The boardwalk on Idaho City’s Main Street was a one-stop spot for tourists coming through town for decades.
On that one block you could get breakfast, pick up souvenirs or grab flowers and an ice cream cone. That changed on June 5 when a fire — started by arson, according to investigators — tore through the complex that held Calamity Jayne’s, Sarsaparilla Ice Cream Parlor, Main Street Floral and Candle Shop, Old Time Photo and Idaho City Trading Post.
Police have not publicly named a suspect.
In the months that followed, three of the five businesses have reopened in different locations. The destroyed boardwalk complex is still standing, with only a chain-link fence surrounding it.
Toni and Randy Barrett, owners of the complex, said they are waiting to tear down the structure until they meet with their lawyer and insurance company.
Many residents call the remaining wreckage an eyesore. Some also consider it an impediment to business.
“We have new businesses in town open since the fire. We want to be able to roll with that positive momentum here, not (be) stuck in the story of the fire,” said Rhonda Jameson, owner of the Idaho City toy store Simply Fun.
Some fear that since the fire, out-of-towners think Idaho City is dead and not worth visiting.
Wallula’s, a coffee shop at 101 West Wallula St., is in the middle of a soft opening and the owners have been working to build a customer base. Bill and Connie Gillenwater, who moved to Idaho City just two weeks before the fire brought down the boardwalk complex, said they’re afraid they’re just far enough into the city to be missed by tourists who stop in town, see the burned-out boardwalk and leave.
“I think some people kind of got the impression when the boardwalk burned, all the businesses were gone,” Connie Gillenwater said. “I think people definitely want the rest of the community to know we’re alive and well. There are new businesses in addition to the old businesses.”
Many business owners expressly want the boardwalk’s remains taken down.
“I don’t want the Barretts to be out one more dollar than necessary as the result of settling sooner rather than than later. But really, it’s time to clean it up. We want visitors and maybe possible investors to be able to envision the possibilities of the block, not be reminded of the tragedy,” Jameson said.
Idaho City Mayor Jim Obland said he doesn’t know if city code governs how long the remains can sit in the middle of town. But he also wants them taken down.
“I’m not sure what the timeline is for it to be fixed. It’s still sitting there, and there’s a lot of citizens who would like to see it gone because it’s an eyesore,” he said. “I’d like to see it torn down and start rebuilding.”
Toni Barrett admits the couple may have been too optimistic in their first estimate for demolition: before July 4. It’s now been three months since the building burned and demolition has been pushed off until after mid-October, the first time the Barretts could get their insurance agent and their lawyers together, Toni Barrett said.
The Barretts are free to tear the building down now if they want, she said, but need the meeting first to learn how their insurance might help with the cost. “Then we should be able to move forward with everything in a good, positive direction.”
Toni Barrett said she didn’t know whether their insurance would cover the cost of rebuilding after the fire was ruled an arson. The Barretts initially expressed confidence their insurance company would back them up when it came to tearing down and rebuilding. But after investigators determined the fire was intentionally started, it became less clear, Toni Barrett said.
Becky Gilbert, who ran the sarsaparilla parlor and floral shop and has since moved to a new location on 101 Montgomery St., said her new location still gets packed with customers on the weekends and business feels almost back to normal.
“It’s kind of mixed feelings. I think the location is phenomenal. I hate not being on Main Street. I think a lot of things happen on Main Street that I don’t get to see now,” she said.
She said she’s also financially at a disadvantage.
“I’m going into the winter with no money at all. If the fire hadn’t happened I wouldn’t have (that problem),” she said. “ I hope whoever did it is found and spend their time for what they did, because it’s been hard for me emotionally and physically. I could really be angry real quick, but I’m choosing to use that energy to start over.”
The destruction of the boardwalk hurt more than just the business owners’ pockets, said Lisa Jackson, co-owner of Idaho City Trading Post.
“It’s tough because we had kind of developed a family on the boardwalk and now we’re scattered in different locations,” she said.
Ric Call, who co-owns and operates Idaho City bar and restaurant Diamond Lil’s, said the mess has kept customers from coming into town.
“It affects everything,” he said. “I just wish it’d get cleaned up. (If) this happened in Boise, it’d be cleaned in a week.”
He said the fact that the buildings haven’t been demolished yet was just part of the status quo, describing what he feels is a larger problem.
“The state of Idaho decided to let Boise County be a s--- county,” Call said. “They just send us food stamps and let us live.”
Andrea Ludlow lives in Nampa, but commutes to Idaho City to work at Diamond Lil’s for Call, her stepfather, and mother Holly Call, the other co-owner. She knows the community faces challenges beyond just rebooting the boardwalk, but she’s hopeful.
Calamity’s was the main breakfast spot in town where locals and tourists spent their mornings. Idaho City needs more of that, not just for the revenue, but for the sense of community, Ludlow said.
“The first step is getting everybody to work together,” she said.
Video of the flames, provided by Bill Gillenwater:Another view provided by Clif George: