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A city block’s fight for survival

In downtown Salt Lake, a hodgepodge of shops and businesses weather the pandemic’s disruption. 

Broadway between 200 East and 300 East pictured in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 18, 2020.
Broadway between 200 East and 300 East pictured in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 18, 2020.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Diana Antii sits at the front desk, hand-stitching a blue dress for a woman who plans to elope. Eloping is a pandemic trend, but without weddings — or job interviews, dinners or nights at the symphony — her clientele has largely vanished, along with the foot traffic. “Normally, you’d see people walking quite a bit,” she says with a slight Ukrainian accent. “Nowadays — just look outside.” She gestures at an empty sidewalk.

This block of Broadway, between 200 and 300 East in downtown Salt Lake City, has a personality of its own. D’Antii Tailoring sits among a walkable and eclectic mix of shops that’s always evolving. When the pandemic hit, the block went dark. Three months later, some doors are open, but normal remains absent, the future blurred.

It’s jarring on a street where one can spend an afternoon hopping from dry cleaner to nail salon to a seafood lunch on an outdoor patio, with bicycles whizzing past in protected lanes and people in suits walking to their offices or homeless people begging store-to-store.

Jitterbug Antiques owner Dee Jackman poses for a portrait at his shop on Broadway between 200 East and 300 East in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 18, 2020.
Jitterbug Antiques owner Dee Jackman poses for a portrait at his shop on Broadway between 200 East and 300 East in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 18, 2020.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

At Jitterbug Antiques and Toys, 80-year-old Dee Jackman, sporting a white combover, reclines behind his trinket-covered desk. The air is musty, with a hint of old leather catcher’s mitt. Before his wife died 21 years ago, he promised he’d keep the store open. That was easy in the early 2000s. “We were doing crackers out here,” Dee says. Then eBay came along. And parking rates went up. In January, Dee’s landlord raised his rent by $500. “That just killed me,” he says. “And then, this pandemic comes on.” Instead of 25 to 100 visitors every day, he gets five to 12. He’s managed to pay rent so far, but he’s not sure what’ll happen on July 1.

It’s a similar story at The People’s Coffee, where profits have dropped by 40%, its symbiont circle with the bike shop and yoga studio across the street devastated. And at Abyss Piercings, owner Courtney Marriott, in a floral-pattern mask that accents her green eyes and coin-sized gauges, is planning for a “soft open” that would limit capacity for safety but slash her business by two-thirds or more.

The block isn’t the ghost town it was when the pandemic began, Sarah Anderson observes, but “it’s a lot quieter.” She opened City of Industry here for the vibrant location, near a bookstore, an arthouse movie theater, and a few women’s clothing shops. But the gift shop remains closed. She’s left a sign in the window: “I MISS YOU.”

City Barbers manager Ace Parkin poses for a portrait in front of City Barbers on Broadway between 200 East and 300 East in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 18, 2020.
City Barbers manager Ace Parkin poses for a portrait in front of City Barbers on Broadway between 200 East and 300 East in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 18, 2020.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Mason “Ace” Parkin recalls those days behind piercing blue eyes, his dark hair combed straight back and a beard spilling from his Carolina-blue mask. “It was about as quiet,” he says, “as Salt Lake City has ever been.”

He stands outside City Barbers, where a pair of red lawn chairs serve as a makeshift outdoor waiting room. Buzzes and snip-snip-snips come through the open door — the sounds of a dormant business returning to life, with noticeable restrictions.

To enter, customers undergo a temperature check. Just like a few paces west, on the corner, at Tavernacle Social Club. The stools are gone, here, and the dueling pianos that make it more a venue than a restaurant are 10 feet from the nearest table.

Troy Baldwin played the piano here for a decade before buying the place in 2016. “I basically just bought a stage that no one could kick me off of,” he says. But he wasn’t counting on COVID. It shuttered the Tavernacle in March, through April and into the second week of May, when they reopened by offering 30 tickets. They sold six.

Still, business is crawling uphill. Troy plays the piano most nights, and even with distancing and masks and limited occupancy, reduced revenue and the challenge of making rent, he’s grateful. “Even on slow nights,” he says, “it’s fine. It’s one more night that I get to play for people who are happy to be there.

“Then when I get home, the reality kind of creeps back in.”