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1970S BEAUTIFICATION WAS LESS THAN PRETTY FOR SOME S.L. STORES

"I remember in the 1930s how traffic was generated up and down Main Street between the big stores," says Sam Weller, owner of Weller's Bookstore. "Now, people pull into the malls, buy what they want and pull out."Twenty years ago, Salt Lake City's leaders had a vision of what the city should be like today.

But to some downtown businesses, their plans, which turned into a beautification project, were the beginning of the end.The city hired an architectural firm from Chicago to redesign Main Street, then spent most of 1974 building it. They made the street more narrow and widened sidewalks to cover what used to be 45-degree parking stalls. Then they planted trees along the sidewalks.

The idea was to make Main Street a place for pedestrians - shoppers and workers - not for cars.

But, while most people enjoy the wide sidewalks and the trees, some equate the beautification project with the grim reaper.

"I didn't think we needed to change Main Street and make it a ghost town," said Sam Weller, owner of Sam Weller's Bookstore. Weller was one of a handful of people who unsuccessfully sued the city in the early 1970s to stop the project.

Weller said he once thought Main Street would be the ideal location for his store. Then he moved there and the city took away all the parking for his customers. Beautification removed parking in front of his store. Then the city condemned and took possession of the parking lot behind his store.

Some businesses died from the disruption of the beautification construction. Others succumbed soon after, when the city's Redevelopment Agency attracted the Crossroads Plaza Shopping Center to property owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, directly across from the church-owned ZCMI Center.

The two malls acted as a magnet for shoppers, and retailers in other parts of downtown soon were forced to close.

Fred Ball, president of the Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, blames the city and its redevelopment agency for the chaos he sees among downtown retailers. He wishes the Crossroads Plaza were farther south.

"We used to brag that the ZCMI Center was the largest covered downtown mall in the nation," he said. "Then we couldn't say that any more because the largest one in the nation was across the street."

He said the malls killed retail south of 200 South. Sitting in a sixth-floor office that overlooks much of the blighted southern end of downtown, Ball counts on his fingers as he lists the big stores that closed in the early 1980s - Keith Warshaw & Co., Auerbach, JC Penney, Kress . . .

Weller longs for the old days.

"I remember in the 1930s how traffic was generated up and down Main Street between the big stores," he said. "Now, people pull into the malls, buy what they want and pull out."