It was 3:30 p.m. in late April, just before peak hours and months before peak season, when customers lined up 10 deep at Goody’s Soda Fountain & Candy Store. The convergence included parents tethering small children pointing at red suckers, sour lemon jewels, a kaleidoscope of jarred delights on the counter and a back wall that, to a toddler, must seem as tall as the moon. A retirement-age couple bought ice cream cones for themselves and an elementary school-age girl.
Owner Brett Palmateer watched as the line extended to the door from the perch of a tall table. In summer’s heavy heat and traffic, patrons buy more than 1,000 ice cream cones a day, spilling outside and filling the patio. Palmateer said he was pleased to be out of the January and February doldrums, when business slows to as few as 50 cones on some days.
He pointed to two high school-age boys slumping at a corner table. All hollow legs and angst, they attacked chocolate and Oreo ice cream cones.
“You’d think that they wouldn’t be our demographic,” Palmateer said, “but we get a lot of that.”
Palmateer needed years to get those customers through the door or to make any money. He has seen more than a dozen retail businesses cycle through the two-block district on 13th Street between Alturas and Brumback streets since opening Goody’s in 1997, including the empty storefronts across the street left by Hyde Park Books and Brumfield’s Gallery.
Palmateer opened G. Willikers Toy Merchant next door to Goody’s in 2013 to offset down times at the candy store. Lessons that Palmateer said took him years to learn could help other retailers eying the neighboring vacant storefronts.
TOUGH NUT TO CRACK
The list of former retailers includes a Life is Good store once located on Eastman Street and the Farm & Garden Produce outdoor market that was open on Brumback Street for two summers before closing due to insufficient sales.
The list gets longer the further back you look, said Dave Green, a retiree who runs the website Northend.org. Green has lived in the neighborhood for nearly six decades, and he developed several Hyde Park properties in the 1980s.
Brumfield’s was the second gallery to open and close, he said. The produce stand was the third.
Hyde Park seems like an ideal retail location, Green said: There’s money in the surrounding North End neighborhood, where the $287,750 median home price in 2014 trailed only Eagle ($337,500) and East Boise ($375,000) among Intermountain Multiple Listing Service regions in the Treasure Valley. But it has problems.
Parking is limited, because 13th Street was originally zoned to be residential.
Foot traffic drops during the winter, and Green said businesses depending on the casual walk-in traffic struggle.
“You can cut a fat hog during spring, summer and into the fall, but when winter rolls around, it’s a different business,” he said.
And the neighborhood isn’t as wealthy as home prices suggest. While prosperous Harrison Boulevard is Boise’s marquee street, the streets surrounding Hyde Park are lined with lower-priced homes and rentals. Many of the North End’s biggest wallets are in the Foothills, which provides no foot traffic for Hyde Park, Green said.
“The big challenge continues to be how to get people living in the Foothills down to Hyde Park to spend their money,” Green said. “It’s great to see the Tesla drive through the neighborhood. But you know he doesn’t live in Hyde Park.”
MAKING IT WORK
Palmateer’s parents opened the original Goody’s in Sun River, Ore., 32 years ago. He moved to Boise, bought the building that became his store and opened it two years after the city installed fake gas lamps to tease out the nostalgia on a historic street that had fallen into disrepair. The G. Willikers building, which Palmateer now leases, housed an engineering office. Parilla Grill was a laundromat.
Palmateer thought the location in the middle of a neighborhood would be ideal for his candy and ice cream business. It wasn’t.
He said he lost money for 3 1/2 years before his balance sheet turned to black. It took that long to build a following among customers who drove across town to take their kids out for ice cream or who brought in visiting relatives.
Jo Cassin ran Idaho River Sports in those years. She and co-owner Stan Colby opened a second store in 2005 on Whitewater Boulevard and reluctantly closed the Hyde Park shop in 2010, in the pit of the recession, to focus on the larger, still-growing Whitewater shop. Cassin said her kayak, canoe and rafting business succeeded for years in Hyde Park for the same reason as Goody’s: destination customers augmented by foot traffic.
“Goody’s is a perfect business model for that area,” Cassin said. “A lot of people living in that area, including me, don’t like to go to the mall, but have nieces and nephews they want to shop for. They find it at Goody’s.”
Palmeteer declined to disclose sales, though he said they have grown steadily except for flat years during the recession. G. Willikers sales are up in its second year, he said.
Hyde and Seek, a gift and home decor store , has been profitable since opening in November, said Shawnee Kinney, who owns the store with her husband, Mark. Their preholiday opening date helped, as did their 25 years of experience operating a similar store in Homer, Alaska. Kinney said she signed a 10-year lease with confidence because she believed shoppers would go out of their way to buy her products.
“If you find a niche, and you are committed to offering something different, the neighborhood is looking for that,” she said. “They will come down whether it’s rainy or snowing.”
Idaho River Sports scraped by in its early Hyde Park days, but business grew by 30 percent to 40 percent when the store switched its focus to ski gear and repair during the winter, Cassin said.
The winter business, Skier’s Edge, “allowed us to keep some really good employees we didn’t want to lose and gave us a more steady cash flow,” she said.
Palmateer seized on the same idea when he opened G. Willikers. The toy store’s high-volume months come around the holidays, when ice cream sales at Goody’s slow to a trickle. Palmateer shifts his eight full-time employees between the stores accordingly. Shannon Fick, who manages both stores, has worked for Palmateer for 11 years.
Together, the toy store and ice cream and candy shop make a stronger draw for families, Palmateer said.
“I expected the toy store to get all its customers from the ice cream shop, but it’s been the opposite,” Palmateer said. “We got a nice little increase at Goody’s.”
KNOW YOUR CUSTOMERS
Goody’s became profitable around 2001 when Palmateer extended hours to capture foot-traffic ebbs and flows. Restaurants — including 13th Street Pub and Grill, Parilla Grill and Harry’s Hyde Park Pub, as well as their many predecessors — release a steady stream of diners between 8 and 10 p.m., well after hours for most businesses catering to families.
So Palmateer started keeping his doors open later. Today, a small jazz band plays Goody’s on Friday nights. The store stays open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Between 30 percent and 50 percent of Goody’s business now comes from the night crowd, he said.
“Once I established that night crowd, we were breathing a little better,” he said. “That was the hard part.”
Kinney said Hyde and Seek has picked up customers by staying open seven days a week. She plans to extend hours until 8 p.m. soon.
“Our customers are excited that we’re stretching our hours,” Kinney said. “The response to being open on Sundays has been tremendous. We’ve been thanked over and over from customers who have to work during the week, or who have to get their kids to soccer.”