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Downtown Deep Freeze

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For the first time in its 24-year history, the Flying M closed early—twice.

Jessica Pallante, retail manager at the downtown Boise coffee shop, called the situation "dismal" during the first week of January, when the region was was gripped by unusually cold temperatures, heavy snowfall and icy sidewalks.

"It's totally affected sales," she said. "We weren't as prepared for this as we could have been, but who could have expected record-breaking snow and rain?"

Between Jan. 1 and Jan. 7, 11.3 inches of snow fell on Boise. The unprecedented weather caused school closures, long commutes and closed some businesses. Roads went unplowed to the point the Ada County Highway District had to explain its plowing priorities. Meanwhile, the city pitched in to get snow and ice off residential streets.

The economic impact of the snowfall hasn't been tallied, but for some downtown businesses, it has been a big blow to foot traffic and sales.

Flying M closed early Jan. 4 and Jan. 7, when 6.5 inches and 2 inches fell in downtown Boise, respectively. A "couple hundred" people usually walk through Flying M's doors daily during the winter, Pallante said, but "it was probably cut in half on some of those crazier days."

The effect was just as pronounced on the western end of downtown, where The Record Exchange saw the number of customers drop "significantly." Like Flying M, the iconic record store closed early on Jan. 4 and Jan. 7—"something we haven't done in years," wrote RX Marketing and Promotions Director Chad Dryden in an email. Freezing rain and icy roads also postponed an in-store performance.

All across Boise, businesses were worried about the safety of their customers. Record Exchange staff shoveled snow, scattered salt on the sidewalks and offered one-hour parking tokens for the lot beside the store. Sidewalks and nearby parking spots were socked in with ice. Snow piled up in parking lots and water pooled behind ice dams, unable to reach sewer drains.

"We were worried about people's safety," Pallante said, at Flying M.

Days after the snow started falling, Boise Mayor Dave Bieter declared a citywide emergency, allowing it to chip in on clearing sidewalks along key transit corridors and alleyways downtown for trash pickup. All in, the city spent approximately $230,000 on snow and ice removal. In issuing a state of emergency, the city could bypass its normal purchasing rules.

"We took it upon ourselves to make downtown safe for pedestrian traffic and on-street parking downtown," said Bieter spokesman Mike Journee.

The storm triggered an avalanche of criticism of ACHD, with the public calling the city of Boise more than 500 times to complain about snow removal. Bieter told KTVB Channel 7, "If this were [the city's] performance, I would expect to be terminated out of office." ACHD Commissioner Paul Woods fired back, calling the criticism an "egregious twisting of the facts."

The story of who was responsible for clearing roads and sidewalks grew more complicated when Rep. John Gannon (D-Boise) asked Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden to offer an opinion. According to Wasden, ACHD has maintenance responsibilities for many Boise sidewalks, and in a 2013 codicil, it was made responsible for snow and ice removal. According to ACHD spokesman Craig Quintana, ACHD has the right of way for 4,600 miles of Boise sidewalks.

Bieter and the Boise City Council have long been vocal in their criticism of ACHD. While Wasden's opinion is non-binding, it has turned heads at City Hall.

"Knowing the mayor has real challenges with the system as it is, it is something that piqued our interest, and we're taking a close look at it," Journee said. "It has the potential to change the way that our streets are managed, and that in and of itself is interesting."

Meanwhile, business may be bouncing back. Dryden said The Record Exchange has a slew of upcoming in-store performances scheduled and comparatively favorable weather forecasts may help the store "finish the month on a high note."

At Flying M, sales began to pick up Jan. 21 during the Women's March on Idaho, when demonstrators visiting the coffee shop helped make up for business lost during the deep freeze.

"There was a solid line for four hours," Pallante said.

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