The new 8th Street ‘mall’ in Boise has mixed reviews

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First posted on BoiseDev on September 2, 2020

Not everyone is a fan of the City of Boise’s move to close 8th Street to all car and truck traffic, including morning deliveries.

Businesses on 8th Street are celebrating the conversion of a section of the street to a pedestrian and cyclist only area due to COVID-19, but some shop owners elsewhere in downtown feel left out in the cold. Restaurants and bars are reporting booming business after weeks of stay-at-home orders earlier this year. On the other hand, some non-food related businesses nearby say they struggle with deliveries moving to other streets, and a decrease in street parking to accommodate restaurants.

‘Pilot’ expandsThe popular corridor closed to car traffic as a pilot at the end of May, except for deliveries prior to 11 a.m. Now, the city blocked all vehicle traffic on the two blocks of 8th between Main and Bannock. Deliveries for restaurants and businesses on 8th Street moved to two blocks of Idaho Street between 9th and Capitol Boulevard between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m.

None of the businesses who spoke to BoiseDev said they knew about the closure until last week’s public announcement.

The Downtown Boise Association conducted outreach for the project. DBA Executive Director Jennifer Hensley said they made contact with every business in the area around the closure. She said business owners on the northern block of 8th Street requested the street fully close due to confusion for drivers. She said businesses on the southern block agreed. Hensley also said pedestrians walked in the middle of the street during delivery hours.

“It created confusion and we were worried we were going to have a safety issue,” she said.

Russ Crawforth, owner of The Mode Lounge and Pie Hole on 8th, praised the city’s decision to close the street. He said getting deliveries was a slight issue, but Crawforth was pleased with the solution of moving the delivery zone. Crawforth closed his bar for a few weeks due to COVID-19. He later reopened after Central District Health issued a food permit.

“The whole thing with 8th Street has been wonderful for business,” he said. “It’s given us more space in the middle of the pandemic and the only issue with closing it is getting the products to the restaurants.”

Loss of parking for retailers

Mike Rogers, owner of Precious Metal Arts jewelry store on Bannock St., is not as pleased with the change. He does not blame Mayor Lauren McLean, but he said the latest change continues the trend of favoring restaurants over other businesses in the downtown core.

“There’s a very clear bias towards restaurants in downtown policy since COVID hit,” Rogers said. “I am friends with (restaurant owners) and I think highly of them and I get they’re in big trouble, but the rest of us are too. There’s no right answer, but to push deliver trucks onto Bannock and Idaho is hurting everybody.”

He said delivery trucks will take up parking spaces normally used for store patrons. On-street spaces are in short supply since the pandemic due to some restaurants moving dining into the spaces, plus the city reserving spaces for restaurant pick up orders. Rogers said the city reserved two spaces for pick up for a restaurant near his shop – but the restaurant doesn’t open until after his shop closes for the day.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” he said.

Before the change took place, Fork General Manager Rodney Johnson said he thought closing the street would be positive for the customers. He said prior to the street closure, restaurants struggled with drivers on weekends speeding down the busy street looking for parking, possibly endangering pedestrians.

“At this point the information I’ve gotten has been generally positive,” he said. “It gives us the ability to have the guests be safer since folks using the patio extensions are using the bike lane and stuff for walking. They will now have less proximity to cars when it’s time for that time of the weekend when they don’t drive as safely as they could.”

More closed streets

David Graves, owner of men’s clothing store Alexander Davis, said in the decades since his store opened in downtown Boise the trend of blocking streets for pedestrians increased in recent years. But, he said, the indefinite street closure takes it to another level.

“I understand (the appeal of closing streets), but I also don’t understand the lack of collaboration between retail and the restaurants to kind of have a work together policy,” he said. “I think we’re the weakest of the lobby group and the strongest lobbyists are going to be food and beverage to get what they want.”

Not all retail shops in the area expressed frustration with the change. Bruce DeLaney, owner of Rediscovered Books in the closed area on 8th said as long as their customers can access the store he is in favor.

“The things that are important to us are our customers need to be able to get to the store, so as long as there is parking on Idaho and in the parking garages, we think it’s nothing but good,” he said. “We are 100% on board with the fact that the city is trying to do everything they can to help the businesses in the downtown core.”

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