As it loses icons, Downtown Boise gains new faces

adutton@idahostatesman.comJanuary 31, 2013 

0131 local downtown

Molly Gray puts finishing touches on the decorations in her new shop, Mixed Greens. If all goes well, the store will make its debut Friday, she said.

DARIN OSWALD — doswald@idahostatesman.com Buy Photo

Boise has endured months of depressing farewells to Downtown icons.

Brick Oven Bistro (nee the Beanery) served its last plate of comfort food, and Steve Rambo liquidated his namesake jewelry store — both after about three decades in business. Baguette Deli and La Vie en Rose were among the 2013 departed. Today is the last day for Angell’s Bar and Grill.

Fourteen businesses in Downtown Boise called it quits in 2012, according to the Downtown Boise Association. That’s not counting the shops and eateries on Downtown’s fringe — like Burns Studio, which captured and framed Boise memories for 93 years until closing earlier this month. It counts only the businesses from State to Myrtle and 13th to 5th streets — the boundaries of the business-improvement district whose revenues support the association.

For every business in the area’s commercial core that went dark, two more opened in its place. The neighborhood got 25 new shops, galleries, restaurants and medical clinics last year. That doesn’t count newcomers like Whole Foods Market or Chick-fil-A, which are outside the association’s boundaries.

Similar patterns have played out elsewhere in the city. The Boise Towne Square mall lost an Ann Taylor but a few months earlier had gained an H&M. The Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce was “extremely pleased” with its membership numbers last year, said spokeswoman Caroline Merritt. While the chamber ended the year with a net loss of six members, 2012 was a big improvement over 2009, when the chamber’s member-retention rate was about 66 percent.

Molly Gray is one of the newcomers to Downtown Boise. She spent this week feverishly working on her first shop at 237 N. 9th St.

For about six years, she has been selling lotions, lip balms and other items mainly online and at local markets and retailers. But she dove into the next phase of her business a few months ago, after a shopping trip to Paisley Roberts on 9th Street between Bannock and Idaho streets. The shop, which sold cards and gifts, was closing.

“I hadn’t planned on [opening a shop] Downtown for a couple years,” Gray said. But she walked in and knew immediately that it was a perfect setting for her boutique.

Gray bought some of the Paisley Roberts inventory and signed a lease. She hopes to open Mixed Greens by Friday, in time for the Valentine’s Day rush.

It’s more common now than it was during the worst of the downturn for retail spaces to find new tenants quickly, said Karen Sander, who heads the Downtown Boise Association.

“In the past, a space may have sat for a while,” she said. But now, “many of [the property owners] already have tenants lined up, or have interest.”

Downtown commercial real estate has shown improvement. For example, a mid-2012 report on the Boise real estate market from Colliers International showed office vacancies at about 11 percent, compared with about 12 percent at the end of 2011. The arrival of the Eighth & Main Building is expected to spark more activity as retail and office tenants move in, in some cases leaving other Downtown locations open, according to real estate analyst reports.

Sander chalks up the closures of Boise retail icons to a natural cycle.

“Certainly it’s a huge loss for Downtown anytime a business wants to close,” she said. But, in many cases, it wasn’t that bad sales forced the doors to close. The owner was moving on. Or, as Sander said, “Lives happen.”

The newbies to Downtown last year ranged from a chocolate shop to a vintage-arcade bar and a quick-care clinic. Independent local businesses reigned supreme for the new arrivals. But not always: A Subway opened around the corner from a locally owned Hawaiian hot-dog shop that closed.

This year is already promising, Sander said, noting the Alavita Italian restaurant that opened Jan. 21 at 8th and Idaho streets. She is looking forward to 10 Barrel Brewing Co. opening at 9th and Bannock streets — finally, more than a year after the brewpub signed a lease but got caught in red tape.

And the former home of Brick Oven Bistro near the Boise Centre? Expect the new tenant to be announced “soon,” she said.

Audrey Dutton: 377-6448, Twitter: @IDS_Audrey

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