They're kitschy, eclectic, and they've started saying their goodbyes to one of Salt Lake's beloved liberal business enclaves.
In the past few weeks, merchants in the Sugar House shopping district near the corner of 2100 South and Highland Drive have received eviction notices, possibly to make way for more standard, upscale fare.
And though it's probable that not much can be done at this point to keep the neighborhood the way it is, there are lessons and alternatives and actions to consider, merchants and city officials said this week.
"Having received these eviction notices, the situation is becoming very real," said Salt Lake City Councilman Soren Simonsen, who lives in Sugar House. "I saw the writing on the wall 15 months ago when the rezoning went forward. My opinion now is that we kind of created this issue for many of these merchants, and maybe we ought to be a part of the solution."
The Salt Lake City Council voted in December 2005 to change zoning on the block bordered by 2100 South, Highland Drive, Sugarmont Drive and McClelland Street to allow for buildings between seven and eight stories. When Simonsen took his post on the council, he tried to revisit that decision, unsuccessfully.
The zoning change paved the way for proposals now coming forward from landowners in the area including Craig Mecham Management and California-based Red Mountain Retail Group that indicate redevelopment is on the way. Red Mountain's plans reportedly call for loft-style condominiums, and Simonsen said Mecham is considering a mix of residential, retail and office development on his property, which includes everything from the Blue Boutique to Zions Bank.
Repeated attempts by the Deseret Morning News to contact Red Mountain and Mecham were unsuccessful.
Sugar House Coffee owner Bob Evans was among the merchants served with a 180-day eviction notice.
"It's traumatic, but we're going to move on," Evans said. He said he will move his shop to another Sugar House location, though no leases have been signed.
Orion's Music owner Andy Fletcher said he's been through the relocating process before, when the 9th and 9th area of Salt Lake City was redeveloped, and doesn't think he has the energy to do it again. Fletcher is looking for a buyer for his business. He's set a tentative close date of May 1, though he adds that could be extended.
Both Evans and Fletcher, who share space at 1100 East, say that though it's regrettable the Sugar House neighborhood they love is changing, there are lessons to be learned.
"You know, if the patrons in this neighborhood had wanted it to remain the way it is, it would have happened," Evans said. "Obviously, that energy and that desire hasn't manifested itself. ... And if you look at it from the perspective of the landlord, if they were doing more business, if they were being supported, maybe this wouldn't have happened.
"Most people are so anxious to go to the chain stores, Utah is so anxious to be like someplace else, it's sad. Salt Lake is very apathetic to any type of heritage preservation."
Fletcher voiced similar concerns and frustrations but added there's still a lot patrons can do to save local businesses.
"Rather than having a funeral for Sugar House and bemoaning the fact that it's going away because it is going away, and there's nothing anyone can do about it now. The decisions have been made, and the wheels are in motion I'm advocating a 'buy-cot,"' Fletcher said. "We're inviting the public to come down, and we'll have live music and information available so that people understand not just what happened, but where people are moving. It'll be a festival, not a funeral.
"If people want to help, if they want to do something, they should come down and buy that CD they've been wanting. They should buy that cup of coffee or that Italian ice, or that card from Blue Boutique. Because if it's not financially a possibility for these businesses to move, they'll close. But if they have some money in their pocket, and they know that the people around them will support them when they move, I'd say that most of them will continue to look very hard at finding a solution."
Fletcher said he hopes the festival will be held one weekend a month, starting later this month. Details are still being formulated.
On Thursday, Simonsen will hold a meeting of merchants, community activists and others at 8:30 a.m. at Sugar House Coffee, 2102 S. 1100 East, to discuss the latest happenings and courses of action.
"We'll be looking both at short-term ideas and issues and also long-term solutions," Simonsen said. "I am still interested in possible changes in the zoning code. I don't think that the City Council will approve a downzone to an area they've previously upzoned. But there may be some specific historic properties that could have some added zoning provisions or accommodations, a handful of small buildings on 2100 South and Highland and 1100 East that could be seen as contributing historical significance.
"Or, it may be that we want to create some mini-historic districts that may have some additional protections. These are all ideas to consider."
Simonsen said he also will look at funds that may be available via the city's Redevelopment Agency and at ways to identify programs and money that might be used to help businesses relocate."I don't know what the solutions are at this point," Simonsen said. "But it's my intent to have a conversation with the merchants, the tenants on these blocks about what the city can do to help them out."
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