Krista Manuelson has tried many times to explain the virtues of the umbrella to her best friend: It’s a utilitarian accessory that makes sense here in Seattle, where it rains about half the year.
But her buddy, a Washington native like herself, simply smirks.
“She just rolls her eyes at me and refuses to use one, even though it’s beautiful and functional,” Manuelson said. “She says that’s what hats are for.”
For the past three years, Manuelson has worked at Pike Place Market’s Bella Umbrella, where she’s sold the owner’s handcrafted, steel-ribbed pagoda-style designs, as well as other high-quality models from around the world.
Bella is Seattle’s only brick-and-mortar umbrella store, and soon to be its last.
The store is closing this week.
Owner Jodell Egbert, who learned the dying art of umbrella making after she fell in love with a box of vintage ones she bought for her wedding 15 years ago, plans to move her store to a new space in New Orleans’ French Quarter. She already operates one other umbrella store in the Southern city.
Her decision wasn’t just about sales, the Seattle native said.
She fell in love with The Big Easy after moving there in 2014. Her lease in Seattle was up, too, and online shopping had a brutal effect on sales. Shrinking parking options in a crowded city core near one of its biggest attractions hasn’t helped, either.
That’s not all, she admits. The relentless insistence by some folks – who claimed that no self-respecting Seattleite would deign to use a bumbershoot – played a role.
“Every day somebody would come in and tell me it was stupid to have an umbrella store in Seattle because Seattleites don’t use umbrellas,” Egbert said. “It made me feel bad.”
Just ask around, and you’re sure to find a common umbrella sentiment.
“It’s true we don’t use them,” said Steve Murphy, 69, who co-owns 47-year-old plant store Indoor Sun Shoppe in Fremont with his son. “We don’t need to. It doesn’t rain that hard, and when it does there’s just some mist on my jacket.”
Roman Tran, an Everett resident who works a construction job in Seattle, said he’s an umbrella denier because he’s acclimated to the wetness.
“I’ve spent my whole life where it rains more than half the year,” he said. “I feel like, if you’re going to get wet, go for it. In Everett, it’s pretty gnarly, and when it comes, it’s like, hooyah! It dumps in your face.”
“I like the rain,” said a fellow construction worker, Rob Coulliette, of Olympia. “Why would you live here if you don’t like it? All the people with umbrellas should just move on.”
Manuelson blames Seattle’s reluctance to embrace the sanctuary of the fabric dome on regional pride.
“When I lived in Minnesota, they said if you can’t handle the snow you’re a wimp. We’re proud of our rain and we get through it,” she said.
Qualyn Margain, a salesperson at Drizzle & Shine, an eco-friendly clothing store on 15th Avenue East, is convinced the disdain for umbrellas “is a thing here.”
“I’m from California, so I love umbrellas,” she said, “so when I moved here two years ago, I was like, ‘hey, why does no one use an umbrella here?' “
“People told me, ‘This is our weather and we have to get used to it.’ It’s been interesting to watch.”
Her boss, store owner Jean White, agrees.
“People in Seattle tend to buy our coats with hoods and skip umbrellas. I’d still carry a few if I came across the right ones,” White said, “but the only people who ask for them are tourists and other visitors.”
“I tried to bring them help”
There is something about our weather that might lead a typical person to shun the umbrella.
Seattle has a longer-than-average rainy season, with about 155 days of wet weather a year. But we’re listed only 44th in the nation in total accumulation, at 38 inches of precipitation a year. That’s less than cities such as Atlanta, Houston, New York and the nation’s capital.
According to the National Weather Service in Seattle, our bumbershoot aversion could have something to do with the misty nature of our raindrops.
Our typical rain comes from lower, flat stratus clouds and not from the dense, high cumulonimbus clouds that are associated with heavy precipitation, Weather Service meteorologist Logan Johnson said.
“In general, we don’t get short, intense periods of rains that are common in areas where they get thunderstorms,” he said. “We get light, misty rains that last all day. It’s the general physics of how rain forms in the lower clouds versus how it forms in the higher clouds.”
Satoko Kobayashi, of Seattle, ran into all these problems when she opened her online boutiquePare Umbrella.
In 1996, Kobayashi moved to Seattle from Japan, where umbrellas are considered fashionable as well as functional.
She was surprised to see people in the pouring rain walking around in their hooded jackets, getting wet and looking uncomfortable.
When she started her own company, she was determined to bring Seattle something she thought it needed.
“It’s so funny,” she said of Seattle’s lack of interest in rain-shielding devices. “I get lots of orders from California, the East Coast, New York and D.C. – big cities where people commute using the train or bus – but Seattle still doesn’t think about the umbrella much.
“I tried to bring them help, but they didn’t want it.”
Local data is hard to come by, but nationwide umbrella sales are down, according to market-research firm NDP Group. Its Consumer Tracking Service indicates Americans spend $325 million annually on umbrellas, and that’s down 11 percent from last year.
Perhaps the Seattle attitude is spreading.