As Ev Gray retires as executive director of the Downtown Retail Merchants' Association, the only thing definite in her life is that she doesn't have definite plans.
"I have no agenda. I have learned not to rush into anything," Gray said during an interview as she completes nearly 15 years with the association, which consists of 300 businesses in the downtown area. "I will be able to spend more time with my four children and six grandchildren."The association's board of directors held a reception for Gray, and president Bret Cunningham of Dahle's Big & Tall said a replacement is being sought. Gray will be available in a consulting capacity when necessary.
Gray points to the downtown area "Park and Shop" program instituted in 1976 as her biggest accomplishment. The program allows shoppers to park free in most downtown lots when they obtain a validation in a store. She said there is plenty of parking within a short distance of most stores, which makes the downtown area attractive.
Construction of several suburban malls in recent years has given the downtown area a run for the consumer dollar, but Gray, ever the booster, believes downtown has the "romance" that suburban malls lack. To counteract the effect of the suburban malls, downtown merchants concentrate on making it convenient to shop downtown, she said.
Known for her "can do" and "low key" approach to her work, Gray nevertheless was no shrinking violet when it came to representing her association and boosting the downtown area.
When the Salt Lake City Planning and Zoning Commission released its retail master plan and requested citizen input, the merchant's association was among a handful replying, Gray said. Gray is credited with doing "behind the scenes" work to aid the downtown area.
She was pleased with the association's response be
cause it came from the merchants, not from so-called experts or consultants. In a nutshell, the merchants want convenience, safety and comfort for shoppers when they are downtown.
Gray doesn't pretend that there are no problems in the downtown area, but she optimistically says the scarred areas are few and are outshone by the beautiful ones. Even some of the scarred areas, like Block 57, are making a comeback, referring to the construction of the Utah One Center and a parking terrace on the northwest corner.
Evadeane Johns Gray is a native of Fillmore, Millard County, and is the daughter of Howard D. Johns, a restaurant owner and mayor for 14 years. Her father's mayor experience taught Ev about community development.
She graduated from Utah State University, and her first job in the Salt Lake area was as a volunteer organizing the first locally produced "March of Dimes" telerama on Channel 5. Gray did volunteer work for the United Way and later became a full-time public relations director for four years.
Gray raised two girls and two boys and also was marketing and public relations director for the former Royal Inn, now the Shilo Inn. She also worked for Rodeway Inn of Salt Lake and Boise before becoming association executive director May 1, 1976.
At that time the association was an arm of the Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, but after three years became an independent agency, although the association leases space from the chamber. "I have been the luckiest lady in the world because I have always worked in careers that I've loved," said Gray as she left her office for the final time.