Utah Stories

The Main Street Divide: Remembering Main Street Salt Lake City of Christmas Past

Downtown Salt Lake Main Street has two very distinct halves. North half corporate, LDS owned and locally owned, non-conformist South half.


Downtown Salt Lake City’s Main Street has always had two very distinct halves: The North half is almost all LDS-Church-owned and now the billion-dollar City Creek Center has almost every fashionable Wall Street traded chain store one could hope for (Tiffany’s, Louis Vuitton, Coach). With over five million annual visitors to Salt Lake City’s Temple each year, now we can host them in style.

This shopping complex is just around the corner from the currently-under-renovation Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints headquarters and Temple, which at this time of year usually hosts visitors with a dazzling Christmas light display. Macies has a few nice window displays but it’s nothing compared to what it used to be.

The South half of Main Street has always had a much more distinct non-conformist flair. Here we find the Walker Bank tower built with money from fortunes gained from mining. This once marked the non-Mormon financial district of Salt Lake. Today, Goldman Sachs takes up four levels of the 222 high-rise.

In the middle of the street is the former Utah Theatre. Despite efforts to save the old building, it looks like its fate has been sealed to join the destiny of so much of downtown’s classic architecture — soon it will be a pile of rubble: razed with a wrecking ball.

In the old days, people still remember, Auerbachs and the Paris Company marked the “Gentile” shopping district of Main Street which ran from around 200 South to 400 South and was home to Broadway Music, Baker Shoes, Florsheim Shoes, Cress, Woolworths, and Pennys. In addition, there were about a dozen family-owned jewelry shops, Lambs Grill and the Owl Cafe.

Further down the street where downtown Salt Lake’s former massive Zion’s bookstore and the TP Gallery once resided we find a state of disrepair and abandon along with an excess of open drug use. Nevertheless, it is not all bad news for the Southside, which is so much more authentic and unvarnished than the northern end.  For the first time in the history of Main Street, we now have a bar district with 15 bars and restaurants on one single block: Whiskey Street, Bodega, White Horse, Ramen House, Cheers To You, Green Pig, Twist are just a few, and the street is hopping at nighttime.

Amongst the bars and bustle, food and nightlife there is a family-owned business that has been around downtown for nearly one hundred years. The shop is known as Utah Book and Magazine.

The Main proprietor is Pete Marshall who operates the store with his sister Hellen. Here they still have an old Christmas window display. A tradition that once provided most of the character for the shops downtown around Christmastime, it has mostly disappeared today.

Pete’s memories of downtown make it clear that the city has always been his playground. Streets, warehouses,  and even brothels or “cat houses” as he calls them were all great places to find antique treasures for his grandfather’s shop. Pete talks about going rat hunting with his bee-bee gun at the old Sears warehouse when he was a kid. He also talks in our interview about the former brothels, Opium dens and gangs called the Tong at Plum Alley and Regent Street, where he found and sold many antiques for his family’s shop.

We will be showing our interview with Peter Marshall covering his excellent memories of downtown Salt Lake City over the years in three parts. Part One (currently available) is about Christmastime and shop windows and his childhood. Part Two is about Salt Lake City’s Mob bosses who operated the Rotisserie Inn. Part three is about Plum Alley and the history of Salt Lake City’s Chinatown.


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This Utah Story is sponsored by Wasatch Brewery celebrating 35 years in business. Check out this link to watch the story of Wasatch and Utah’s original beer pioneer Greg Schirf.

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