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The Untold Story of Downtown Salt Lake City’s Main Street

Downtown Salt Lake City’s population will more than double in the next two years. Are residents and SLC planners prepared for this growth?


According to Dee Brewer of the Salt Lake City Downtown Alliance, Downtown Salt Lake City’s population will more than double in the next two years. This is based upon the timeline for completion of all of the apartments currently under construction.

Are residents and SLC planners prepared for this growth? What are they doing to accommodate the huge influx of residents? What do residents think about the growth as well as the best and worst of downtown?

Asking Salt Lake City Residents About Downtown

We asked residents what they love about downtown SLC as well as what they don’t love. We received interesting answers, which we reported on in an earlier story.

Utah Stories has also been examining the greater economy of Main Street in Salt Lake City for the past 15 years and we have found some interesting history and trends.

Salt Lake City’s Main Street once had dozens of locally-owned businesses on Main including Auerbach’s Department store, Broadway Music, Baker Shoes, Wolf’s sporting goods, and a dozen jewelry stores and restaurants. So what happened?

in 1978 there was a “beautification project” which resulted in a loss of parking and a two-year construction project on Main Street that local businesses had to contend with. At the same time, The Crossroads Mall was being constructed enticing dozens of corporate chain stores to locate there on the North-end of Main Street, just across the street from the ZCMI Center. This was a big hand-up for corporate chains and a pile of dirt and construction for locally-owned businesses.

In the two years, these construction projects were underway nearly a dozen locally-owned businesses shuttered. Main Street’s economic vitality, historic buildings, and social fabric in restaurants and retail were in essence traded for Wall Street traded corporations. Instead of Auerbach’s Department store, started by two pioneer brothers in the 19th century, the Crossroads Mall offered Nordstrom, J.C. Pennys, Burger King, and others. Lost forever from downtown were Broadway Music, Wolf’s Sporting Goods, Keith Warshaw and Paris Company.

Was this intentional? Likely not. But this is what happened in the interest of “smart city planning”, in hopes to help local businesses by widening sidewalks. But there were other factors at play.

All over the United States in the late seventies and early eighties, urban centers were in decline. “White flight” was underway, and city residents on a mass scale moved to the suburbs.

Beautification efforts and malls on Main Street were efforts to keep residents and shoppers downtown.  The greater economic impact was not considered because city leaders ignored the voices of the local business community. “You are killing us with kindness,” said Richard Schubach, the second-generation owner of Standard Optical. But city leaders didn’t listen. It will all be worth it when shoppers return downtown. But after three years of construction; piles of dirt in from of businesses entryways; and no remediation or compensation to local businesses for the years that Main Street was a mess, a dozen businesses had to close their doors.

We believe this story of Main Street’s history needs to be told concurrently with telling the story of the massive growth that downtown Salt Lake City is currently experiencing.

Utah Stories aims to produce a documentary film on Salt Lake City’s Main Street in 2023. Our effort is to interview business owners, residents, and some of the new people who are coming here. Will Salt Lake City become unrecognizable and a great home for more chain stores and giant corporations? Or will local character, local businesses, and local control continue? Who holds the keys to our future?

We aim to find out. To Support this project and our efforts subscribe to Utah Stories. In a few months, we will be offering a membership portal, where you can upgrade your subscription and receive tickets to the premiere screening of Downtown The Untold Story of Salt Lake City’s Main Street.

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