An extant asset
10 February 2024
The uniquely named city of Federal Way, one of Seattle’s suburban neighbors to the south, is located smack dab in between the major city to the north and Tacoma to the south. And in that town, located directly beneath the northbound final approach to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport's runways, I first noticed our next venue on an evening arrival into the Emerald City in the early 2000s.
The Commons at Federal Way Mallmanac, ca. 2013. View the full PDF version here.
It was nothing special from my vantage point a few thousand feet up, just a simple linear vessel of shops, but a mall nonetheless. However, with my not normally straying to that end of the metro, it would be another decade before I'd finally see the old place up close.
1 & 2- Another of Sears plain, brick boxes from the seventies. Though unremarkable to many, I do love the simple styling over the stucco and faux crowning used today. 3- The backside of the mall between Sears and Macys. 4 & 5- I loved the wooden styled entrances at Macy's. They were definitely my favorite feature of The Commons at Federal Way. 6- The Century Theaters next to Macy’s.
It seemed to take forever to arrive at the mall's oversized porticos on that sunny day in the fall of 2013. I had to use the services of three buses and a train to get all the way from Snohomish County down to The Commons. And what I found was your average, run of the mill, seventies built and early new millennium re-imagined mid-size regional.
One of The Commons at Federal Way's three main courts. At Christmas. Ho, ho, ho.
One of only a handful of malls in the area without a Nordstrom, it offered center of the road fare with anchors like Target, Sears and Macy's. The selection of shops lining the wide interior were of the similar vein, with mall standards like American Eagle, Payless and Lane Bryant in the mix. The interior offered several stunning shades of white, but without the wood accents ubiquitous to other malls in the area.
1- The final anchor layout as Seatac Mall in the early 2000s. 2- The Commons, from almost the same angle where I first saw it. (Source)
I entered through the Target located at the eastern terminus of the complex. When it was time to enter the main concourse, boy, was I in for a treat. There were no bright lights, ficus trees or uncomfortable wooden and tile benches to greet me. No, it seemed that area was in a state of destruction. That entire end was being extensively torn apart, so I was greeted by a plywood tunnel over a concrete walkway, all there protect me from the progress surrounding me. The Commons at Federal Way was in the midst of a retraction of their footprint, shedding the dead square footage, as many malls are apt to do these days. Right-sizing seems to be the best strategy for survival for a lot of these mid-range facilities.
-UPDATE- The Commons at Federal Way Mallmanac, ca. 2015. View the full PDF version here.
One of the things that I remember most about the Commons, and in not so much of a complimentary way, was the food court. Or, perhaps, a more proper description would be the food closet. Just past the tunnel of timber and across the spacious Century Theaters in a forgotten nook seemed to be the hastily designed and gathered collection of grub counters. The ceilings were low, the ambiance was lacking and the lighting was sparse. Few names were recognizable and its absence of patrons revealed to me that my thoughts on the atmosphere were pretty well universal. In testament to this lack of fare, I ended up getting a sampling of the dry as stone baked chicken fingers at the Target lunch counter. Mmm.
-UPDATE- The main entrance leading to the western court in 2024. You can just barely see the Macy’s labelscar on the top portion.
The Commons at Federal Way opened in 1975 as the Seatac Mall, which is a strange moniker when you realize that there is an actual city of Seatac located a few miles to the north. It would be kind of like naming The Bellevue Center (in downtown Bellevue) Issaquah Place or something. It is the only enclosed traditional shopping mall between Tacoma and Tukwila and serves most all of the south King County trade area.
-UPDATE- The Commons at Federal Way’s one-of-a-kind food court in 2024.
Seatac Mall opened with four anchors. People’s and Elvins opened with the rest of the mall while Sears and Seattle based Lamont's came shortly after. Through the years, People’s and Elvins departed, Mervyn's moved in before being replaced by Target, Lamont's switched to Gottschalk's before the Century Theaters took their place and Macy's took over The Bon Marché. Sears is the only original anchor remaining with Kohl's and Dick's Sporting Goods only very recently added.
-UPDATE- The Commons at Federal Way Mallmanac, ca. 2016. View the full PDF version here.
The Commons, which adopted its present, more proper name in the early 2000s, anchors what the suburban hamlet describes as their downtown. And the mall seems to be doing well enough. Although there have been many changes over the course of its life, including once being the home of the original Cinnabon (which today makes numerous airports smell so much tastier,) it still seems to attract an adequate clientele. Though not flashy or over-the-top, it's still packing them in even after four decades. Which is much more than a lot of newer shopping malls can boast.
-10 February 2024
1 & 2- The front exterior of The Commons at Federal Way. 3- This Dick’s entrance actually leads to a mall corridor connected to the store. 4- The former Sears store, now Burlington and Amazon Fresh. 5- This is also a mall entrance labeled as the anchor immediately behind it. 6- The Target store.
It had been years since I had made the trip to King County’s southernmost traditional mall but decided to make the venture in 2024. In the meantime, many changes came to The Commons at Federal Way in the intervening decade.
1- Just inside the Dicks mall entrance. 2- The former Sears mall entrance. Behind the wall is the Burlington store. I’m not sure why they didn’t want a mall entrance. 3 & 4- Scenes of the western most concourse. 5- The former Macy’s entrance. The store is now home to some local outfit Save by the Day. 6- The western court.
Sears, just as has been happening with malls all across the country, closed their location at the western end of the complex in 2018. The last remaining original anchor, the space sat empty for several years and through the pandemic until 2022 when it was renovated into a space for Burlington Coat Factory and Amazon Fresh. The auto service center was also converted to a row of exterior-only accessible small shops. This addition looks modern and inviting; the developers did a really good job with this portion.
1- The central corridor. 2- Looking back to the former Sears entrance. 3- The unattended information desk near the western main mall entrance. 4- Looking into The Commons from the west entrance. 5- The central court. 6- The eastern end of the mall. 7- The center court skylight. 8- Looking toward the main concourse from the eastern main mall entrance.
Macy’s, the final remaining traditional mall anchor, pulled up stakes in 2021. The building was taken over by a local seconds and wholesale dealer, Save by the Day. It looks as though the new occupant doesn’t use any of the exterior entrances, which all face the rear parking lot, and the wooden features over the paper covered doorways now look disappointingly course and neglected.
The Commons at Federal Way Mallmanac, ca. 2023. View the full PDF version here.
In fact, the entire back side of the mall looks completely forgotten. Though lined with junior anchors and well-known names such as Amazon Fresh, Burlington, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Century Theaters, Kohl’s and Target, none have entrances facing South 34th Street. I expect one day for there to an announcement that offices and apartments will be built on the unused sea of asphalt.
1- Inside the eastern main mall entrance. The cubby hole leading to the food court can be seen on the left. 2- Darkened spaces inside the entrance. 3- The eastern court and the Century Theaters entrance. 4- Looking down the central corridor to center court. 5- The inside behind the Kohl’s main entrance. This is the area under construction in my 2013 visit. 6- The Target and Kohl’s entrances on the east end.
Inside, the mall still looks to be in good shape though there is a noticeable increase in the number of vacant storefronts since my last visit. The food court was just as eclectic, though, hosting mostly local names and a Baskin Robbins. But the claustrophobic ambiance renamed, and I was actually glad to see that. By now I thought it would have been closed and replaced by a Big Lots or Planet Fitness or something.
1- The back of The Commons at Federal Way sits inaccessible and empty. 2- The Century Theaters exterior. 3- The neglected Macy’s façade. 4- The backside of Dick’s Sporting Goods. 5- Sears former auto center as a small line of shops. 6- Seattle’s own Dick’s Burgers recently opened location on a western mall out lot.
Realistically, this may very well be my last visit to the Commons at Federal Way. From my location, it’s kind of a hassle to get to and really doesn’t offer anything I can’t find much more easily. But it still seems to be serving its immediate trade area well and with the addition of a new light rail station nearby, that could only bring more traffic. We’ll just have to see what happens with this one.
The Federal Way light rail station being built just across the street and some of the tracks running through the parking lot in front of Target.