Downtown Salt Lake City is trying to find its “new” identity. Main Street is thriving with a plenitude of bars, restaurants and bakeries. The Eccles Theater and the tower above it as well as 222 South Main Street are full of young professionals. Goldman Sachs occupies seven floors at 222 South, and the restaurants and bars below all benefit from the well-paid workforce.
Downtown, and especially The Gateway, are adapting to the national trend of retail closures. At Gateway, Barnes and Noble, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Sur La Table are all closed. But Gateway is seeing new life by leasing former retail space as office space: Recursion Pharmaceuticals is located in the former Dick’s Sporting goods. They combine AI with biotech to create new drugs. With over $100 million in new funding, this venture sounds promising!
Three new national chains have opened at the Gateway including Dave and Buster’s (video games, wings and pizza), Punch Bowl Social, which offers more hands-on old-school games like mini-bowling, and the recently opened SkinnyFats by Hallpass, which will offer a rotating menu of high calorie comfort foods and healthy salads.
Main Street’s greatest loss was Lamb’s Grill Cafe and Eborn Books. Lamb’s was Utah’s oldest restaurant, residing there for over 100 years. The loss of Lamb’s was due more to the loss of their liquor license than market conditions. Eborn books took over the former Weller’s Zion’s Books space, offering rows upon rows of new and used books for sale. It was the type of place where a biblophiles (like yours truly) loved to get lost. It remains to be seen what the Main Street spot will become.
Downtown also lost the New Yorker Bar, which was opened in the New York Hotel by Tom Guinney and Tom Sieg in 1978, when much of the area around Pierpont Avenue was boarded up, seedy and frequented by prostitutes and drug addicts instead of foodies. Today, Pierpont is still thriving, but the bar scene is now owned mostly by millenials and hipsters, who love places like Bodega, Whiskey Street and White Horse.
What’s to come? The loss of retail will dramatically change the face and character of downtown. Soon, Ken Sanders’ Rare Books will need to move from downtown, and sadly, “Antique Row” on third south is almost gone. City Creek Antiques is the last amazing shop. Go there before Carmen retires, which we hope won’t happen anytime soon.
The good news is that Salt Lake City will certainly thrive, and Gateway and the Union Pacific train station will soon become the lobby of a gorgeous new hotel. This will breathe new life into Salt Lake City’s entertainment district. But the loss of bookstores, antique shops and boutiques and local retail will remove much of the personality and character of the downtown we grew up with.