Reviving Main Street
The former mining town has been successful in revitalizing business core
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Though some may decry the death of Main Street USA due to big-box stores and technology, business is booming along Main Street in Midvale.

Once the heart of Salt Lake Valley's mining industry, Main Street did suffer a decline when mining fell away and the Fashion Place Mall was built. Though a few buildings still sit empty, most are filled with various businesses, ranging from Latino hair salons to deep sea divers, artists to architects.

The boom in business is no coincidence. The city has worked hard to preserve the neighborhood's historic, walkable feel.

Economic Development Director Christopher Butte has labored to recruit new businesses to the area, and has big plans for Main Street's future.

Midvale Mayor JoAnn Seghini remembers spending every Saturday afternoon at the movies in what is now the Comedy Circuit and then walking across the street for ice cream and sodas at Vincent Drug.

Hints of Midvale's mining past can also be found on the street. Seghini said when Midvale first incorporated in 1909, there were so many bars - and miners to frequent them - that residents did not have to pay city taxes.

The Midvale Liquor Agency, one of only a handful of liquor stores not owned by the state, still does business from an old store front. Down the way, the Midvalley Professional Plaza exhibits historic photos from its early days as a brothel.

Connection to the past is what attracted many new tenants to the area. Several businesses are housed in historic buildings that have been restored. Others, like Architecture Belgique Inc., have rebuilt in keeping with the area's historic vibe.

Guillaume Belgique, the company's owner, was drawn to Main Street for its "charm and character." He saw building there as a great opportunity to show his firm's design abilities, and the building looks like it is at least 100 years old.

The firm is currently working on the new Waldorf-Astoria project in Park City, Dakota Mountain Lodge.

White-collar businesses are the main target in Butte's campaign to bring business to Main Street. There are several engineers, architects and planning firms, as well as consulting firms. But even though businesses like these are the main focus, anyone is welcome on Main Street.

Rick Lookebill was looking for a place with "a little Andy Griffith going around" for his Bare Necessities Tattoo shop. Lookebill has encountered neighborhood resistance to tattoo parlors in other areas, but said on Main Street, he was welcomed.

"I fell in love with the place before I even met the neighbors, and they were just the icing on the cake," Lookebill said.

Other businesses include a lumber supply company, an aquarium store that sells tropical fish and supplies, a Tae Kwon Do studio and an alcohol and drug addiction recovery center.

Cultural diversity is also present.

Boyd Twiggs, director of the Midvale Historical Society, said the mines and smelters brought people from all over the world to Midvale to work, from places as far-flung as Japan and the former Yugoslavia.

Today the neighborhood reflects Utah's growing Latino population.

Butte said of about 30,000 residents, Midvale is about 20 percent Latino, most of whom live west of State Street. That puts many within easy walking distance of authentic Mexican restaurants and hair salons catering to Latinos.

The ethnic diversity is what convinced Jessica Salazar to bring the Utah Hispanic Dance Alliance to Main Street a few years ago. Salazar hoped to recruit from the Latino community to fulfill the UHDA mission to "educate our people through the exposure and preservation of the national, traditional folk dance of the Latin American countries."

Though things were slow at first, Salazar said the new businesses have brought increased exposure. There is now a nice mix of urban professionals and families in the area, and neighbors embrace the diversity.

"It's a big nice balance, it's a nice blend," Salazar said. "Everybody feels like we can work together."

Butte hopes businesses can also work together for Main Street's future. He is working on deals to revitalize several of the old buildings, and property values in the area have increased steadily in the past few years.

Development on the area's west side also should bring more customers to Main Street. Since the recent cleanup of the smelter site, about 400 acres of residential, office space and commercial development is coming to Midvale. There also are plans to increase public transit in the area, with added TRAX stops.

Through all this new development, Midvale remains proud of its mining roots. The Midvale Museum sits in a brand new building on Main Street, full of old newspapers and artifacts from Midvale's past.

"It was sad to watch it go down," Twiggs said of Main Street, "but now we're seeing it start to come back."

Your Neighborhood Now

* "Your Neighborhood Now" is an occasional feature of Close-Up

highlighting specific areas of cities in the Salt Lake Valley. If you have a suggestion for a neighborhood to be profiled, contact Close-Up Editor Scott Murphy at 801-257-8749.