Santa was kind to good boys and girls in 2005, but he was especially good to landlords. Retailers in the Seattle and Bellevue area gobbled...

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Santa was kind to good boys and girls in 2005, but he was especially good to landlords.

Retailers in the Seattle and Bellevue area gobbled up store space at the fastest pace since the 1990s, responding to a strong regional economy and reports the Puget Sound area didn’t have as much retail space as other areas in the country.

Year-end statistics from commercial real-estate brokerage CB Richard Ellis make it clear that despite the good year for online retailers like, brick-and-mortar retail is thriving as well.

Prime storefront space in downtown Seattle and Bellevue is nearly 100 percent occupied, virtually every shopping mall has expanded or is about to, and nearly a dozen suburban and semi-rural towns are building new retail districts as part of mixed-use projects.

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Krista Haverly, a vice president for retail leasing at the brokerage firm, said some of the more interesting growth has been in the outdoor suburban town centers, which are beginning to attract clothing retailers that once kept only to large enclosed malls.

Big-box discounters are here to stay, but smaller storefronts convenient to the suburbs are where much of the growth is now.

“I think what is happening is our time is constricted, so maybe it’s easier for some people to shop closer to home and maybe pay a little bit of a premium for convenience,” Haverly said.

Underscoring the regional economy’s strength, there was no sector of the commercial real-estate market that didn’t thrive in 2005:

• Warehouses in South King and Pierce counties have expanded at a breakneck pace due to huge increases in Asian imports entering the ports of Seattle and Tacoma.

• Multifamily building sales will hit an all-time record this year. Investors worldwide have poured billions of dollars into Seattle-area apartments and condos, banking on rent increases as the area grows.

• Demand for office space is so healthy that five developers are preparing to build office-high-rises in downtown Bellevue, where the office vacancy rate is in single digits.

Office developers in Seattle, too, are getting ready to build as soon as they can ink deals with some major clients looking for space.

Undergirding this is a local economy churning out jobs at a rate of 30,000 a year. The record sales year Boeing is about to complete will only help.

“With this big backlog [of orders], just assembling these things, taking fuselages and putting wings on them, they’re going to have to hire a lot of people,” said John Hallgrimson, a senior vice president at CB Richard Ellis who specializes in multifamily sales.

Those new workers will need apartments first, then places for Santa to shop for next Christmas.

Tom Boyer: 206-464-2923 or