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Eddie Bauer Closure Poses Issues for Downtown Future

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Tuesday January 06, 2004

Though a week has passed since corporate executives announced the upcoming closing of the downtown Berkeley Eddie Bauer store, the reasons for the move still aren’t clear—at least to the public. 

One thing is certain: The high-end clothing retailer’s corporate parent is mired in financial difficulties. 

And whatever the reasons, the Shattuck and Allston Way storefront will soon be vacant, joining the ranks of other empty storefronts along one of Berkeley’s main commercial arteries. 

While a downtown merchant representative is confident that will be filled, the city economic development head says there’s no guarantee of with what, and a local real estate broker is equally unsure as to when. 

Shortly following the end of the holiday buying season, the national office of Eddie Bauer retail clothiers announced the closing of 29 stores as part its reorganization effort following the filing of Chapter 11 bankruptcy by its parent company, Chicago-based Spiegel Group. All of the targeted stores, including the Berkeley location, are not expected to remain open past mid-March. 

Bauer has only been in operation for five years at its downtown location, which was owned for many years by the Havens Trust. The store’s opening caused considerable controversy at that time, particularly from groups and agencies such as the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association and the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, because it was preceded by the near-demolition of the 1890-era building, which for many years housed the popular Edy’s Restaurant. 

Lisa Erickson, a national spokesperson for Eddie Bauer Stores, said the closure is “part of the company strategy to reshape our portfolio and to place stores in the right locations.” 

Although she said that the majority of Bauer stores were located in malls and that the average square footage of the targeted stores were somewhat larger than the average Bauer store (at approximately 7,000 square feet, the Berkeley store is slightly larger than average), Erickson refused to speculate as to whether these factors contributed to the decisions to close the particular stores. “As far as why that store was closed and not another, I don’t have that information,” she said. 

While Executive Director Deborah Badhia of the Downtown Business Association (DBA) said that her organization was “very sorry to lose Eddie Bauer as a retailer,” she doesn’t foresee a lot of trouble finding a suitable replacement. 

Shattuck and Allston Way is “a prime retail corner,” she explained. “The City of Berkeley has between 10,000 and 15,000 people in the downtown area each day, and UC Berkeley has a daytime population of 45,000 in close proximity to the area. The Berkeley BART station [a block away] releases 10,000 people a day. It’s the second busiest in the East Bay. And the bus drops off 7,000 people a day within a block of that corner. I can’t imagine there won’t be somebody locating there.” 

Thomas Meyers, Berkeley’s Acting Manager of Economic Development, said that while both his office and the merchants association would be working with the property owner to find a “suitable replacement,” it would be entirely up to the owners as to what they might find suitable.  

“From what I’m hearing from both the community and from the business association, Berkeley is in need of more clothing store outlets, and we would like to see if we could work with the property owner to try and get another clothing store in there,” Myers said. 

“But that part of downtown Berkeley is zoned for general retail, and so the owners not limited in that respect. The property owners are going to evaluate the best option for them, which in all cases is not necessarily the best option for the city or for the commercial district. We think it will be easier to do a transition from Eddie Bauer to some other clothing store because of the improvements already made in the building [when the Bauer store was originally opened]. But the property owner has a mortgage payment to make. They’ve got to make enough money. So it’s a tricky balance.” 

John Gordon, owner and broker of Berkeley’s Gordon Commercial Real Estate Services which represented the property owners when the Bauer store came in five years ago, called downtown Berkeley “a strong market,” but that may not translate into a quick turnaround for a new tenant. 

“I think the revitalization of downtown Berkeley is what attracted Eddie Bauer to downtown in the first place,” Gordon said. “And if you look at where downtown is now versus where it was seven years ago when we started on that transaction, its so much better off.” He added however, that he didn’t “know how long it will take. You just have to find the right tenant and the right mix for this location. There are potential tenants looking at downtown. But these things take time.”  

Gordon says that while he has had conversations with the property owner, he does not yet know if he will have a hand in bringing in the new tenant. 

Gordon did have good news for another empty downtown retail location, saying that a new retail outlet will soon be announced for the recently-vacated Huston’s Shoe Store on Shattuck Avenue and Kittredge Street. Gordon said that a lease has already been signed for the property.