October 1, 2016

Signs of Life In the Sugar Hole?

New Development in Sugar HouseSugar House is one of Salt Lake City’s oldest and most historic suburban shopping districts. Now that the infamous “Sugar Hole” might actually be developed, the question remains can the old and historic harmonize with the new and innovative?

The answer, from some of the oldest businesses in Sugar House, is that like a healthy forest, both the old and the new are critical for survival.

Gary Davis has been the proprietor of Fankhauser Jewelry since 1972 after he bought it from the Fankhauser family who opened at the same location 30 years earlier. Gary remembers when the neighbors were the Keith O’Brien clothing store (where Barnes and Noble is), Hygeia Ice Co., Red Wing shoes and Stevens-Brown sports store.

He remembers Sugar House as a locals place to shop where most of the people knew each other and the same customers would return to buy from him or to have their watches repaired by a real Swiss-trained watch repairman with a monocle and tiny tools.

For him, the big box stores and the soon-to-be-built Sugar House streetcar don’t enhance the neighborhood. He still does a good business among the people with whom he has been dealing for 39 years and who still appreciate local craftsmanship. Gary is about to retire, sell his shop, and he is certainly nostalgic for the character that Sugar House once had. Hygia Ice was part meat locker, part ice skating rink, and part swimming pool in the summer time. He remembers how hunters would dodge ice skaters as they crossed the rink on their way to store game in the lockers. The neighborhood has become less eclectic since then.

Sugar House Furniture in Salt Lake City

Sugar House Furniture has been in Sugar House for 25 Years.

Sugar House Furniture has been in business just down the street on Highland Drive for 25 years. Owner Jill Haskell raised her two sons while running the business and has always lived in the neighborhood. She was concerned when Whole Foods broke ground across the street and, for a while, the construction reduced business, but now, having more destination stores like Whole Foods and Barnes and Noble seems to have perked the area up.

Her concerns now mainly focus on business traffic being interrupted for two to three years while new housing and retail space are built along Highland Drive to fill the empty space on the corner of 21st South. She seems hopeful that the new residents in the area (much of the construction is housing) and several new businesses will enhance her customer base.

Fankhauser Jewelry in Sugar House

Fankhauser Jewelry has been in Sugar House for 70 years.

Fankhauser Jewelry and Sugar House Furniture, some of the “old-growth” do have a strong customer base already, but the “new saplings” should make for an interesting mix and a larger “neighborhood”. A forest needs new growth.

Utah Stories spoke with Craig Mecham about when he plans to break ground on the project. He says that all the plans have been sent to his attorney to hammer out the details with the RDA and Wells Fargo. While he won’t go so far as to say everything is 100% ready to move forward he says, “I’m very confident we will be breaking ground by June.” He is also excited to see the street car plans moving forward, which would possibly offer a station just east of his property.