to be a Fred Meyer. It works well in a pinch, but it’s so expensive that I often wonder if that QFC is the most expensive grocery store in Washington. I can save (lots) of money on produce, etc… by going to Whole Foods on Westlake/Denny, and that’s saying something! Little Saigon produce shops can be 3-4x cheaper still.

      4. Everyone in Capitol Hill stops at the Broadway QFC, at least every so often. 17 hours a day, 7 days a week, you can buy microwaves, towels, cast-iron skillets, and anything else you might want.

        As Zach said, it is extraordinarily expensive, but it’s often still cheaper than the alternative. If I need one item, and it’s too big to fit on the bus, then I either spend $30 to rent a Zipcar and buy it at Target, or I buy it at QFC for a $20 premium.

      5. OK, like I said I haven’t been there in years. I guess it’s no surprise that it evolved into a QFC as hipsters get displaced by programmers. It’s a good business model; sell the same stuff at a premium price by just rebranding. Originally the Freddies did provide a cheaper option than what was available and I think the store layout was very well conceived. I can’t think of any chain now that would fit the bill (combined grocery, hardware, household) with the possible exception of Walmart. And I haven’t seen anything from Walmart that makes me believe they would do that sort of one off design work. OTOH, I just learned that the Your Local Market that opened in the old marina style Safeway location in downtown Bellevue is part of Haggens (aka Top Foods). With their local roots I can see them jumping at the right opportunity to serve the Capitol Hill market.

      6. Re: “I guess it’s no surprise that it evolved into a QFC as hipsters get displaced by programmers.”

        Or it might have something to do with Kroger purchasing both QFC and Freddie’s and not seeing the need to run two stores across the street from each other.

        (I dunno about programmers, but a lot of the hipster kids I knew back in my day are still on the Hill. They just grew up, got mortgages, finished grad school, and got jobs with whoever was hiring.)

      7. I don’t know when the change from FM to QFC happened but I’m guessing it was shortly after FM bought out QFC, after QFC bought Stockmarket, but before Kroger absorbed FM. I don’t think Kroger has rebranded any stores. Their emphasis it seems to me has been to remodel existing FM stores and just quietly collect money from the QFC “premium” quality perception. The one on Capitol Hill is an odd duck in that it’s the only one I know of that sells microwaves.

      8. Freddie’s already had plans to expand it’s Broadway Market store to include a grocery section when it was decided that QFC would take over. This was about 2004, after both had been bought by Kroger.

      9. Wow, time flys. I can’t believe the Kroger take over was over a decade ago (1999)! Memory is also foggy in that I thought the FM had a grocery section right from when it opened. Rumor has it Kroger might now be a take over target. Quite possibly from a foreign buyer. Welcome to the Capitol Hill Tesco :=

      10. Fred Meyer was there for a long time, I think even before the block was redone as the Broadway Market. In the 90s, FM had two floors but stopped just short of the central staircase, so you had to go out of the store to go to the other level. It was smaller than other Fred Meyers and had fewer things, so you sometimes had to go to the other stores for stuff it didn’t have. There were miscellaneous shops in the front of the building, and a movie theater on the top floor until Gold’s Gym took it over. QFC was a standalone suburban-style supermarket across the street. I don’t know why they didn’t redevelop the QFC site for a new grocery store, because Capitol Hill could certainly sustain the existing Fred Meyer and could have used an even larger one. But instead they kicked the front tenants out, turned the FM into a QFC and expanded it to the front of the building, but unexpectedly kept some housewares downstairs because there’s no other place on Capitol Hill to buy those things.

      11. A UW group did a study of grocery prices and found that, for mainstream discount items, Fred Meyer has the lowest prices locally (lower than WalMart), and Safeway was in the middle. For organic/natural items, Whole Foods was right in the middle. But QFC was bad on both scores; its prices being higher for both mainstream items and organic/natural items.

        QFC was great when it was independent; it had especially good produce, and its prices were average. But the quality went downhill when Kroger took over, and its prices are high except for the loyalty-card discounts. So some people shop elsewhere first, and only go to QFC when it’s the middle of the night or they’re too sick to shop further away or they only need one or two things.

        It is surprising that both QFC and FM are owned by Kroger and share warehouses, but their prices, quality, and products are so different.

      12. Thanks for the history lesson. I suspect the decisions were all based on property values. What’s strange is that according to King County Parcel Viewer the Broadway Market property is assessed at $30 million with the land being worth only $5 million. Pretty hard to make rent selling celery. With the suburban stores Kroger tends to own the property (like at Totem Lake and Overlake). The block immediately north of the Broadway Market is assessed at $13 million with the land (approx. same size) at $10 million and the improvements at only $3 million. It also says that it’s vacant which I find hard to believe. I sure wish the AG would conduct an audit of the King County Assessors Office.

      13. “Fred Meyer was there for a long time, I think even before the block was redone as the Broadway Market. ”

        Yes, in the 1980s it was a fairly drab one-story Fred Meyer, with no windows into the front of the building (I think there were display windows, but no light into the store!). Decades before that it was… the Broadway Market. Then in the late 80s they gutted the building, kept the facade, put in a parking garage, and turned it into the new Broadway Market, which was actually a really great urban “mall” of sorts. It had the small Fred Meyer, but also movies, coffee, restaurants, gifts, a magazine stand, etc. I lived nearby and spent a lot of time in there drinking coffee. I was sad to see that it didn’t survive that way for terribly long.

      14. So the question is, since everyone seems to agree that this was an example of good urbanism — why did it fail to produce the “desired” result? I’ve hinted to why I think so; gentrification. When a neighborhood becomes “desirable” and rents skyrocket how do you keep the businesses that made it desirable in the first place? My answer leans toward zoning but that seems to be unpopular with transit advocates on this blog.

      15. Bernie, that’s an interesting question, although I’m not sure which result you’re talking about. The 80-90ss Broadway Market wave fizzled out when Pike/Pine overtook it as the happening place. Pike/Pine seems to have a tenacious advantage now since it’s closer to downtown and has twice as many buses. The 2010 Broadway remake with the new condos is still on the upswing so we don’t know how high it will reach. My impression is it makes Broadway more pleasant and and increases the number of residents, but it’s still not pulling outsiders away from Pike/Pine.

        I wouldn’t say gentrification killed the 90s Broadway wave because the boutiques were the gnentrification and catered to that clientele. I think Pike/Pine just became hipper, and then the recession put companies out of business.

      16. I wouldn’t say gentrification killed the 90s Broadway

        Not killed but substantially altered. Rents go up as a place becomes “the place”. Incomes go up so you see changes from a “neighborhood” market to something less friendly. In part, and I’m just going to come right out and say it; richer people tend to be less engaging with strangers. That combined with the “locals” starting to hate being there because it’s gotten so expensive and the vibe that lead to the upswing dies. Somehow places like NY City tend to push through these speed bumps to development. Maybe it’s just size does matter. A “stumbling block” in NY is lost in the noise. In Seattle everything seems to take on the proportions of a Greek tragedy.

    2. Seattle’s incompetence at ethnic food has nothing to do with density. New York City is the food capital of the country, and you don’t get much denser than that. I’ve eaten much better Indian food in Bellevue and Redmond than Seattle, but the Indian food I’ve had in Boston and New York is ten times better still.

      1. Seattle’s got much better food than bellevue overall, certain kinds of ethnic food aside. Its also for the most part much cheaper

      2. Aleks, I’ll give you Indian food being much better on the Eastside (with the exception of the hole-in-the-wall dosa place in the U-District). Although the best Indian food I’ve ever had in Massachusetts was all the way out in Framingham.

        But your sense that other cuisines are lacking in Seattle might result from living on Capitol Hill, a.k.a. Seattle’s Culinary Black Hole. Aside from a few very expensive A-list restaurants, the average establishment in your neighborhood is a notch or two below the rest of the city. The authentic-ish places cater to the young and less discriminating transplants, while the upwardly mobile suburban transplants are targeted by the bourgiefied and bland (Boom Noodle).

        Off the Hill, your experiences will be universally better, especially if you know where to look.

        It’s hard to find bad Thai anywhere in Seattle, but Fremont and Walligford have particularly strong options.

        For Vietnamese, Little Saigon (obviously) and a couple of great places in Ballard and the U-District.

        For Greek and Middle Eastern, head straight to Greenwood.

        For sushi, find a chef you trust unequivocally, get to know him, and plant a homing beacon on him in case he switches establishments. (Current recommendations, from least to most expensive: Shima in Wallingford, Village Sushi on 12th in the U-District, Tamura in Eastlake. Never, ever eat sushi on Capitol Hell.)

        For other forms of Japanese cuisine, izakaya culture is much more widespread on this coast than on the other one.

        Admittedly, really good Chinese requires a train ride to Canada.

      3. Your points are all well-taken. Really, I should have said Indian, not ethnic. There’s good Thai and sushi everywhere you look, and the ID has lots of good East and Southeast Asian restaurants. But to date, I still haven’t found a single really good Indian restaurant in Seattle. If any of you know of one, please recommend it!

      4. d.p.: Good to know about Greenwood. What restaurant(s) would you recommend? I’ve been looking for a decent Mediterranean restaurant for ages, and haven’t found much beyond fast food.

        As far as sushi goes, that’s actually one of the few cuisines that seems to be in good supply everywhere you look. :) Momiji is fantastic (it’s bourgiefied but definitely not bland), and honestly, I’ve been consistently impressed with the sushi (and prices :D) at Hana.

        Really, I’m not very picky when it comes to food. I can’t tell the difference between a $20 and a $100 entree. (I went to Tulio recently at my girlfriend’s request, and we were both thoroughly disappointed.) Which makes the lack of a good Indian restaurant (at least as far as I can find) even more annoying.

      5. Aleks: Travelers Thali House on Beacon Avenue S., Beacon Hill. A block north of Beacon Hill Station. Excellent and CHEAP with a focus on street food-style Indian food. I haven’t had the thali yet but I keep eating the samosa chaat when I am there, and it is good.

      6. Aleks,

        The place I mentioned above, “Chili’s Deli & Mart” at 50th and University Way, make the hands-down best dosa I’ve ever had in my life, among other South Indian staples. They used to be a convenience store that happened to have a grill; their awesomeness has lately been “discovered” and so they’ve ripped out the racks of Ding Dongs to focus solely on the cafe side. The name still reflects its convenience heritage, the tables are the cheap folding ones that usually appear at academic conferences, and Bollywood music videos play on TV at all times.

        You should hop on a 49 and go eat there the moment you read this!

        For more northerly Indian favorites, it would be hard for me to disagree with you about the weakness of Seattle, since at this point Indian food is about the only reason I ever go to the Eastside. If you just don’t want to cross the lake, Bombay Grill on Roosevelt (b/t 47th & 50th) and Roti in LQA — both somewhat upscale — are better than most.

        (I have a soft spot for the thali meals at Travelers on Pike, but make no mistake, these are white hippies’ approximations of Indian food, not the real deal.)

        Mediterranean: I’m mostly familiar with the grab-and-go falafel joints in Greenwood, though I’ve also heard excellent things about the sit-down ones such as Baselle’s suggestion (Gorgeous George). My recommendations would be less than current, since it’s been a couple of years since I gave up meat (voluntarily) and chickpeas (not voluntarily, totally bitter about it), but I had a particular fondness for King Falafel Grill on Greenwood (b/t 83rd & 84th).

        For a more elaborate Mediterranean meal, I’d suggest Plaka in Ballard, in addition to the Greenwood offerings.

        On sushi: Momoji’s fish quality is fantastic; my problem is with their price point. For what they charge, you should be getting spectacular fish and spectacular chefs and a spectacularly subtle dining experience. Instead, you get spectacular fish cut by wallflower amateurs and served in a bumping nightclub. It seems informed by what “success” looks like in movie montages, but it just makes me feel like a cog in a restaurant investment group’s profit machine.

        Trust me that a trip to Shima, a seat at the sushi bar, and asking Dave Nakamura what he recommends today will yield you a much more memorable experience at about half the price.

        I’ve never tried Hana, but maybe I should, if you think it’s good “budget sushi.” I know it’s been there forever and pre-dates every extant Japanese restaurant in Seattle other than Maneki.

        How come no one has mentioned Ethiopian food: we’ve got the third-largest and most delicious Little Ethiopia in the country (after L.A. and D.C.)! It’s just a few blocks south of you if you have yet to take advantage of it. My personal favorite is Saba at 12th & Yesler.

        FWIW, I think some of the best 4-star culinary experiences in Seattle are on Capitol Hill (Poppy, Anchovies & Olives, Lark). It’s just in the mid-range that the Hill is lackluster. And neighborhood deviations aside, I think food quality tends to be Seattle’s great strength: to eat as well as I do in Boston would cost twice as much; to do so in New York would cost triple.

      7. This is a tangent, I know but – Mr. Gyro’s (despite the name) is a very authentic and delicious Middle Eastern take-out place on 85th and Greenwood run by two Palestinian Brothers. Having spent a good amount of time in the Middle East, I can tell you these guys do it right. They put the emphasis on the fresh produce (a critical component of good ME food that is completely lost on most Seattle ME places) and on the spices, and their lamb and chicken is unbelievable (skip the falafel, though).

        Overall, Seattle’s ethnic food is decent, but nowhere near the likes of a city like San Francisco or NYC. These are expensive cities, but both have a seemingly endless bounty of world-class cheap and incredibly delicious ethnic foods of all types – typically found in small hole-in-the-wall places. Seattle is nowhere near that level of quality, depth, or consistancy – but it’s still pretty good overall. Unlike, SF, for example, you’ve gotta know where to go or you’ll likely end up with something mediocre.

      8. James: there’s a Mr. Gyro’s on 20th and 56th NW in Ballard. Pretty danged awesome to have such a good gyro joint near my apartment.

      9. I think that Hana place kind of sucks, but I am extraordinarily picky about Japanese food. Blue C sushi is an example of the worst crap bland food the city has to offer.

        In a similar vein, Boom Noodle is so bad I cannot believe it’s in business and that people go to it. It’s astonishing.

    3. the best Indian restaurant in Puget Sound

      That is the boldest statement you have ever made.

      How does it compare to India Gate over in Eastgate?

  4. I’m going to add to this list the Fred Meyer in Ballard, which gets a lot of flack for being, well, a giant box store with a sea of parking.

    While I can do most of my shopping while walking around downtown Ballard and Ballard Market, sometimes you need something above what you can get there, or you need something late in the evening or weekends. Instead of having to drive a long ways to the Aurora box hardware stores or the Northgate Mall, a quick bike or car ride (depending on what I need) and I’m there.

    Sure it encourages driving, but at least the driving tends to be local and not long distance. And soon, the 18 will be connecting downtown Ballard to the Leary strip.

  5. Big box stores serve a very particular purpose. Sure, they’re not necessarily ideal in an urban context, but the example you point out is good and they don’t necessarily take away from local business entirely. Proper regulations can minimise some of the less successful examples that I can think of in the UK and Ireland. But, there too, there are many very successful in-town/in-city developments of this magnitude and quality. That’s definitely what we should strive for.

    As to chain restuarants, it’s really a matter of preference. I like many myself and have no problem with them. But, I also like niche and local restaurants too. I think most do as well.

  6. “aes·thet·ic/esˈTHetik/

    Adjective:
    Concerned with beauty or the appreciation of beauty.”

    -Google definition of “aesthetic”

    “When anyone speaks to me of culture, I want to reach for my gun”.

    -Joseph Goebbels

    Martin, if I didn’t know you and respect you, I’d wonder how much you also consider the concept of political democracy itself a matter of “aesthetics”, and worse, to what extent you consider matters like beauty to be something, in your phrase, to be sneered at.

    I don’t like fattening, tasteless food full of chemicals. I don’t like products that break. I don’t like being served by exhausted, undertrained, and badly paid workers. I think it’s dangerous a dozen ways to have so many decisions made by so few people, none of whom I elect.

    Render obsolete? By the coldest rules of capitalism, it’s my right as a customer and my duty as a citizen to direct my personal business to the good businesses- all over this region- that I want to see survive this depression- and away from the ones that richly deserve to disappear. And take their lobbying and campaign-financing power with them.

    The fact is that enterprises of the scale and creativity I most appreciate are now fairly widely spread geographically. Best thing about “the suburbs” right now is the proliferation of small industries- stop into any warehouse park and you’ll find somebody sending computer-assisted drafting files all over the world, and manufacturing things as well.

    Best thing about last few years’ regional transit is that with my computer in my backpack, I can finally use buses and trains to live and work in this new industrial world, where aesthetics, efficiency, and democracy aren’t in conflict.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Wow, okay well: point me in the direction of a good local small business run by an upstanding (preferably immigrant, right?) couple that sells joint compound, degreaser, paper towels, dish detergent and cat toys, and I’m all over that…

      1. Joint compound and degreaser: Pacific Supply

        Paper towels, detergent: Madison Market

        Cat toys: Feed Bag

        I grant that it’s three different stores, but in exchange, you get workers who really understand whatever it is that they’re selling. The folks at Madison Market will happily spend ten minutes teaching me about the different kinds of multivitamins or soap they carry. Would Target do that?

        I actually agree with Martin’s post — density is density, and I’d rather have a dense in-city Target than a suburban sprawling one — but for all of the reasons Mark listed, I do try to do as much of my shopping as possible at local small businesses, even if it’s a bit less convenient or more expensive.

  7. I agree with the big-box-little-footprint concept here. But the chains-are-fine argument? I can’t disagree more. Above all, small restaurants are laboratories of interesting cuisine. This is highly valuable to society, and cities are a key ingredient in their success. In The Gated City, Avent talks about this in detail. Chains can thrive anywhere, since their food appeals to the common denominator. Common denominator food is bland on purpose – they’re trying to appeal to both grandma and little Johnny. In a small town or a suburb, you need to appeal to as many people as possible to have adequate sales. But in cities, you can have really interesting food and still have a large enough customer base to survive.

    Chain food in the city is a waste of storefront space, and eating there is a waste of a meal. This doesn’t mean we should ban chains completely, or that I’d never eat at one (they’re great for large gatherings, for example). But it’s the small, independant stores that deserve our protection.

    Other, smaller points:
    * small stores keep money in the local economy
    * despite Yglesias’s claim about Misson burritos, small restaurants absolutely create chains. Try to name a chain that didn’t start out as a small restaurant.

    1. Chilis, Maggianos, Romanos, On the Border, Long John Silvers, Pizza Hut, Olive Garden, Red Lobster to name a few.

      1. I’m impressed. But with a few minutes of Google:

        Chili’s was created as a single resturant and bar in 1975.

        Long John Silver’s started after a set of failed restaurants, starting back in 1929, trying many different styles and learning along the way. Even then, only a single LJS restaurant existed for the first two years.

        For Pizza Hut: “When a friend suggested opening a pizza parlor—then a rarity—they agreed that the idea could prove successful, and they borrowed $600 from their mother to start a business with partner John Bender.” Sounds like a small business to me.

        I’ll give you Olive Garden though. That was a General Mills creation. The Wiki page says the Tuscan Institute is fake, but I’ve been there. At least I’ve seen a very professional sign claiming it was the Olive Garden’s Institute on a beautiful building out in the hills of Tuscany – I came upon it while driving at random with my wife. I doubt they fly managers there, but wouldn’t be surprised if that’s where they developed their food.

      2. Some restaurants were started by existing chain owners or with becoming a chain as part of their business plan. I believe Chipotle was intended to be a chain from day 1.

  8. Let’s talk about how we should oppose big box stores because the bring the city less money in property taxes than a similar mixed-use development taking up the same amount of space. Target loses the city money, therefore they are bad for transit.

    1. Andrew, as a parent I know what you mean, but there are a surprising number of kid-friendly local restaurants, depending on age of kids and ability to sit (relatively) still. Both Pritty Boy and All Purpose Pizza are great with kids (Madrona and Leschi respectively), Madrona Alehouse does fairly well, Montlake Alehouse can be fun, and Vios on 19th is as well. And that’s just a few off the top of my head.

  9. One of the problems with chains is that, more often than not, they succumb to the temptation of cost cutting due to their scale. For a small business, cutting a few pennies here and there doesn’t make much difference to their bottom line when the quantity of business is fairly low. Thus they can keep quality high. For the chains, a few pennies here and there can add millions to their bottom line, but sometimes quality suffers. The same thing can occur with all other costs of doing business, including wages, benefits, etc. Yes, this makes them leaner and usually results in reduced cost to consumers, but this isn’t always a good thing unless you only have pure market blood coursing through your veins, in which case more is always better.

    1. On the other side of that, with a chain restaurant, they strive for a degree of consistency and quality control that may be neglected in a single store. If you walk into a Denny’s or a McDonalds, you know pretty much what you’re going to get.

      If they’re reducing costs through efficiencies of scale and volume buying while keeping quality up, what’s the problem. And there’s a big corporate office that customers can complain to and that can keep suppliers in line.

      Of course, in my local area I know what I’m going to get for the restaurants I frequent. When I’m away from home, it’s harder to know where the good restaurants are.

      1. It’s the “while keeping quality up” that’s the trick. Since Chipotle started all of this, let’s use them as an example. It’s kind of crap food, from someone who knows better. Steve Ells was a sous-chef at Stars in San Francisco – meaning he’s an excellent chef (I ate there only once, after an opera, and felt my high-priced meal was worth every penny). He knows real Mission burritos, and how to make them. But to get to the price point that people want to pay and make a high enough profit, and to make food fast enough to serve the masses, I guess you have to drop the quality.

        The funny thing is, a Blue Water Taco burrito is much higher quality than Chipotle, yet they have a similar price point. Where does all of the money go from the economies of scale? Or are they providing a firm, flavorless rice and low-quality beans on a cold tortilla because that’s just how more Americans like their burrito?

      2. Some local places have terrible quality/consistency, and some chains have amazing consistency and decent quality. Obviously there is room for both, and I refuse to demonize chains. I agree with the known quantity factor, and yes some franchises/chains manage to keep good quality. As far as restaurants are concerned, as I get older I’m more often than not willing to take a chance of having a bad meal for the opportunity to try something unique, whether I’m local or traveling. When it comes to purchasing day-to-day goods, I patronize a mixture of local and chain businesses.

      3. “Where does all of the money go from the economies of scale?”

        Executive salaries, usually. This is how things have been going for several decades now.

  10. Some urban snobs here may not like chains or big box stores, but keep in mind, many of them also don’t like you. J.C. Penny recently decided against locating a store in the Kress Building at 3rd and Pike, despite having a ten year lease there, choosing instead to focus on the suburbs.

      1. I buy clothing as rarely as possibly, and home furnishings even less than that, so there’s no reason for me load up on cheap J.C. Penney crap when I do.

        I use the tea shop that’s there now multiple times a week.

      2. I would love to have a department store in Ballard again, especially since our existing boutique clothing stores have been dropping like flies. Indeed, it’s on my list of “Things I would do immediately upon winning the lottery.” I would buy up the land on the corner of Leary and Market that currently houses the Thai restaurant and the payday loan shop, tear down the building and put a six-story department store with top-floor restaurant in its place.

        But since I’m not going to win the lottery, I’ll have to wait for someone else to open a department store. But I wouldn’t want a JCPenney. Give me a Macy’s or better yet a Nordstrom Rack.

      3. Department stores were kind of the original malls. Why shop “outside the box” when we give you the illusion of choice (between major brands only) under one roof?

        Ballard clothiers problem is that they’ve been pigeonholed as “high end” and stock as such, though there are only so many extravagant garments you can sell to one population. Ballard just needs someone to open a store that sources interesting clothes from plucky young designers who aren’t yet charging an arm and a leg.

      4. It has nothing to do with being pigeonholed, and everything to do with rents. If you’re paying for a storefront on Market St, then either you have to have high turnover or high margins.

        In a different era, those lower-end stores would have located themselves on a side street or a second story. But, with few exceptions, those are no longer options.

        The best way to get a diversity of businesses, including lower-end ones, is to lower rents, and the best way to do that is to increase supply.

      5. I would agree with that, although the price range I’m talking about would have higher margins than cheap chain clothing, while moving higher volumes than the exorbitant boutiques.

      6. When I was a kid there was a Sears in Roosevelt and a Nordstrom’s on the Ave, and you know what? It was kind of nice to have stores like that that weren’t out in malls. (The Roosevelt Sears did have a big ol’ parking lot, though.) My mom often took me to that Sears for school clothes. Of course, we still have Nordstrom and the Bon (I still don’t want to call it Macy’s) downtown. It’s a shame Penney’s isn’t interested in Seattle anymore.

        There is still the “forgotten Sears” very close to Sodo Station, in what is now the Starbucks building but used to be all Sears. I don’t know anyone who goes there, but they are still in business!

      7. @aleks A lot of the condos and apartment buildings being built these days have 1st floor retail/commercial space, but most of it is going un-rented. So much so that I think its a new form of blight.

      8. @Charles: There are many reasons why those spaces might be going unrented. Sometimes, the unit is too shallow for anything other than a nail salon. Sometimes, it’s due to excessive land values, because there doesn’t exist a price which is both high enough to cover the building owner’s costs (including the mortgage) but low enough to be worth it for a store. Sometimes, it’s in a bad location — a nail salon might be profitable, but not if there are two other nail salons on the same block.

        Sometimes, the storefronts are just on the wrong street; certain streets just don’t have the character of a pedestrian corridor, and so they don’t attract the kinds of businesses that you’d see elsewhere. For example, between Broadway and 15th, Pine St has very few active storefronts, while the side streets between Pike and Pine are fully rented.

        All that said, I have to disagree with your assertion that most of the new retail spaces are going unrented. On Capitol Hill, there are lots of newer buildings with lots of retail — Braeburn, Pearl, Brix, Joule, 700 Broadway, Broadway Building, and many others. I can’t think of a single building that’s been around for more than a couple of years that has more than 1-2 unrented spots. Maybe it’s different in other neighborhoods, but we’re not having any problems.

    1. I remember when JC Penney was at 3rd and Pike (or near there). And the joke back when I was in High School was that if you were going to JC Penney’s after dark, you were going there to get some tail.

  11. Another challange to Yglesias’s *no chain has come from the Mission, therefore small restaurants are useless*: convert that to Seattle’s specialty. No chain has come from small coffee shops in Seattle therefore… oh wait.

    The funny thing is, the restaurant that Yglesias is lauding was inspired by Mission burritos. Sure, Chipotle turned them into a watered-down fast-food Denver version of Mission burritos, but it’s founder Steve Ells was a chef in San Francisco and based his restaurant on Mission burritos.

    Cities are innovation machines, whether we’re talking about burritos or architecture or jazz.

    1. I still haven’t read the Yglesias piece, but I wonder if that’s exactly the point he’s trying to make when he says “it’s ideas that scale up that change the world.”

  12. Also, when you support chains over mom and pops, you are often making the more progressive choice. Take your local coffee shop. Do they offer their employees medical, dental, and vision, 401 k plans, tuition reimbursement plans, commuter benefit programs, bonuses, sick pay, etc. Big, bad Starbucks does.

    1. Many actually do, surprisingly. My friend works at a small coffee shop in Edmonds and gets more benefits than when she worked at Starbucks. Anecdotal of course, but so was your point.

    2. Problem with Starbucks isn’t that it’s big, but that its espresso is bad. Signature flavor tastes like burnt wood beads. Extra cost of my choice of coffee, I can cover by substituting a legal pad for an i-pad while I drink it.

      Stopped caring about corporate America’s good opinion of me when they traded our country’s productive economy for a ready-made 19th century in China. And would rather pay taxes for national health care than premiums for the corporate profits and salaries that come with what we’ve got now.

      Snob? Better that than a serf.

      Mark Dublin

      1. It’s funny; I’ve actually started going to the Roy St Coffee and Tea (aka “fake Starbucks”) quite a bit, since their tea is excellent and they have Mighty-O Donuts. Seattle has no shortage of good coffee houses, but there’s a real shortage of good tea. If only Remedy Teas would open up some more cafes… :)

        More to the point, I think that part of the resistance to chains is simply that independent stores tend to cater to niche markets. Everyone in the US drinks coffee; many fewer Americans drink loose-leaf tea. Thus, it’s far easier to obtain the former than the latter. If there were a chain store that served great tea, I would go (and that’s why I go to Roy St). If there were a chain restaurant that served great vegan Indian food, or great sushi, I would go. But chain restaurants always seem to load their menus with meat, cheese, and grease.

        When chains meet my needs (e.g. clothing, groceries, household goods, furniture), I shop there. When they don’t (e.g. dining, cafes, books), I don’t. It’s that simple.

      2. For good-to-excellent tea in all its varieties and from most tea-producing parts of the world, Miro Tea in Old Ballard or the Panama Hotel in Japantown.

        For the most amazing Taiwanese oolongs you’ve ever had in your life — seriously — Floating Leaves at Market & 17th in Ballard

      3. Oh, there isn’t really a shortage of good tea places in Seattle — Miro is excellent, as is Remedy (my usual hangout), and the former Teacup, and Teahouse Kuan Yin. (And I have heard amazing things about Floating Leaves, but haven’t managed to make it there for one reason or another.)

        But still, there are about as many teahouses in Seattle as there are coffee shops on Broadway. ;)

      4. And before someone says it, yes, I honestly do like Teahouse Kuan Yin. The actual quality of the tea isn’t the city’s best, but it’s still head and shoulders above most coffee shops (whose idea of ‘tea’ is a Bigelow bag in lukewarm water). And it’s also a surprisingly pleasant place to sit and read for a while. I wouldn’t make a trip to Wallingford specifically to go there, but when I lived in the area, I was perfectly happy to stop in on a regular basis.

      5. And it’s also a surprisingly pleasant place to sit and read…

        Then let me make another push for the Panama Hotel Teahouse, if you’ve never been there. Walking in for the first time sparks one of those “how could a place this amazing exist in my own city without me knowing it?” kind of moments.

    3. A simpler question to ask is often, “is this workplace unionized”? QFC and Safeway are, but so are Madison Market and PCC. Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are not. (Whole Foods also does not cover mental health in any capacity, which is a particular concern of mine.)

      Of course, I’m sure that even you know that Wal-Mart is hardly an ideal employer.

      In general, older (i.e. pre-automotive era) chains tend to be unionized, while newer ones, especially big-box stores, are not. Macy’s is; Nordstrom is in Seattle; Target is not.

      A company that refuses to work with unions is a company that does not have its workers’ best interests at heart. Even if a non-union company offers better benefits today, those benefits could (and often do) disappear at any time. Workers do not need privileges; they need power.

      1. A company that refuses to work with unions is a company that does not have its workers’ best interests at heart.

        There is no such thing as a company that has its workers best interests at heart. There are only companies who have been bludgeoned into submission by strong unions.

      2. That’s not strictly true. Worker-owned cooperatives (including consumer cooperatives where workers can also be member-owners) have their workers’ best interests at heart by definition.

        But yes, for the most part you’re right… but who cares? It’s the same effect. :)

    4. http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/219838

      Stumptown does.

      “And once Sorenson has your attention, he knows how to keep it. Even his employees (numbering around 180), often artists and musicians, tend to stay on for years, because Stumptown offers health insurance, 401(k)s and salaries good enough to buy houses and send kids to college–in effect, elevating the barista from a part-time gig to a real occupation.”

  13. Here’s a few photos of some density-transit that I think is being done really well…the Auburn Sounder Station, right near the central park of Auburn.

    Reasons that I like it is that it’s dense, but still airy…plazas and room to walk around. They’ve also have a consistent brick style all through the downtown. And there is parking of various costs and ease of access throughout central auburn.

    https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/pt7W8WGleJMBYu72zqD2gI_22Z_yuI-4RWvzZNey9k4?feat=directlink

    https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/AmzYVX6B4N5yZWPSpfMtrY_22Z_yuI-4RWvzZNey9k4?feat=directlink

    https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/ksbNwaZ4ytuWdfOAaUVjYI_22Z_yuI-4RWvzZNey9k4?feat=directlink

    I guess I just don’t like the big box right up to the sidewalk style. And they have been doing this in Bellevue to my dismay. It creates in my opinion a no where man’s land canyon that might be “walkable” but not a pleasant place.

      1. @Charles
        I’m not sure whether they even use A/C on the first floor—there’s certainly no obvious feeling of cold when walking past in hot weather.

      2. ‘Big box’ stores don’t have to be as hideous and ugly as the Target complex at Northgate. Much stricter design standards should apply.

  14. Martin’s point that, all other consumer patterns being equal, land use improvements are still improvements, is persuasive, as is Mark’s equally passionate defense of voting with your dollar.

    The larger problem is that our the future health of our Consumerist economy presumes an endlessly-expanding appetite for physical goods, a presumption that may come into conflict with the trend toward denser urban living.

    When I first moved to Seattle and had to furnish a small-ish apartment from scratch, many trips to Ikea, Target, Home Depot, and the like occurred. When I upgraded to a larger place my second year here, it all happened again.

    But in the three years since I moved into Old Ballard and acutely downsized, I’ve been to big-boxes precisely never, and I can count my trips to Northgate on the fingers of one hand.

    Even the trinkets and furnishings to be found in Old Ballard’s mom-and-pops, while lovely and interesting, are pointless if you live small. Those shops do well thanks to Ballard Ave’s status as destination-shopping for Sprawl Ballard and beyond.

    Those who live down here only really need the food and drink offerings, the daily necessities, a few of the clothing shops, at least one shoe store, and transit access to things readily available downtown (future big-boxes excluded).

    The culture of Unmitigated Acquisition may turn out to have been a fad. We need an economy based on the twin assumptions of useful work and the right to a decent standard of living; basing everything on perpetual growth in consumer demand is a recipe for disaster.

    1. Economists break down GDP into four categories: consumption, investment, government spending, and something else I’m forgetting. Contrary to what Big Corporate America have been telling us for the last few decades, there’s a pretty good case to be made that investment spending is actually better for the economy than consumption, and economists have said for some time that they’d like Americans to save more of their money during good times (consumption is arguably better during recessions).

      Half a century or more is a pretty long “fad”, but there’s a revolution coming, borne of dissatisfaction with consumer culture – both from the standpoint of its consequences and a happiness (some might say “aesthetic”) standpoint – and a recognition that either global warming or dealing with it will render it impossible.

      1. Clearly we need to look at ways to jumpstart the Something Else I’m Forgetting sector.

        Seriously, though, +1 on the Neo-Keynesian truths.

      2. Well, “the economy” is buying and selling things, and one person’s buying means another person’s paycheck. We do need to save more, but the problem isn’t so much buying per se as what people are buying. You can spend $10 on a disposable something that goes immediately into the garbage, or a meal, or a movie, or instruction from a teacher, or art supplies, or gardening supplies, or a Sounder trip and bus return, or a donation or gift. All of these help the economy equally (ignoring the supply chain) but they have very different environmental/health/cultural/relationship impacts.

        I’ve found that if I treat myself to something small at my weekly grocery or Costco shopping trips, a few everyday things or a cheese I haven’t tried, it’s just as emotionally satisfying as spending twice as much on a plastic or fabric doodad with blinking lights at the mall.

    2. I grew up around Crossroads-Overlake, so the low-end department stores (Fred Meyer, K-Mart, Sears) formed a major part of the shopping of everybody I knew. I didn’t understand how anyone could do without the things available only in department stores. Then I moved to Seattle and spent thirty years in the U-district, Capitol Hill-First Hill, and Ballard. Going to a department store now meant a significant trip, to Northgate, Lake City, or Renton. For a while I spent weekends with a family in Mountlake Terrace, and sometimes rode my bike up to the Lynnwood Fred Meyer and met them there, and did my big-box shopping then.

      But usually I just postponed getting things and made do without them. No new shower curtain, or shelves and screws, or clothing, or the myriad other things I used to get from department stores. Once or twice a year I’d really need or want something that wasn’t available in the U-district or downtown shops, and I’d truck up to Fred Meyer or Best Buy and get it (on the bus, of course). I love Northgate North, well, not love, but it’s the best format for big-box stores I’ve seen almost anywhere except the Rosslyn station in DC that has a Costco tucked into a second floor next to an elevated walkway outside the station. So basically I just stopped buying the things that are in department stores, except when I really have to or I really want something in particular.

      Now on Capitol Hill, I’m glad QFC has a few housewares, and I finally found that hardware store in 12th & Madison that few people know about and I forget is there. It’s a strange hardware store: small, and carrying mainly things that apartment dwellers and apartment managers want, unlike the big Ernst of old or Home Depot or the lumber stores, or the industrial ones like Hardwick’s or that one in Ballard where if you’re paying cash rather than invoicing it they’re kind of surprised.

      1. Being a military brat, much of my childhood was in Lakewood. The department store I remember growing up was the Bon. Several stories and each “department” was it’s own store. The hobby department had electric trains — not cheap plastic Woolworths toys — but brass locomotives that were hundreds of dollars. All imported from Japan I believe. And they had an HO slotcar set-up you could play with. It was a totally different world than K-Mart and the chains that took over. Back then Macy’s was on 5th Ave in NY. Now Macy’s and Target really aren’t very different; more like QFC vs Safeway.

      2. Another store I remember was the B&I. Now that one was totally unique. In retrospect keeping Ivan the Gorilla in a circus trailer cage really wasn’t so cool but that was then and people thought keeping killer whales in a fish tank was cool. But the thing again with the B&I (besides the Gorrilla, corn dogs and circus mirrors) was that each department was like an independent store. They also had vending machines in the isles for cigarettes; that was then and…

    3. Well, d.p., I don’t know. Denser living may reduce the demand for giant stores. I have no idea. But any case, we need not fear these kinds of businesses.

      1. “Giant” isn’t synonymous with “Big box” though ….

        Extremely dense areas still often have giant stores, but I think they tend have a very different character than big-box stores in the ‘burbs, aimed more at walk-in traffic, and specializing more in variety / luxury / service rather than in selling super-low-priced goods in enormous portions.

  15. Thanks to the internet, I find there is very little reason to physically visit big box stores anymore. I will occasionally shop at a Target if I’m passing by the store anyway and need something (especially if I’m traveling by bus and have to stop there for a transfer anyway). However, making a special trip from home to Target and back home again is usually just not worth it when compared with the convenience of shopping online.

    So, going back to the Atlantic’s conclusion, if the addition of an in-city Target means replacing a visit to target.com with a visit to a physical Target store, assuming the trip is done by car, that’s more driving, not less.

    Still, I do look forward to the addition of a target downtown. Lots of bus trips require a transfer downtown. And the ability to turn 20-30 minutes of wait time into a productive shopping trip is very important for those kinds of trips to make sense.

    1. Another important benefit of the opening of a Target downtown will be increased restroom options for people making bus transfers in the area. While there are certainly restrooms downtown today, you’ve got the problem that anytime a restroom is operated by a private business, it’s reserved for customers only.

      Which means:
      1) If the store isn’t open, you’re out of luck
      2) If you can’t find an open store that is selling something you actually need, you have to buy something you don’t need just for the right to relieve your bladder.

      A Target will solve both these problems:
      1) Target stores tend to open for long hours 7 days a week
      2) Target has such a wide variety of stuff that there’s bound to be something there you’re going to need eventually, even if you don’t need it right away. So, buying something to use the restroom means buying something you will eventually actually use, not something you will throw away.

      1. I remember pay toilets (department stores had them) and I remember that the Legislature outlawed them. But would it be so hard to have porta-potties in some places?

        It also riles me that for the few transit centers that have public toilets they are so poorly cared for.

  16. Very intelligent post.

    My only suggestion is this: what would transform the frontage along Northgate Way would be to permit ON-STREET PARKING.
    Obviously very difficult to do and the City Planners missed the opportunity when the initial permits were approved.

    I would be happy to expand more if anyone s interested in my approach.

    1. On Northgate Way? If that’s what you’re suggesting, that’s likely a non-stater. Not only unlikely to have been on the radar on Paul Schell’s (I think it was his) admin, but I doubt you’d find many willing allies even in McGinn’s now if the same proposal for development were to come forward (although, I imagine we’d have a much different proposal altogether). Elsewhere along the perimeter, maybe. But who is going to park that far from the entrance?

      1. Of course it could could work. Easy-squeezy.

        The currnt, existing site plan would not allow on-street parking because traffic volumes too high. Of course.

        But had the street level of the building had been set back something like 12-20 feet, you could create the on-street parking. Sidewalk bends back slightly and cars are on what is now the current sidewalk.

        Since the block length is so long the geometry would work quite nicely.

      2. Never said it couldn’t work. Just not practical given the context of use and current environment and the history before it became an area truly envisioned as a regional urban center. But that’s all history past. It’ll be a long time before something like that becomes practical there again. 20 years perhaps?

    2. If your goal is to create traffic mayhem then ya, go ahead a put on street parking on an arterial street. If you want buses and people to be able to transit east west in an efficient manner, then on that street, parking doesn’t make sense.

      1. Do you want a walkable street?
        Then one must have on-street parking.
        Period.
        No way around it.

        Go look for alternatives — they are unique such as Michigan Avenue in Chicago. A walkable street has on-street parking.

      2. @David
        Wait, what…? There’s no particular connection between “walkable streets” and “onstreet parking”.

        Onstreet parking may be one way to (kinda) reduce the width of an excessively wide street, and so serve some calming purpose, but there are other ways to do that too. Much wider sidewalks, separated bike lanes, rows of trees, all improve the walking environment and narrow the street width, whereas parking only narrows the street-with. Worse, onstreet parking is in some sense only a half-measure because the parking margin feels like it’s still part of the road, and so doesn’t decrease the “feel” of the road width as much as other solutions; ideally you’d use it only in addition to other treatments: super wide sidewalks + row of trees + generous separated bicycle lanes + onstreet parking.

      3. On-street parking doesn’t make walkability. It may make peds *safer* due to a barrier and reduced speeds by inherent vehicular conflict, but it is not the *sole* ingredient to walkability. You need proper opportunities for crossing the street, controlled volumes of traffic that don’t scare pedestrians, but more importantly you need a mix of uses that are interesting and bring people to a place. North Northgate does not have this at all–for the most part. It’s simply a regional retail destination, not a +16-hour, dynamic neighbourhood.

      4. … and of course what’s really important is what’s on the other side of the sidewalk. No matter how “nice” the street and sidewalk, if there’s nothing there except giant parking lots, nobody’s going to want to walk there….

        The prob is that in many cases, crazy auto-oriented development patterns have painted these places into a corner, and no one change will ever make them nice to be.

      5. I don’t think I approve of arterial streets.

        What are streets good for? Local access. For local access with cars, you need parking, preferably on-street parking.

        The concept of an arterial is antithetical to that. An arterial is designed to rush cars through without stopping. If you’re going to design an “arterial”, you might as well build an expressway.

        Do you want a city which is really comfortably walkable? You’ll end up with no “arterials”. If the herds of commuters (etc.) are taking rail or something else, *this will be OK*, because the uncrowded local streets will be sufficient for the diffuse, unconcentrated car trips. Of course usually the herds of people heading the same way *don’t* have an alternative to cars, so “arterials” seem like a good idea.

        But they’re not really a good idea. An evenly balanced street grid will handle evenly balanced traffic, and concentrated traffic should be taking the rails.

        Well, I can dream….

      6. Then start building housing communities that are not car centric ala the examples shown from Japan with a walking boulevard sans cars and connect them in a grid that minimizes contact with the existing street grid.

        And the other thing is that our built environment is already built and short of bulldozing it, it’s here for generations to come. Arterials are necessary aspect of this built environment. Northgate way is an important east/west corridor that connects several neighborhoods and sections of the city. It’s not going away in your lifetime and likely the generation that comes after you. It’s efficiency needs to be maintained for *people* to move between their homes and where they need/want to go. You may wish cars to be a thing of the past but a city has a responsibility to all of its citizens to “do no harm”. If a “Party of the Future” took power in the city and acted as you are suggesting in “sabotaging” through-ways on existing infrastructure to hamper the flow of *people* moving is the height of governmental malfeasance.

      7. An arterial is a main street. Greenwood, 45th, and 23rd are arterials. Are you saying they shouldn’t exist or should be expressways? Without arterials, there are no main streets for businesses to locate on.

      8. @Nathanael
        That’s totally silly. In a well-structured city, the transportation network is very hierarchial. There need to be streets/roads of all sizes (generally in numbers inversely proportional to their size); jumping directly from “small street” to “expressway” is crazy.

        Certainly for transporting people, many “arterials” will be rail, but there’s enough stuff going on that doesn’t quite fit the rail mold well enough that you’re going to need more flexible arterials as well, meaning roads.

      9. Nathanael,

        First, what about goods? Every walkable business still needs to receive goods by motorized vehicle (though, blissfully, those shipments will probably be early in the morning when there’s little other traffic).

        Anyway, I think what you’re really objecting to is the way that Seattle tends to structure its zoning, such that storefronts tend to face onto major arterials. It’s easy to imagine the opposite: the blocks facing the major car streets are lined with trees or empty facades, and storefronts are all oriented towards the local streets in between.

        This is kind of what Pike/Pine east of Broadway is like: all the retail activity is on the non-arterial Pike and side streets, and Pine itself has very little pedestrian life. There are other examples in the city of arterials that aren’t main streets (15th W, N/NE 50th) and main streets that aren’t arterials (the Ave).

  17. Does Bed Bath and Beyond count? We’ve had one of those downtown across the street from Zanadu Comics for a while, but BB&B hasn’t been mentioned so far in the comment thread. And what about the Bartell stores? Or Amazon.com and their big delivery trucks? (Oddly, no mention so far of City Hardware, either. Just sayin’.)

    I’m not convinced that anyone has to drive or bus or walk very far from downtown to find “cleaning supplies, patio items”, etc. these days. They may not be able to find the cheapest cleaning supplies or the widest range of patio items to choose from, but the items are almost always available between available downtown. Maybe it’s not that there’s a shortage of useful stores here, but rather an absence of preferred stores.

    The new downtown Seattle Target store will be nice, I’m sure, and quite welcome. But I bet that it won’t be huge, or have the cheapest prices of any store in the Tri-State area.

    (Also, I wonder how Target will handle the parking/loading challenge without losing a lot of money or having a price factor that will discourage the purchase of anything that weighs over 20 pounds.)

      1. Do transit systems encourage the use of multi-purpose carts? Or will they start to actively discourage them?

        I’ve noticed similar carts on Metro buses (and small baby strollers and large baby strollers, and small baby strollers with pets inside them), but I wonder how long it will be before there’s an outcry concerning the the extra time these things can add to the process of folks getting on and getting off the bus.

      2. Depends on the system. London has been very positive toward rolling items of all sorts; New York has been very negative.

        So, if you approve, get in there early to tell Metro you approve of rolling carts on the train and bus. :-)

      3. I love those things! I use mine all the time for shopping and general transport. I would probably use it more if I could get it on the bus without making them use the lift. :(

    1. Yes, there are more places like BB&B opening up. I never went to BB&B for years because I assumed it sold beds and sinks and vanities, which I didn’t need. I finally went there by recommendation of a friend, and was blown away at how much useful stuff it has, including a lot of kitchen goods and small appliances. I did buy a fan there several years ago (but did not realize the other part of the store existed)… it was a Vornado air circulator, $70, more powerful than an average fan, and it has been reliable and quiet ever since — I’ve been very happy with it.

  18. My objections to change aren’t about aesthetics. I’m concerned about labor practices (paying a living wage, providing health insurance, etc) and the business paying a fair share of taxes to support local government. If WalMart opened downtown and gave away stuff I wanted, I still wouldn’t go there. I also try to support businesses that support causes I believe in and avoid spending money in places that donate to groups I find hateful.

    Aesthetics play a role, but are hardly a deciding factor.

      1. I’ll probably end up in the downtown Target at some point. I agree, it’s much better than Walmart.

        To bring the conversation back to transportation/transit: we expect downtown dwellers/workers will shop at the new Target, reducing traffic to the Northgate & West Seattle stores. Where will the new Target employees live? Will the jobs available pay enough for the workers to live near work, or can the employees afford to live in an area well-served by transit? (Transit that runs during all shifts?) Does Target pay for transit passes? Will there be employee parking?

        More generally: what are the incentives/policies that encourage employers to offer transit passes? Are there any employers that provide transit passes to part time workers?

      2. RapidRide A will take them to Aurora; Link will take them to Rainier Valley; and the 522 will take them to Lake City. So they should be able to find affordable housing in one of those places.

      3. There will probably be some cannibalization of customers from the other stores in the medium term but ultimately our region’s population is growing. With the arrival of Link to the Northgate area there will be an increase of development to bring new customers there.

    1. Oops–this is what I get for trying to type a quick comment without proofreading. Should say my objection to “chains” not “change”. I welcome change.

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