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May 16, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Venerable City Kitchens closes shop

File photo by Betty Udesen/The Seattle Times

File photo by Betty Udesen/The Seattle Times

It was known as the place to buy serious cookware from Le Creuset pots to Wusthof knives, from tongs to tea strainers. A generation of cooks sought out its staff for expert advice and eagerly awaited its big annual sales. But City Kitchens has closed its doors in downtown Seattle, after 25 years of selling kitchen tools near Westlake Center.

“I guess we just couldn’t afford to exist anymore,” owner Kerry Niesen said Wednesday, in the midst of arranging a liquidation sale scheduled to start at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 18.

“I reached a point where I had to finally say, OK, this isn’t working,” Niesen said.

He started working at the store in 1993 as a University of Washington student interested in cooking and looking for a part-time job. An aunt had told him, “you’ll learn a lot there.”

He did indeed, becoming the store’s manager and finally purchasing it from founder Robert Hammond in 2006. The store was dedicated to training its staff well — it was known as a place where customers got an education rather than a hard-sell — and to offering the best selection possible in its chosen categories. (One of its longtime principles: Never dabble.) “If we did something, we went all in for it,” Niesen said.

But the store never recovered from the economy’s collapse in 2008, Niesen said Wednesday. “Every year sales dropped,” unlike expenses. More people were showrooming the store, using it for research but then purchasing items at a discount online. And, he said, the location started to feel more on the outskirts of downtown than the center, with customers avoiding the area for disruptions like the Occupy Seattle protests and the recent May Day protests.

Many of the store’s 14 staffers (there have been as many as 25 during seasonal highs) have stayed on to help with the liquidation sale, Niesen said.

“Really heartbroken,” one customer wrote on the store’s Facebook page after Niesen sent a farewell message. “Sad news, another great old downtown shop bites the dust,” tweeted another.

The final, farewell sale — Niesen promised “great prices on everything,” though he’s still figuring out the numbers — will run May 18-24. Hours will be from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.

0 Comments | Topics: City Kitchens, cookware, Kerry Niesen

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