When you think of Garden City, even residents tend to think first of commercial Chinden Boulevard, Expo Idaho, aging mobile homes in the east or high-end subdivisions in the west. They don’t always think of an arts community.
Some artists and civic and business leaders seek to change that. Art-related small businesses are turning to Garden City as a less-costly alternative to Boise. As they move in, Idahoans and visitors are getting more places to discover local art. As cafes and wine bars open too, the overall vibe becomes increasingly fashionable.
The evolution could mean that Treasure Valley residents’ perception of Garden City as trailer-home central might one day change to an image of Garden City as a center of artists, bohemians and wineries.
Take East Coast-by-way-of-California glass artist Brigette Nelson, 29. She recently opened The Garden City Projects, an airy storefront at 108 W. 33rd St., the former home of Reuseum, the surplus store now at 3131 W. Chinden Blvd., and later a piano-repair business.
Nelson’s shop includes her studio and a store where she sells her work — kiln-formed fused-glass items that sell from $10 to $200 or more — and that of other artists to walk-in customers. She has installed a small skate ramp and rents space to a barber.
“People come in and say, ‘I didn’t know this place existed.’ ” she said.
Among her neighbors are a print shop with massive presses; Old Payette’s brewery, where experimental batch brews are made; a crossfit gym; and a space where five artists keep their studios, camouflaged behind an old electrical repair sign.
Nelson’s store traffic is light. “I can be in my shop all day, every day, and no one will come in,” she said.
But a strong community means she does not depend on foot traffic alone. Nelson got a commission from a fellow artist nearby to make chandeliers after the artist happened to see her work.
“People are open and resources are here,” Nelson said. “I can use my friend’s blacksmith shop, or borrow someone’s kiln, or make something for someone in my shop.”
‘I feel safe and neighborly here’
Graphic designer Angela Bauter moved to Garden City, too. Two months ago, Bauter, 32, bought the first three-story live/work space at 36 Oak, a subdivision on 36th Street built by the nonprofit NeighborWorks. She relocated from an office and nearby apartment near Cole Road and Fairview Avenue in Boise.
She is the sole proprietor of Save the Date Originals. In addition to graphic design, she creates refrigerator magnets and sells 3-D greeting cards. She sells her work online and operates her business on the first floor of her three-story home.
“I’d been looking for a live/work option,” Bauter said. She started her business in her college dorm room and got in the habit of “working where I live.”
But she found live/work space in Downtown Boise too costly. She paid $300,000 for her 2,100-foot space in Garden City (plus a garage) that she said would have cost about $500,000 in Boise. She shares the upper stories — and the cost — with her sister and brother-in-law, who live there with their son and daughter.
And she is still close enough to Downtown Boise to ride her bike there, or even to the Idaho Botanical Garden in Southeast Boise. Her nephew attends Whittier Elementary and can catch his school bus near home. Bauter anticipates the opening of new eateries nearby: a coffee and juice bar at 34th and Carr streets, not far from the Yardarm on 35th; and Caffe Luciano, set to open in the upscale Waterfront District a few blocks away.
“When I say Garden City, people think of gambling and crime,” she said. “But there’s no crime. Maybe my perspective is different because I come from Milwaukee. But I feel safe and neighborly here.”
Surel Mitchell’s Garden City legacy
Artists and visionaries have been making a steady trek to Garden City for years. Grande dames like the late painter Surel Mitchell and late writer/teacher Ruth Wright staked out live/work spaces for themselves on East 33rd Street two decades ago.
Both helped plant a progressive spirit of the city in ways that still resonate. Wright was a founder of Bells for Books, the mobile program at the Garden City Library that takes not only books but mittens and snacks into poor neighborhoods.
After Mitchell’s death in 2011, the city established the Surel Mitchell Live Work District around her home. Her home and studio became Surel’s Place, a nonprofit gallery and a residence for visiting artists.
Surel’s Place hosts First Friday events throughout the year, a counterpart to Boise’s First Thursday festivities. The Riverside Hotel pays for a shuttle that carries art lovers to studios, shops and wineries.
A new, free map shows the way
The city worked with local businesses and business groups, including the Riverside Hotel, the Idaho Wine Commission and CTA Architects, to create the Garden City Artisan Path this year. A free pocket map guides visitors to a score of parks and galleries and 10 wineries and bakeries.
The project includes bright wayfinding signs that dot the Greenbelt and city, pointing out places to “taste,” “create” and “play.” Nelson’s space will soon be added to the map.
Meanwhile, the Riverside, which just remodeled (the hotel just opened its new entrance with a piano key design) is starting a featured-artist program this month.
For six months, the hotel will hang the work of a chosen local artist throughout the hotel and offer it for sale, said Kristen Jensen, a partner in Johnson Brothers Hospitality, part owner of the Riverside. The first is Idaho muralist Susan Helton.
The Riverside also plans to add items made by artists who live and work nearby to the hotel’s shop.
The hotel plans to create a large public art piece to be unveiled during its 50th anniversary two years from now.
The risk of being priced out
All of this progress could come with a downside. Garden City’s proximity to the Greenbelt and the Boise River, cheaper rents and flexible spaces draw artists to the city. But as demand rises, so do prices.
“Artists come into a neighborhood, make it exciting,” Eichelberger said. “Then developers come in and make it inaccessible and gentrified.”
Eichelberger and some other neighbors in the Surel Mitchell Live Work District hope to buy some Garden City properties to keep them affordable. They formed a limited liability company called Live, Work, Create, Arts and Industry to keep properties out of the hands of developers who might price artists and others out, and to preserve the neighborhood’s unique arts and industry mix.
“We call it social-impact investing,” Eichelberger said.
A property with several rentable studio spaces was for sale this summer. The company bid on the property, but “we were outbid immediately,” Eichelberger said.
Eichelberger’s group doesn’t have a property in mind to bid on next. “But we’re in stand-by mode, keeping our eyes open,” he said.
“We’re asking: How little can we charge to make ends meet?” he said. “We want to preserve what’s started to happen here.”
‘I didn’t know art was created here’
Jodi Eichelberger, 46, is a Boise High graduate who moved East to work in television and theater and returned to the Treasure Valley after 25 years away. He moved into Garden City’s Waterfront District, where a meatpacking plant once operated at 36th and Adams streets.
He credits other “pioneer” people and businesses with helping establish Garden City’s artistic character. One is the Visual Arts Collective, a music and art space at 3638 Osage St. Another is metal artist Irene Deely, who ran the now-closed Woman of Steel gallery and bar on Chinden Boulevard. AudioLab, the recording studio nearby at 3638 Osage St., is a longtime resident.
On Saturday, Oct. 14, Jodi Eichelberger will meet up with a pack of bicyclists in Garden City. It’s the last Artbike tour of the year. Eichelberger will take the cyclists through industry- and warehouse-filled blocks of Garden City to local artists’ studios.
“People tell me, ‘I go by this building every day. I didn’t know art was created here,’” Eichelberger said.
And he’s talking about people who live in the neighborhood.