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PROGRESS GIVES OLD MIDVALE AN EMPTY LOOK

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Progress has trekked eastward, leaving the Main Street of Midvale behind.

Cars rush through the quaint, two-block stretch of "Old Midvale" on their way to somewhere else. Occasionally one stops. Most don't.Several businesses on that street have gasped their last breath in the past two years, leaving behind empty storefronts, boarded windows and "for rent" signs.

"They didn't close because of business failure," said Kent Vincent, owner of Vincent Drug. "They closed because the owners retired and there wasn't anyone to take over their business, so the owners just closed them up. I can name 10 businesses that did that: a couple of clothing stores, two or three grocery stores and auto store."

Death in Midvale

Old Midvale has been dying by slow stages for 20 years. The First Interstate bank on the corner closed a few years ago. The post office vacated its Main Street building last year for a new, spacious building several blocks to the east (bitterly dubbed the "Taj Mahal" by the business owners left behind.)

"We miss the post office," Vincent said. "Every change takes away business."

But the business owners are fighting back. They put in new curb and gutters along their streets a few years ago. "I guess it made the street look more like old-time Midvale," Vincent said. "But the only thing I could see is that it took eight parking places away from us."

Midvale City tries to rebuild with redevelopment money, making cheap loans to businessmen who want to maintain and improve their buildings.

Vincent put a new roof in his drugstore last fall with a low-cost loan the city gave him. "That roof cost a bundle," he said. "I couldn't come up with that all at once, but I can come up with the $200 a month to pay the loan back."

Failed dreams

City officials also have grand dreams of revitalizing the area, but business owners don't trust those schemes any more. When Kathy Price opened a business on the street with her mother and sister nine years ago, she thought the district would turn around in a year or two. "The city had these artist renderings," she said.

Those artist renderings are something of a joke now. The city still has them, leaning against a wall in one of the city offices, but business owners just smile at them.

"How is the city going to revitalize this?" Vincent asked, gesturing to the neglected, empty buildings. "What can they do? We'll have to do it ourselves."

Price concurred. "You can't just wait for someone else to do it. We've decided we have to take care of ourselves and make it go," she said.

A sense of history

The street is rich in history and longtime associations. Vincent's grandfather first opened Vincent Drug as a tavern in 1911. When Midvale voted to go dry in 1915, he converted it to a confectionary and drugstore.

Vincent's father bought the business in 1929. Vincent and his brothers took it over in 1952 and Vincent has run it himself since 1971.

"It's long, hard hours," Vincent said. He estimates that he works 72 hours a week. Like his retired neighbors, Vincent doesn't see anyone waiting in the wings to take his business over when he retires.

"I'll see what happens," he said. "If I can sell the store and find someone who would like it, I'll sell it. If not, I'll have to close it out and try to rent the building."

That won't happen any time soon. "I've got my health and my mind's good," he said. He also has a strong base of customers who have been coming to him for years.

Vincent Drug is an easy place to know. When one steps in the front door it's as if time came to a gentle halt 25 years ago. There is an old-fashioned soda fountain in the back of the store with a green metal malt machine and red upholstered stools that could have come straight from the `50s. Jars of treats line the counter: giant beef jerky, small jerky, lollipops, bubblegum and strands of licorice.

The Midvale Studio across the street has its own quaint air and loyal following. The studio opened in 1947. Elden Howlett started working there in 1963 and bought it in 1975. Most of his customers live outside of Midvale, he said. They find him in the Yellow Pages or hear about him from friends. Most of Vincent's customers also live outside of the small city.

Old Midvale making a comeback

Howlett is optimistic about Old Midvale's future. He thinks the tiny district is making a comeback. "The Comedy Circuit is coming in. The Mint Restaurant opened. I think there's more activity down here. It's on the upswing, not a decline. I'm more optimistic now than I've been for 10 years."

The Comedy Circuit plans to move into the old showhouse in the fall. The showhouse closed over 10 years ago. The Nauvoo Playhouse was supposed to move in there last year, but the deal fell through, Vincent said.

Now business owners are holding their breath, hopeful the Comedy Circuit will succeed. "It will be a comedy store," Vincent said. "That's one of the `in' things now isn't it? That could become a really big thing if they know what they're doing."

Old Midvale could use "a really big thing."