Great Expectations

Downtown Tacoma has seen an influx of new restaurant and retail stores in the past year.

Great Expectations

Abe Fox's Wooden city restaurant and bar, located in downtown Tacoma, has been packed every night since its opening in 2018. Fox chose Tacoma for his first restaurant due to its lower rent rates and more affordable housing. However, he quickly realized that there was a demand for restaurants and retailers in the eclectic core of the city.

He says that Downtown Tacoma is a great place for business. There are some vacant spaces in downtown Tacoma that will be filled soon.

Fox's guess is backed up by data tracked by Downtown Tacoma Partnership.

David Schroedel is the executive director at DTP. He says that the downtown core has added eight new retail stores and restaurants since the start of the year. This represents a 5% increase. He says that there is a vacancy of 2% for restaurants, while the vacancy rates of non-restaurants are around 15%.

Schroedel states that the interest in downtown started to pick up in 2019. Then, everything was put on hold due to the pandemic. This hold was lifted in the last six month.

Downtown Tacoma has a lot of work to do to meet the needs of the new residents who are expected to fill the streets.

Tacoma has added more than 7,400 apartments since 2019. Thousands more are in the pipeline. Tacoma expects to see a population increase of 5,000 per year until 2040.

J.D. says it's either a chicken or an egg situation. Elquist has been a DTP retail advocate since 2019.

He says that if more people moved in, there would be more businesses. If the area had more retail shops and amenities, then people would want to move here.

Tacoma retail sector recovers?

Paul Del Vecchio is the president of Ethos Development in Portland. He believes that downtown Tacoma has a bright future. However, he wants to see more retail and restaurant businesses located closer to downtown's south end. His company has recently completed the 115-unit Analog apartment building at 411 S. 15th St., and is currently developing The Moraine at 1402 Tacoma Ave.

He says that 'amenities near new apartment buildings are lacking'. There are not enough stores in the vicinity of the apartment buildings. Also, there are no extended hours. The retail and dining hours are more geared towards students and conventions than tenants. Tacoma should become an 18-hour city.

Schroedel points to the fact that Sound Transit Link will provide downtown residents with two grocery stores: one in the Stadium District, and the other Hilltop.

But that said, some people might not want to bring their groceries with them on the Link. He says, 'We would love to see some sort of urban market in the downtown core.

Fox, who owns Wooden City at 714 Pacific Ave. in downtown Tacoma, believes there's room for one or two large restaurant groups to open up in the larger spaces. He said that this would create a critical mass, and encourage other retail and restaurant owners to open.

Elquist assists businesses in finding storefronts and restaurants within the downtown core. The DTP is a group of local property owners, stakeholders and businessmen who are funded by a tax assessment for the improvement of businesses.

Elquist explains that the goal is to not only attract new businesses, but also to educate newcomers on what's already available in the area.

He says, 'This has been the busiest time in terms of recruitment.

What is the attraction of downtown Tacoma to retailers?

Fox's main selling point is Tacoma’s culture and vibe. Fox opened a second location in Seattle’s Green Lake area earlier this month. He also opened a new restaurant in Chattanooga Tennessee. Tacoma is still his first love.

He says that there is a sense of community here, which is missing in Seattle. The city's sense of culture and community is one of its strongest attractions.

Katie Trent, CEO at Bellevue's Gene Juarez, said that downtown Tacoma has a good business climate and a culture, but it also attracts the kind of foot traffic retail service providers are looking for.

Gene Juarez Salons & Spas has focused its growth on high-density neighborhoods to try and match the new shopping habits of clients.

She says, "We decided to move from the Tacoma Mall to the new space in Theater District." Our decision was made based on the changing habits of our customers, and what we learned from brokers regarding the number of retail leases signed recently by restaurants and boutiques in downtown. Tacoma has a new and exciting mix of businesses, which we would like to be part of.

Tacoma's eclectic culture is one of the reasons it is called the Gritty City. Elquist believes that The Method: Skateboards & Coffee Shop is a true testimony to the essence and character of the city.

He says that Downtown has a very strong skateboarder culture. Tacoma is among the few cities to have legalized skateboarding downtown. What could be more Tacoma that a shop that sells coffee and skateboards'

Skaters can practice in front of the shop. It shares an alley with MultiCare's office building.

Elquist said, 'This shop is part of a culture that's really important to Tacoma'. You can feel connected to your community when you visit stores like this.

Court House Square, located at 1102 A St., is another Tacoma type space. It includes a post-office, event spaces, several restaurants, offices, and The Pioneer Collective, which is a Seattle-based coworking space. Jin Jin Matcha is a brand new teahouse located in the Washington Building, 1019 Pacific Ave. Tacoma has a growing reputation.

Mandy McGill is the manager of Abbott Construction's business development and a member of several task forces in downtown Tacoma. She says that downtown Tacoma needs to offer more affordable housing options, both for residents of downtown Tacoma as well as for students at University of Washington Tacoma.

She says that 'what the new students and residents need can be done'. It's all about having the right perspective. It's only a question of time until these businesses fill the demand.