SEATTLE — Northgate has been Brenda Keller’s go-to shopping mall for decades.
But with most of the North Seattle mall now closed, the Seattle resident plans to head north and do her holiday shopping at Alderwood mall in Lynnwood.
Northgate, a shadow of its former retail self, has been partitioned into two small sections on the north and south ends.
The covered mall is undergoing a massive makeover that has closed the main concourse and emptied its gallery of stores.
Old Navy, Bed Bath & Beyond and Nordstrom Rack are among a handful of retailers and food concessions that remain open.
“This was my go-to place,” said Keller, seated in the vast but mostly empty food court at the south end of the mall. Keller was having lunch with Trina McCarrell of Shoreline.
Both had been talking about making the trek to Alderwood to check out the department stores.
“We lost JCPenney, Macy’s, Nordstrom,” said McCarrell, naming some of Northgate’s retail anchors, all of which were open last year at this time.
The department-store trio and a score of other retailers closed their Northgate locations this year.
“The emptying of Northgate Mall happened really quick,” said David Kleitsch, the city of Lynnwood’s economic development director. So sudden, he said, that Lynnwood officials didn’t have time to quantify the potential impact.
“Our expectation is that that economic activity will come up here,” Kleitsch said. “We’re the last regional mall north of Seattle. Our expectation is that we will get that Seattle-North Seattle mall trade.”
The 70-year-old Northgate Mall isn’t being entirely bulldozed under — parts of it will be retained and other parts will be demolished to make room for new buildings and outdoor spaces, Simon Properties, the mall’s owner, said in a news release.
A massive makeover is under way to transform Northgate, the “country’s first regional mall,” into a mixed-use center and position the property to take advantage of the neighboring new Sound Transit light rail station, scheduled to open in 2021.
When the Northgate project is completed in 2021, the new Northgate center will glisten with offices, residential and retail space, outdoor space and ice rinks, at the center of a National Hockey League training facility, according to developers’ plans.
Simon says that the new Northgate will be economically viable and less reliant on brick-and-mortar retail, which have been under siege from e-commerce and changing consumer tastes.
For North Seattle-area residents Keller and McCarrell, the commute to Lynnwood is do-able.
“I don’t mind driving to Alderwood at all,” said Keller, who prefers shopping in a store to buying online.
Traffic-wise, the alternatives aren’t as appealing.
Westfield Southcenter i n Tukwila? Too far south, said McCarrell.
Downtown Seattle? “I’m not going anywhere near there,” Keller said.
Early next year, downtown Seattle will lose its Macy’s, which has been a department store under one banner or another for 90 years.
The closure further winnows Macy’s Puget Sound locations to Tacoma, Southcenter, Bellevue Square and Lynnwood.
In a recent Washington State University survey of Pacific Northwest residents, 46%, said they don’t want to spend more than 30 minutes commuting to a shopping destination.
“Alderwood is probably about 10 miles north of Northgate,” said Joan Giese, a WSU marketing professor who evaluated the survey.
“Depending on the time of day and traffic, that certainly is within 30 minutes or less for north Seattle shoppers who want that one-stop shopping experience,” Giese said.
Alderwood’s appeal may extend farther south to some of Seattle’s more central neighborhoods, including Ballard.
Tara Hoch, who lives in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, stopped by Northgate to pay her cable bill and took note of the limited number of stores.
“Things are changing here.” Hoch said. “It’s likely I’ll do my shopping this year at Alderwood.”
Jerry Irwin, Alderwood’s senior general manager, said the shopping center has begun “seeing even more people from the Seattle area.”
From north and south
Alderwood, which opened as Alderwood Mall in 1979, houses some of the same retailers that once populated Northgate: JCPenney, Macy’s, Nordstrom, Eddie Bauer, Loft, Forever 21 — the list goes on.
In the mid-1990s, a $12 million upgrade added a food court and other features to the mall. Another renovation in the early 2000s created two open-air areas known as The Village and The Terraces.
“Alderwood has long been a significant destination for people outside (Snohomish) county, Lynnwood city center program manager Karl Almgrensaid.
“It already has regional pull from the north. We get lots of shoppers from Canada. Now it’s pulling from the south,” Almgren said. “It’s poised to play an even greater role” regionally.
A Lynnwood light rail station, near 204th Street Southwest and I-5, is expected to begin operating in 2024. Trains are scheduled to arrive every four to six minutes during peak times and will move riders from Lynnwood to downtown Seattle in 28 minutes. That fits neatly within that 30-minute shopping-commute limit.
The Lynnwood Sound Transit station will be connected to Alderwood by bus and the Interurban Trail.
Later, a light rail stop near Alderwood is planned.
The Alderwood mall area, which includes Alderwood and smaller shopping centers, is already a significant economic generator, Kleitsch said.
The addition of light rail and proposed mixed-use developments within walking distance of the station, including nearly 1,400 new housing units, is expected to turbocharge Lynnwood’s retail scene.
“We will see that whole area around the mall become an even stronger economic engine,” Kleitsch said.
Lynnwood’s business community, which includes the Alderwood mall area and the Highway 99 corridor, generated $3 billion worth of taxable sales in 2018, up 3.8% from 2017.
Former Northgate shoppers could add significantly to the annual total, though that remains to be seen.
“When it gets close to the holidays, we’ll head up to Alderwood,” said Kathy Serrato, seated with her husband, John, at a table in Northgate’s food court.
“There’s a candy store there I like there, and a Mariners Team Store,” she said.
Still, said Serrato wistfully, “it’s hard to imagine Northgate gone.”
More than a collection of stores, Northgate figures prominently in her memories of growing up in Seattle.
“I remember my mom bringing me here.”
Janice Podsada; firstname.lastname@example.org; 425-339-3097; Twitter: JanicePods