Less than a year ago, the rustic facades of the artisan shops on Pierpont Avenue were considered a Salt Lake City destination, but today’s visitors will see a street cluttered with “For Rent” and “Vacancy” signs. The exodus had been predicted, however, when the longtime family-owned Eccles-Browning warehouse was sold to an out-of-state real estate investment firm.
Shopkeepers were first notified in March of an increase in their monthly rents, in the form of a common area maintenance fee. They were additionally instructed that, if they couldn’t afford the increase, they had 30 days to relocate. If tenants chose to stay, new leases would be enforced in December. This resulted in the first wave of closures.
Many long-established mainstays of West Pierpont Avenue, located between 300 and 400 West, closed up shop and found new living quarters elsewhere, including designer Keith Bryce (featured on Season 5 of reality TV hit Project Runway) and 27-year-old vintage staple, Elemente.
The avenue had originally been leased in 1981 by Artspace, an organization dedicated to refurbishing older buildings in order to give artisan entrepreneurs an affordable studio and living space. Although that lease expired a few years ago, the former owners carried on the charter.
But under new ownership, when December hit, rents were said to increase above 60 percent, forcing what some of the 30+ tenants refer to as the “second exodus.” Jennifer McGrew of McGrew Studios, a company that specializes in high-end specialty garments, joined those who left.
“I think it’s like the five stages of grief,” says the master seamstress. “This isn’t anything personal it’s just what we are experiencing in the classic historical cycle of gentrification, and for me, we had to seek another location. It’s a real, Darwinian world.”
McGrew was never aware of why the previous owners sold to Timberlane Partners, a Seattle-based firm, but due to an overhead increase of almost 25 percent, McGrew relocated her shop to Salt Lake City’s Granary District, an urban commercial row located four blocks south of her former establishment.
“[Timberlane’s] justification was to make the Pierpont space ADA accessible. That also meant there would be a lot of construction in and around the shop,” says McGrew. Between the construction and the increased rate of $19/square foot (a price comparable to other SLC commercial locations), the move to the Granary District, which she describes as having similar Artspace style rents, makes more and more sense. “It’s a good industrial building that suits our needs and aesthetic. It was the right space available at the right time.”
The new studio space is still being renovated, but the shop continues to fulfill orders. McGrew plans to hold the official open house this month.
While the lack of classic brick-and-mortar window storefronts may not result in Pierpont’s level of foot traffic, she hopes that, as a new anchor, her studio will help transform the Granary neighborhood.