9th & 9th: shop, dine, and live local

by Noelani Blueford

Reflection Blog

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SALT LAKE CITY–10 years since an architectural rejuvenation brought a remodeled theatre, freshly paved streets, and brightly colored sculptures posed in front of hip, eclectic storefronts, Salt Lake’s 9th and 9th neighborhood is thriving. Located at the intersection of 900 East and 900 South, just east of downtown, this business district at the center of a small but busy neighborhood features a growing selection of small eateries and boutiques. The shops and neighborhood are a featured piece of Utah’s Buy Local First movement, which seeks to promote stronger communities through local business ownership. But further growth may be difficult due to conflicting interests and limited space.

The Tower Theatre is the oldest and most iconic institution still in business in the area; it originally opened in 1928. 90 years later, the Tower Theater has only risen in popularity, notably as one of the venues for the annual Sundance film festival. Additionally, the Salt Lake Film Society (SLFS), a non-profit organization dedicated to giving Salt Lake residents access to a diverse selection of film choices, was founded in 2001 with an initial mandate to restore the crumbling Tower Theater. Ten years after that restoration, the SLFS continues to provide access to non-mainstream films that reflect “the lives and cultures of everyone in our society.” The Society enjoys strong support from the community and the theater stands today as a testament to Salt Lake City’s commitment to independent film, arts, and culture in the Intermountain West.

On the newer end of the spectrum, The Stockist is a sleek specialty clothing store originally opened in 2009 under the name Fresh by siblings Helen and Ian Wade. Helen Wade is on the board of Utah’s Buy Local First movement, and remembers when the neighborhood was very different. “Back when we opened there were only maybe 3 places: Pago, Mazza, and if you wanted a sandwich you’d go to Great Harvest,” she says. As part of her work with the Local First Utah alliance, Wade has created the Buy First Movement’s Place Makers Map, which lists more than 50 local stores in the 9th and 9th area.  

Next door, The Children’s Hour is a rainbow of color, featuring shelves neatly packed with shoes and books as well as racks of brightly colored children’s garments and stuffed animals. The clothes and stuffed animals are carefully curated —owner, Diane Etherington, has been curating high-end European childrenswear, books, toys, and gifts for her shop for 31 years with the help of her daughters. Etherington said that once finished, the rejuvenation was great for her business. However, trying to work in the midst of the construction was difficult because “Everything was ripped up.”

These shops and more are tucked behind red lamp posts and lime green metal benches which line the sidewalks around the 9th and 9th neighborhood. A popular eclectic hangout for students and artists, the neighborhood is in a continual process of getting a facelift courtesy of a public-private funding initiative. Most notable are the Nine Muses, kinetic sculptures commissioned from Seattle artist Troy Pillow, which were chosen in part by Etherington and have taken up residency on the busy corners of the cross street. This rejuvenation did not end with the statues and the benches: on May 14, 2016, 900 South was dedicated Harvey Milk Boulevard, after the late LGBT civil rights leader.

The cosmetic changes on the corner of 9th and 9th have been welcomed by many in the city, however, not everyone was in favor of further development plans for the area. The Salt Lake City Planning Commission approved a Conditional Building and Site Design Review (CBSDR), a proposal for a mixed-use building in the 9th and 9th neighborhood, in February of 2017. The building plans had initially been rejected by the commission 2 years earlier, in part due to issues with inadequate parking space. Construction is now underway for the new building on the Southeast corner of the intersection at 900 South and Lincoln Avenue; this lot previously held a single-story beauty supply store and outdoor parking lot, and will now feature a 35,000-square-foot 3 story development with mixed retail and residential space.

Limited space and conflicting interests are 2 of the biggest problems 9th and 9th faces, now and in the future. Currently, construction also continues east of the cross street to continue rejuvenation of the road and sidewalks leading up the hill to East High. “The construction of 9th and 9th was already fully scheduled and underway when we opened,” says Brass Smoothies co-owner Erin Miller, “So we just don’t know anything different.” With continuing reconstruction comes rejuvenation, pushback, and more people; all of which are emblematic of the growing pains of the restored 9th and 9th neighborhood. Diane Etherington, for her part, is looking forward to it. “I have faith in this neighborhood,” she says with a smile, “Actually, I’m kind of excited about the apartment building–now that they’ve figured out the parking lot.”