In 2015, the top four floors of the historic eight-story building at 300 Pine Street was sold by Macy's to an investment firm in Greenwich, Connecticut, for a cool $65 million. Not long after the deal was settled, the firm began transforming the retail spaces into office spaces. This June, it was reported by Puget Sound Business Journal that two more floors were sold to the investment firm, and the once magnificent department store had to squeeze its wares into the remaining two floors and the basement. Then on Monday, October 16, it was confirmed that Amazon was moving into the office spaces.
Yes, Amazon will be on top of a company whose downfall its success initiated, a company that's closing "approximately 100 stores in the next few years," a company that anchored many malls across the country. And malls, of course, are the center of the service economy that replaced the industrial economy of the Golden Age of Capitalism (1947 to 1973). All you need to do is walk into the Macy's building to see the world-historic transition from one form of capitalism to another—post-service capitalism—in action. There are not many places in America where the drama of such a convergence (architecture and economics) can be seen, felt, and heard directly.
I visited Macy's to buy some pants for winter and to suss out what remains of the mall-era retail giant.
But before entering the building, I had a quick drink at Oliver’s Lounge, a bar that's across the street from Macy's and has some of the best windows in Seattle. "It's been loud," said the bartender as he poured white wine. "I'm always getting startled by the crash of drywall or something on the street. They are tearing the insides of the building apart." From the window, I could see a crane rising above the building. When construction is completed, there will be a rooftop deck for the employees of the e-commerce corporation that made Jeff Bezos the second-richest man in the United States.
Once done with the wine, I entered Macy's. Hammering and drilling and all manner of things being ripped apart could be heard overhead and all around. I walked into the basement, the men's section, which now shares space with women's clothes. I selected two pairs of pants (deep purple, deep blue) and had a little chat with the person ringing up my things.
They began working at Macy's 30 or so years ago, when it had eight floors and was called Bon Marché. My, how things have changed, and in such a short time. They are down to three floors. They had five only a few weeks ago. And yes, it's weird that Amazon is moving into the top floors. It's more than symbolic. It's real.
As they put my new pants into a bag, I asked: "Will the holiday star still be on Macy's?" The lighting of this star has, in the past two holiday seasons, attracted Black Lives Matter protesters, who, according to the tone and manner of area news anchors, ruined healthy American fun for many white families. (Maybe these shoppers will just stay home this year and order things from Amazon.) "My god," the veteran Macy's employee said, "how dare you put that idea in my head. I never thought of it." But after a moment's thought, the salesperson realized the idea should not have surprised them at all. Nothing should surprise anyone who works in this dying business or for this dying company. "An Amazon Christmas star," they said, "that will really be the end."