Living with change at the Broadway Market

Have you dropped in on the Broadway Market lately? It re-opened last fall, and yellow banners still announce its grand opening.

It's safe to say the Broadway Market feels a little different these days. No longer is it an urban shopping arcade of small, mostly independent stores and kiosks with Fred Meyer as an anchor tenant. Last summer's major renovation turned the lion's share of the main floor into a super-sized QFC. This came at the expense of Fred Meyer, who's former digs the new QFC also occupies. The mega-supermarket, one of the largest in the city, occupies nearly two-thirds of the Broadway Market's retail space.

Reviews of the grocery store have been mixed, though most would agree it looks nice. Walking through the main entrance and past the checkstands a visitor will likely notice, for instance, the bakery, deli, seafood counters, rather than food staples. A Starbucks is close at hand; there's even a sushi bar. Finding a lot of the grocery basics, though, takes a little searching, a little winding through the vast ground floor space. The extensive beer and wine section is located on the second level, which can be a logistical challenge if there's a lot of shopping on your list. (There is an elevator.)

On what was Fred Meyer's lower level a variety of house wares can be found. Ranging from small appliances to a limited selection of furnishings, you can buy a vacuum cleaner there, pillows, small table lamps and basic plumbing supplies.

It isn't a variety store, but it's not your standard issue grocery store, either. Then again, when the Safeway one block north closed shortly after the QFC reopened, anyone who shopped at the north Broadway grocery stores was left with the mammoth QFC as their only option.

Change had been coming to the Broadway Market for several years prior to last summer's massive remodel. It's been roughly three years since the Broadway Market Theater closed and was replaced by Gold's Gym. And when The Gap pulled out nearly two years ago, a corporate decision that evidently was not related to the store's performance, the increasing number of vacancies, especially among the ground level kiosks that provided so much of the arcade's ambiance, could be seen as the writing on the proverbial wall.

Many tenants complained that the arcade was or felt less safe; many of the same tenants felt that safety and related issues were keeping prospective customers away. Regardless, the Broadway Market began to develop an empty, even ghostly feeling.

Not surprisingly, there are fewer tenants since the remodeling took place. Prior to turning most of the arcade's space over to the QFC, there were well over 30 retail tenants. Several prominent businesses like the Gravity Bar, Magical Garden, Rockin' Betty's and several kiosk food counters are not part of the new configuration. For the 20 tenants that remain, most sound positive or are at least trying to make the best of their situation.

At Urban Outfitters, the two-story clothing, accessories and household boutique at the Broadway Market's south end, manager Melissa Wdnowdiak said that the buildings transition from a shopping arcade to large grocery store probably had little effect on her store. But a large expansion/renovation of the store is taking place and won't be finished for several months. The jury is still out.

"It didn't bother us that badly," she said, speaking over the noise of elevator construction. "Our customers are usually local and they knew how to find us. It was hard with all the work that has been going on."

The north end of the Broadway Market probably experienced the least change. The florist and Broadway Video, for instance, retained their space. Just inside the north entrance Antonio Patton of Broadway Wireless has been selling cell phones and related accessories at the Broadway Market more four-and-a-half years.

Patton was enthusiastic about the changeover last summer. While he admits that business has been slower than he would like - and retail life during construction was a challenge - he said he remains optimistic.

"I think a lot of us are still waiting for everyone to come back," he said. "But as we get into summer I think things will get better."

He thought the change was necessary and hasn't changed his opinion. He spoke of how lifeless the Broadway Market had become, with many empty storefronts and most of the kiosks unoccupied.

"It's better now. It's safer and it's cleaner. There are fewer street people hanging out and fewer problems," he said. "Something had to be done. This place was dying before. At times the homeless seemed to outnumber shoppers.."

But the Broadway Market's new character does mean less foot traffic for businesses, like his, that depend on it.

"Not as many people just walk by anymore. People come here to shop at QFC, then they leave. It's not just a hangout place," he said.

On the Broadway Market's second floor several retail spaces remain unoccupied. It's much quieter than the floor below, even though the you can look and listen to grocery store activity on the first floor.

Torero's Mexican restaurant has seen better days. Avaceli Rico, who worked at the restaurant before the conversion, said walk-in business has really gone down.

"It's been really tough. People who come to the grocery store buy food and leave. It was better when Fred Meyer was still here," she said. "I think people liked it better then."

Being part of a chain has allowed the restaurant to ride out the slow times, she said. She pointed to mostly empty tables. "There was more variety in the building before. It was a better place," she said. "But some of our regular customers are starting to return."

Gold's Gym, the building's largest tenant after QFC, might have weathered the transition a little better just by the nature of its business. One employee thought walk-in memberships had gone down since the re-opening. Another thought business had actually improved. But the gym was fairly well established when the work began last summer.

Manager Clovis Batiot said he wasn't working at the gym when the transition was made. He said members usually tell him what's on their minds. Some have mentioned that better access to the second floor would be desirable - there's one way up, by stairs or elevator, if a person wishes to avoid walking though QFC or Urban Outfitters.

"It don't think it's changed that much for us," he said. "I haven't heard a lot of negative comments. We are very happy to be located here."

Back on the main floor, QFC is moderately crowded in the middle of a Monday afternoon.

Janet Kohler, walking out of QFC with a few items, said she misses the old Broadway Market because she enjoyed occasionally just walking through. She lives nearby, though, and QFC is close to her apartment. Shopping there now is a matter of convenience and necessity.

"It's not as much fun as it was. Now it's just a place to get groceries," she said.

Doug Schwartz is the editor of the Capitol Hill Times. He can be reached at or 461-1308.

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