Memo: The Iconic Baby & Co Is Closing Its Downtown Store After 44 Years

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Editor’s Note: The following is a version of the message Baby and Company sent recently to its customers, detailing its role in Seattle fashion, the First Ave. retail block it anchored, and its reasons for moving away from downtown Seattle.

We bring you bittersweet news. After 44 years as the anchor tenant of the Terminal Sales Building and a fashion institution at the intersection of 1st and Virginia, downtown Seattle, we are formally announcing that at the end of September, we will be vacating our corner to re-discover a new version of Baby & Company. What had once represented the beginning of a budding revolution of Seattle’s’ creative and cultural identity has run its inevitable course. We had to face the sad fact that the era of Seattle’s cutting-edge past has played itself out. The time has come to unhitch our wagon from what was and re-imagine our future.

 The founders, Baby and Uri Burstyn, had the foresight and guts to see the potential of the gritty, rundown neighborhood that housed their beautiful storefront idea. They loved the authentic spirit, the neighboring Pike Place Market and the Puget Sound backdrop as a perfect location to set up shop. In 1976, Baby & Company was born.

 Within two years, more young entrepreneurs followed their lead and opened small local businesses on the handsome block. Within five years, the area became what we felt was the most energetic and hippest neighborhood in the downtown Seattle area. For locals like the author, and for colleagues Rita Sheckler and Wayne Donnelly, we lived out a memorable part of our youth in this neighborhood, which was enlivened by some of the best-known businesses in downtown retail:

 Raison d’être
Peter Miller Books
Labuznik
The Virginia Inn
Zebra Club
The Oxford
Fast Forward
Seattle Weekly
Sasquatch Books
Sub Pop Records
Ruby Montana
Coupe Rokei
Le Pichet
The Vogue
The Pink Door
Isadora’s
Bazar du Bear
Nido
Kells

Then we had to come to terms with the fact that the once-thriving and dynamic neighborhood stopped feeling safe. City officials and landlords gave up trying to reclaim Seattle’s original luster. They failed to understand what small businesses were experiencing. We’ve endured more than six years dealing with the continuous construction disruption dominating the inner city, closed streets, traffic overload, the removal of a major highway, the building of a major tunnel, rebuilding the waterfront, a homelessness epidemic, an addiction epidemic, a mental health epidemic, a drug-dealing epidemic, a theft epidemic.

All of these disruptions were exacerbated by witnessing the struggle and suffering of so many of our citizens living on our streets right outside our doorstep. For years we were determined to lean in and help fix the broken. We joined neighborhood action groups, attended countless forums and events, went to city council meetings, joined and raised money for non-profits and community action groups who were seeking solutions for these insurmountable problems.

But the problems just got worse. We felt helpless and worn down. We kept pursuing new ways to keep our corner vibrant, exciting, and innovative. We engaged in Pop-ups to get to the people who could no longer get to us. We designed eye-catching window displays and in-store staging to keep passersby and shoppers surprised. We collaborated with artists, small businesses, the cultural community, and our favorite designers to keep innovating for our community. We always found a reason to throw a party and celebrate beauty, art, and fashion. It was a perfect distraction from what was happening all around us. But at the end of the day, the inevitable was waiting for us.

And then, the Coronavirus hit. For the first time in many years, Wayne and I were forced to stop. After years of working long hours, we finally had the time and space to recharge, re-evaluate, re-set, re-connect, and re-imagine how we wanted to live our next chapter. And then things got worse. At the end of May, the social and civil unrest after George Floyd’s death brought to light a system of inequality and apathy we had watched get worse and worse with no resolve. Small businesses across the country, particularly in big cities like Seattle, would become casualties of an economic and social disaster playing out nationwide.

Our surrender was inevitable. We were on our own to salvage whatever pieces of our business we could hold together. You see, the neighborhood had not made Baby & Company, Baby & Company had made the neighborhood. Baby & Company was more than a location; she was her own personality, a concept of innovation and ideas around fashion, lifestyle, art, and culture.

So next comes a temporary relocation to a place that has been part of my life since high school and where we have set up seasonal Pop Up shops for the last seven years. We will reopen a much smaller version of ourselves in the gorgeous Wood River Valley of Sun Valley, Idaho. We will use the spectacular natural beauty that cradles this small community to lick our wounds and heal our broken hearts for what has happened to our beloved city of Seattle, and to re-connect to the original ideals that brought Baby to life in 1976.

Don’t Worry, Baby; we will come back to Seattle to host seasonal Pop-ups and keep our loyal tribe engaged and connected.  We firmly believe the word “company” is at the heart and soul of the brand. If you are reading this, it means we’ve asked you to keep Company with us.

1 COMMENT

  1. I remember when Peter Miller convinced me to move Seattle Weekly from Pioneer Square to the “higher ground” of the Terminal Sales Building. Ever grateful that we did, though Joe Diamond was not my idea of an ideal landlord. As Jill writes, it is a magical block, bursting with creative energy, and anchored by the hangout, The Virginia Inn, and Peter Miller Books (the architects’ hangout). Jill is right that the city does not understand how to cherish and nourish such microclimates, and the landlords have to answer to outside owners who care even less. One interesting footnote: one of the key owners of property in this block is the former city attorney and near-miss mayoral candidate, Mark Sidran. Small world! Small street!

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