News

Downtown Boise's Christmas List: Santa, Secret Sales and Naughty Socks

But what merchants really want is a little love from the parking elves.

by

Sorry, Hillary Clinton, but a number of downtown merchants don't think it takes a village—and by village, they mean The Village, the 500,000-plus square feet of super-shopping in Meridian about to enter its second holiday season. Besides, Boise shopkeepers say, they wouldn't even want their stores near The Village or Boise Towne Square Mall, now in its 27th year.

"Our store is a reflection of downtown Boise and vice versa," said Kent Collins, owner of Flying M Coffeehouse on the corner of Idaho and Fifth streets. "Besides, I don't think we would get away with a lot of the... hmm, let's say 'unique' gifts that we offer if we were at The Village or the mall."

Cindy Beauclair, owner of Dragonfly, just a couple of downtown blocks away from Flying M at 462 Main St., couldn't agree more.

"The Village? Puh-leez. And the mall? I can tell you that when we were looking to buy our Main Street building in downtown Boise—and that was 25 years ago—some young consultant told us that we had to go out to the mall and to absolutely not invest in downtown. We said, 'See you later.' I would absolutely be unhappy out there," Beauclair said. "I can't imagine for a minute working at the mall or The Village."

Rich Harris owns Bandana Running and Walking, which is down the block from Dragonfly. He was spending time with a customer trying to find the right running shoe, while his wife and business partner, Shannon, beamed with pride.

"Just look at him over there. He's as genuine as the day is long," she said. "We are the other end of the spectrum from the mall or The Village. For us, it's less about the sale and more about doing what we want really well. Yes, we've heard of a lot of downtown stores that have moved and we've talked about it over the years, but that's just not who we are."

As Shannon spoke, Rich grabbed a fistful of quarters and ran outside the store to fill customers' parking meters.

"That's the one thing that we struggle with—a lot of merchants struggle with it. Of course, I'm talking about street parking," Shannon said. "As great an experience as we can make it inside, a ticket on the car outside is terrible. And it's less about the meters, it's more about how aggressive the city is in handing out those parking tickets. I'm not sure what the solution is, but street parking and the meters are quickly going to become the No. 1 reason some downtown retail won't be successful."

Again, Beauclair agreed with her fellow downtown business owners.

"We're lucky because we have a parking lot, but as far as the meters go, 20 free minutes simply isn't enough," she said. "Maybe an hour would be better."

Beauclair was quick to add, though, that even an expired parking meter can't dampen the holiday spirit at Dragonfly.

"What can I say? Everybody's happy. Our customers even bring us goodies on Christmas Eve. We absolutely love being downtown," said Beauclair, who then shared a few stories of holiday camaraderie among downtown merchants. "I honestly don't see other stores as our competitors. I send people to other stores—Eyes of the World, Crone's Cupboard and Flying M—all the time."

Flying M's Collins said he couldn't be more thankful.

"The Flying M always sold some gifts, even before we had an official gift shop. Now, we've got thousands of items, but we try really hard to get the stuff that you can't get at the mall," he said. Collins pointed to custom-made Idaho- and Boise-themed glasses, a lederhosen-wearing unicorn Christmas ornament, wildly-popular adult coloring books and faux taxidermied heads of rhinos, hippos and, again, unicorns.

"What's popular? Definitely the jewelry and socks are huge," he said.

At Dragonfly, the sock corner is Beauclair's favorite area of the store.

"This is our sock wall," she said, pointing to the hundreds of men's and women's socks, including a pair sporting the phrase "Carpe the F***k Out Of This Diem."

"Now I ask you, how many places are you going to find these?" Beauclair said. "There isn't a day here where we're not laughing. It's more fun than work."

That couldn't make the Downtown Boise Association happier. The post-recession downtown Boise landscape is rapidly evolving, and Karlee May, DBA membership manager, said "it's all good."

When Macy's shuttered its downtown Boise location in 2010, the immediate reaction was to find another big box store to replace the retailer's significant footprint. As time passed, downtown Boise has learned to live—some would say thrive—in spite of the loss.

"It doesn't hurt to get a big, anchor store for downtown, but it's not the end of the world if we don't," said May. "This year, we're pretty sure that we've got just about everything for anyone's Christmas list: furniture, clothes, the home, kitchen, you name it."

The DBA also tries to fill downtown merchants' stockings with plenty of events to help lure customers, beginning with Small Business Saturday on Nov. 28; First Thursday on Dec. 3, which May says is, by far, the most successful First Thursday of the year; a downtown home for Santa Claus at D.L. Evans Bank at Ninth and Main streets every Saturday through Christmas; and some gorgeous designs adorning store windows.

"This year, we'll have 20 different artists decorating more than a couple dozen different storefronts," said May. "They're really something. We'll unveil them on the First Thursday of December."

At Bandana, the Harrises have decided their once-a-year sale will fall on First Thursday, Dec. 3.

"It's a bit of a secret, but we can tell your readers," said Shannon. "You name it, we'll be discounting our items that day. I bake homemade goodies for a week preparing for that. We do some special gift-wrapping, and it's a pretty special feeling that you can only get downtown. I'm getting in the mood just thinking about it."