Pacific Galleries Antique Mall was planning to close for good at the end of August, but a deal materialized in the last couple of weeks to save Seattle’s oldest antique mall from closing forever. Under the new ownership of Tom Gorz — an antique dealer who co-owns the nearby Epic Antiques — Pacific Galleries will officially reopen as Lander Street Vintage on October 1. The 11th-hour agreement is welcome news for Pacific’s community of buyers and dealers, and it ensures that Seattle’s cornerstone of vintage and antique goods is safe for years to come.
“We’ve had so much support from customers, it’s been incredible,” Gorz said, noting that there’s still plenty of work to be done before reopening. “It feels in a way a little overwhelming, but overall [I’m] very joyous and excited to get this venture going for not only the history of Seattle, the history of an established destination location, but also as a companion location for Epic Antiques.”
Pacific and Epic Antiques already felt like complimentary malls even before the new transition, said antique dealer Sandy Marshall. Known as the Treasure Queen, Marshall sells vintage decor, jewelry, small furniture, and artwork. She was a vendor at Pacific for about 12 years and at Epic ever since it opened in 2018. Rather than taking business away from Pacific, Epic added even more value to a destination trip, especially for buyers coming in from far away. “Customers go to both places,” Marshall said. “It makes the trip worthwhile to go to both.”
Founded in 1972, Pacific Galleries started as an auction house in Belltown. Husband and wife Larry and Grace Li purchased the business in 2000, and in 2003 moved it to 241 South Lander Street in SoDo, a 30,000 square foot building that would eventually house about 150 vendors. As rising rents forced antique malls in Seattle and surrounding areas to move or close over the years — like the 28-year-old Gillman Gallery Antiques in Issaquah or Haystack Antiques in Bellevue — Pacific Galleries endured as the premier Seattle destination for collectors and buyers.
“It’s a good business and it’s a very pleasant place to work,” said Grace Li. “I think it’s the best mall in the Pacific Northwest. Unfortunately my children were not interested in this business.”
Li still owns the building, which includes office and storage spaces for rent, and said that she’s happy to lease the antique mall to a younger person who used to be a long-standing tenant. “He’s very knowledgeable about this trade,” she said about Gorz. Both Gorz and Li confirmed it was a long lease but declined to share details.
Getting into the business first as a collector, then as a dealer, Gorz started selling at Southern California markets before moving to Seattle. Specializing in mid-century modern and postmodern housewares, jewelry, and art as Tom Gorz Collection, he was a vendor at Pacific for a decade. Gorz and antique dealer Mathew Culbert (who had previously vended at Pacific for even longer than Gorz) opened Epic Antiques at 3701 7th Ave South in 2018. Epic houses 60 vendors in a 22,000 square foot facility, which also includes some offices and an upholstery studio. The vibe is upbeat and welcoming, featuring an eclectic mix of music from Nina Simone to Erasure. Epic also hosts the SoDo Flea Market once a month.
While Gorz wants the two malls to have their own unique personalities, buyers can expect to find a bit of the Epic experience at Lander Street once it opens officially.
“I would like it to look a little less like operations and [be] a little more of an immersive experience,” Gorz said. “To give you an example, when you walk into Epic you walk into a beautiful garden space that also has elements of french antiques and such to wander through. That’s kind of a nice way to step right in. I’m sure we’re going to be doing something along those lines.”
Gorz admits that finalizing the Pacific changeover took place “in approximately two weeks,” so expect the new vision to unfold over time. “When you come in the first time, we’ll still be in transition to a new look, and the next time you come in, it’ll be that much more exciting.”
The last-minute transition might have saved the antique mall, but it came at the price of an emotional and logistical whiplash for Pacific’s approximately 150 vendors. When I visited the mall on the last weekend of August, official closing signage was posted, vendors were slashing prices by as much as 50%, and some stalls were virtually empty. Many of the dealers I talked to were tight-lipped about the situation, saying only that they would schedule their move-out times as the Lis had directed.
Throughout the last few years, rumors had circulated at Pacific that the business would be closing, or even the building itself would be sold. The Lis were past the age when most people typically retire, and were looking for a change.
“It’s like we’ve kind of been through this before,” said Marshall, noting that a few years ago the word got out that the building was for sale. “With a commercial real estate transaction, don’t make any decisions until it’s signed because a lot of stuff can happen — and sure enough the deal fell through.”
At that time, several dealers had already moved out, or prepared to close up shop. In fact, one of the reasons Gorz and Culbert opened Epic in 2018 was partly in response to news about a potential sale of Pacific. This time around, “we were told a couple months ago that the mall was closing,” Marshall remembered. “Everybody’s been having sales, liquidating, moving. Some people have already moved out.”
Three days before the mall was slated to close, an email was sent to Pacific’s vendors from Noah Chen, the Lis son-in-law and spokesperson, apologizing for the late notice and informing vendors that the closing date will be extended until the end of October. The email acknowledged that since some staff members had moved on based on the previous closing date, the hours at the mall would be spotty. Vendors who chose to stay would be charged a prorated rent.
Two days after that email, Chen sent out a second message announcing that Pacific would officially close on August 31 and Gorz would open a new mall in the same space. Chen said vendors were welcome to stay for two more months as per his last email, but staying after that time would require a new contract with Gorz.
“To everyone who paid for movers, or sold things at a loss, or feel tricked, I sincerely apologize,” Chen wrote. He admitted that he happened to chat with Gorz in the last couple of weeks, “and we bounced around proposals that might keep the space as an antique mall. This was completely new territory… but Tom and I are working feverishly to make things work.”
At the time of this article, Chen has not responded to a request for comment.
On September 1, Gorz distributed a letter to vendors confirming his new ownership, plans for an informal meeting to discuss the transition, and assurances that vendors do not have to move if they want to stay on under Lander Street Vintage. Jackie Crow, a customer agent at Epic, has been invaluable at facilitating the changeover.
While showcasing meticulously-curated treasures from many of the same vendors, the new name signals a fresh direction for Seattle’s premiere vintage and antique mall.
”I think vintage is an important word. It’s an important lifestyle,” Gorz said. “I think it’s sustainable, and I think it gives you the true impression of what we’re doing, which is keeping this workmanship, a beautiful object — just keeping a feeling alive.”
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