The Miller sisters are quintessential Boise boomerangers: They grew up in West Boise and attended Boise State University, moved to the West Coast and returned as adults with flush résumés, ready to make a mark in their hometown.
Kelsey Miller had been working for Lyft in San Francisco, and Megan Miller worked at a women’s boutique in Portland, when they heard that longtime women’s clothing store Barbara Barbara was closing. The shop’s Downtown Boise location was too tempting to pass up.
“Moving back and opening this store was something we had always talked about and finally decided to make happen,” Kelsey Miller told the Statesman a year ago, when the siblings opened Shift Boutique at 807 W. Bannock St.
The sisters, now in their early 30s, doubled down on that dream a few weeks ago. They opened Shift’s brother store — men’s clothing store Keystone Station — just down the block at 222 N. 9th St. The space had been occupied by Ye Olde Sweet Shoppe.
Their first boutique was among at least 25 new retailers to open in Downtown Boise last year. The Downtown Boise Association tracks ground-floor business activity in its Business Improvement District, between State and Myrtle streets and 5th and 13th streets.
Downtown is not the Treasure Valley’s largest shopping destination, but its blocks have the highest concentration of locally owned eateries and boutiques in the region.
“Even in the past year, you can feel a different kind of heightened energy with the diversity of people who are Downtown,” said Lynn Hightower, the association’s executive director.
Construction takes off
That energy began to take off in 2012 when construction crews started work on the towering Eighth & Main building, which filled a literal and figurative hole in Downtown Boise. The 18-story building brought to the area more office space — occupied by lawyers, bankers, real estate financiers and others — and a mix of upscale and fast-casual dining.
Since then, the city’s urban core has rapidly grown denser and taller.
“I think there was a fair amount of pent-up demand,” said David Wali, executive vice president at Gardner Co.
Boise is “just slightly beyond where we should have been” by 2010 or 2012, if the economic downturn had never halted development, he said.
Hightower expects the bustle of lunch hour, happy hour, weekend tourists and conference travelers to continue growing as hotels and residential buildings open this year.
▪ Mixed-use retail and commercial buildings such as City Center Plaza, the Simplot global headquarters and its companion, Jack’s Urban Meeting Place, hold offices for hundreds of professionals and a university program. Soon they will be joined by Pioneer Crossing, a $65 million development that will span 11th to 13th streets and Myrtle to Front streets with a new Hilton Garden Inn hotel, an office building, a restaurant space and a large parking garage.
▪ More people have moved, or will soon move, into residential developments including The Owyhee at 11th and Main streets, The Fowler at 5th and Broad streets, The Afton at River and 9th streets, the One Nineteen at 10th and Grove streets and the WaterCooler Apartments at Idaho and 14th streets, just outside the business district.
▪ The expansion of the Boise Centre and four new hotels — including the Hilton Garden Inn, the already-opened Inn at 500 Capitol and the in-progress Residence Inn by Marriott and Hyatt Place — will offer more Downtown options for tourists and more capacity to host large conferences.
“It’s not just going to create more opportunity for retail business, it’s going to create more need for retail business,” Hightower said. “As we increase especially residential (development), there may be an opportunity for a drug store or a mini grocery store.”
‘Feeding off itself’
Local entrepreneurs like Hector Garcia, owner and operator of Waffle Me Up, and the Miller sisters are taking risks in the neighborhood.
Garcia and his wife opened Waffle Me Up last August in space it shares with Boise Fry Co. at 204 N. Capitol Blvd., where Guru Donuts was before moving to the former La Vie En Rose space at 928 W. Main St.
Waffle Me Up had been a food-truck and farmer’s-market operation for five years when Garcia decided to try a storefront.
“I think that spot’s epic,” he said.
He thought the central location would pull in a broad swath of customers, and it hasn’t disappointed, he said.
“Physicians from St. Luke’s bring their whole families there weekly,” he said. “I get people Yelping me for breakfast. ... I had someone from Houston who was Googling ‘waffles’ while they were passing on I-84.”
For years, retailers that sold anything but food have seemed to be in exodus. Several longtime clothing, jewelry and home retailers moved to other parts of the Treasure Valley or closed for good.
But about one-fourth of the businesses that opened last year in Downtown Boise are apparel, home, furniture, jewelry or floral/gift shops.
Shift Boutique turned a profit in its first year with more than $300,000 in sales and now has two employees, Kelsey Miller said.
That’s partly because of the changing neighborhood. There’s the influx of workers — noon to 3 p.m. weekdays can be their busiest times — and retail begets more retail, she said.
Shift Boutique stays open an extra hour in the summers, until 7 p.m., to catch people who are window shopping while they wait for a table at a nearby restaurant. And when Guru Donuts has its Tasty Tales story time on Tuesdays, she notices a lot of mothers stopping by the boutique while they’re in the neighborhood.
“You look at New York, San Francisco — 24-hour cities. We’re getting close to an 18-hour city,” Wali said.
Opening in spring: Hyatt Place, a 152-room hotel at 119 S. 10th St.; The Afton, a 28-condo project at 611 S. 8th St.
Opening in summer: Park between Jack’s Urban Meeting Place (JUMP) and Simplot headquarters; the 180-room Residence Inn by Marriott hotel at Myrtle Street and South Capitol Boulevard; The Fowler, a 159-unit apartment building at 401 S. 5th Street; the WaterCooler Apartments at 14th and Idaho streets.