Local Visitors

Missing: locals visiting the downtown core

Accelerating a trend that started before the pandemic, the number of locals visiting downtown (those living within 10 miles of the city center) has declined. Local visitors play a pivotal role in sustaining the vitality of downtown Seattle’s retail, arts and cultural institutions, in particular. While the growing strength in tourism over the past three years has contributed to increased foot traffic downtown, especially during the summer months, the remainder of the year is challenging for businesses dependent on local foot traffic.

Interestingly, a slightly greater number of unique local visitors came to downtown’s retail core in 2023 than in 2019, but the total visits were only around 60% of 2019’s total. Local visitors not only contribute significantly to the economic health of small businesses, they foster a sense of community and identity. Getting locals to return downtown is critical to the health of downtown arts organizations, retail establishments and restaurants. Revitalizing downtown Seattle requires a concerted focus on enhancing the overall visitor experience and serving the diverse needs and preferences of locals.

Key Takeaways

  • Local visitors continue to come downtown but with significantly less frequency than before the pandemic.
  • The average annual frequency of local customers to downtown’s core has fallen by almost half, while other regional retail hubs have seen customer frequency levels closer to pre-pandemic levels.
  • Similarly, patrons (many of them local) of downtown’s performing arts venues — as well as local visits to downtown’s museums and attractions — have remained below pre-pandemic levels.
  • Out-of-town visitors have been returning at a faster rate than locals and account for a growing share of downtown foot traffic.
  • Crucial for street-level vibrancy, the average downtown weekday worker foot traffic increased by a third compared to 2022 but remains a little more than half of 2019’s level.

A Note on Methods

  • “Local visitors” are defined as those living within 10 miles of the downtown core. “Out-of-town visitors” are those living more than 100 miles from the downtown core. Additionally, this analysis only examined visitors who spent more than 30 minutes in the selected area.
  • The downtown core was defined as the area from I-5 to Western Ave and between Union St. and Stewart St.
All Retail Core Visits and Local Visitor Foot Traffic

Source: Placer.ai
Ten-mile Radius from Downtown Retail Core

Map: 10-mile radius from downtown Seattle

Since the pandemic, local visitor foot traffic in downtown’s retail core has not improved at the same rate as non-local-visitor foot traffic.

Since 2020, local visits have experienced an annual growth rate of 13% compared to a rate of more than 20% for non-local visits.

Total Visits at Select Area Retail Centers

Source: Placer.ai
Unique Visitors at Select Area Retail Centers

Source: Placer.ai
Visitor Frequency at Select Area Retail Centers
Annual average

Source: Placer.ai
  • In 2023, the downtown retail core saw the steepest decline in visitor frequency among regional retail hubs examined, falling from nearly 15 times per year in 2017 to around eight times in 2023.
  • Notably, all of the regional retail hubs examined had a lower visitor frequency in 2023 than in 2017 indicating some post-pandemic changes to consumer shopping patterns.
  • Surprisingly, total unique local visitors to downtown’s retail core in 2023 were similar (or even surpassed) pre-pandemic local visitor levels. However, local visitors did not return with the same frequency, leading to a significantly lower level of total visits.
Local Visitors Spending 30-plus Minutes at Pike Place Market

Source: Placer.ai
Visitors Living 100-plus Miles Away and Spending 30-plus Minutes at Pike Place Market

Source: Placer.ai
  • Prior to the pandemic, data indicate locals were visiting downtown retail areas with less frequency, but that the pandemic likely accelerated this trend.
  • Local foot traffic in downtown Seattle has improved from post-pandemic lows, but remains about 75% of 2017’s level.
  • Prior to the pandemic, downtown was seeing significant growth in visitors from 50 or more miles away. Those individuals have been returning at a greater rate than local visitors, with most of the visits concentrated in the summer months.
  • Since 2020, tourist visits from those living more than 100-plus miles of Pike Place Market experienced an annual growth rate of 36% compared to around 25% for local visits.
Downtown Worker Weekday Average Foot Traffic

Source: Placer.ai

Green icon: Two employees working at laptops

  • Downtown is continuing to see monthly year-over-year gains in worker foot traffic — a key factor in street-level vibrancy.
  • In 2023, downtown weekday worker foot traffic averaged around 80,000 per day — 51% of the 2019 average weekday. This represents a 33% increase from the 2022 weekday average worker foot traffic of nearly 60,000.

Downtown Arts & Cultural Institutions At-a-Glance

On-site Attendance
6.3Min 2019
3.7Min 2023
-41%percent change
Students Served
574424in 2019
425984in 2023
-26%percent change
Free Admission
984826in 2019
388599in 2023
-61%percent change
Note: Data are based on 13 downtown arts and cultural organizations that provided information in both 2019 and 2023. Organizations that did not provide information for both years were excluded. Source: Seattle Cultural Roundtable
“Metamorphoses” (2023) at Seattle Rep. Credit: Nate Watters
  • Downtown is the region’s center for arts and culture and is home to many renowned theaters, museums and performance venues.
  • On-site attendance at downtown’s performance venues and museums was down 41% in 2023 compared to 2019.
  • Many of downtown’s cultural institutions rely significantly on local visitors to sustain year-round programming.