It was roughly 10 years ago that VMSD’s International Retail Design Conference (IRDC) first convened in Seattle for its usual three days of inspiring conversation, networking and retail talks. And since then, let’s just say a lot has changed in the thriving “Emerald City.” Office towers and luxury high-rise apartments have sprung up at a rapid clip to accommodate the influx of new residents (a.k.a. Amazon employees), restaurants and retail concepts open on the regular, and major redevelopment projects along the waterfront are in the works.
This October 2-4, experience all that change firsthand as the 18th annual IRDC once again gathers in the tech-heavy, coffee-fueled, nature-filled wonderland that is Seattle.
“There is so much opportunity [in Seattle], and the quality of life is high,” says Ali Brownrigg, owner of Swan Dive, a vintage boutique beneath women’s shop Clementines in Seattle’s historic Pioneer Square neighborhood. “People care about supporting local food producers, designers and artists. And it’s as gorgeous on a sunny day in August as it is on a gray day in March.”
One particular place that embodies this spirit for all things local (and has views for days from its new MarketFront expansion) is Pike Place Market, the famous year-round public market – just a short walk from IRDC’s host hotel Motif Seattle – filled with produce vendors, fishmongers, craft shops, antique stores, restaurants and bakeries. More than 10 million visitors fill its levels annually so it tends to get crowded, but congestion eases up in the fall and winter months (when locals prefer to visit). Skip the flying fish and instead sit down for a bowl of plump Penn Cove mussels at French restaurant Maximilien within the market, or traverse the tucked-away Pike Place Hillclimb staircase (west of the market) to the longstanding Zig Zag Cafe for a cocktail in its dark surrounds. As for nearby retail, walk along First Avenue toward Belltown where you’ll encounter the likes of Design Within Reach, Free People, Patagonia, and high-end local boutiques Baby & Co. and Jack Straw.
BUT FIRST, COFFEE
Seattle is home to plenty of high-profile retailers and tech companies, including Nordstrom, Microsoft, Amazon, Tommy Bahama, Expedia, Sur La Table and, of course, Starbucks. As such, you’ll find the coffee chain’s second-ever location, opened in 1971, within Pike Place Market, usually brimming with throngs of Instagramming tourists. For a less chaotic, but way more inspiring, and still Instagrammable scene, pay a visit to the theatrical, 15,000-square-foot Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room on Capitol Hill (one of the stops on our self-guided Capitol Hill Inspiration Tour, and also featured in VMSD’s April 2015 issue), where coffee education, dining and retail is paired with coffee beans whizzing through transparent tubes overhead.
While on Capitol Hill, Brownrigg recommends a jaunt to the expertly curated clothing and accessories shop Totokaelo and a stop “for everything” at Quinn’s Pub. You’ll also want to explore Chophouse Row, a cool mix of retail and restaurants within one of the area’s old auto row buildings, or pick up a tome at the decades-old Elliott Bay Book Company (also on the Cap Hill tour).
“Seattle is rapidly becoming an urban center,” says Dawn Clark, Senior VP of Store Design, Architecture and Construction at Nordstrom. “While there are still many great residential neighborhoods like Queen Anne, Ballard and Capitol Hill, the city is more diverse, developing transit, transforming its connection to the waterfront and developing urban housing near the downtown center.”
BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY
The city’s downtown shopping and restaurant scene is booming. Upscale shopping center Pacific Place, home to Barneys New York, Kate Spade and a skybridge connecting it to the remodeled Nordstrom flagship, is currently undergoing a massive renovation, including a new grand entrance facing South Lake Union and common area updates. The first phase is expected to be completed this fall.
The nearby Westlake Center is also sprucing up its look and feel, opening a second-floor food hall and adding new retailers to its current mix, which includes the likes of Zara and Saks Off Fifth. For your fill of local retail in the area, there’s Moorea Seal’s new flagship; a light-filled clothing and home goods haven along First Avenue, Watson Kennedy Fine Home; the gorgeous women’s and children’s boutique Flora and Henri and menswear shop Division Road. As for eats and drinks downtown, grab a seat at the classic Loulay Kitchen & Bar or the recently opened Italian spot Cortina from local star chef Ethan Stowell.
Despite all of the changes, there are still those constants that make Seattle such a special place for locals and visitors alike. “[It’s] the people, the geography, the dramatic shifts in light levels, the music, the food, so many festivals and events,” says MJ Munsell, Principal and Retail Design Lead at Seattle-based architecture and retail design firm MG2.