I spent nearly two years on two separate occasions dealing blackjack, roulette and craps out in Wendover. That all but cured me of gambling. Still, I get the occasional urge—like right now. If I was a betting man, and I was looking around Salt Lake City for a safe place to make a lay down that was most certain to win, I’d bet on Gateway.
I like the place and I am by no means a shopper. Or wasn’t, anyway. I don’t shop because I don’t like malls, and until now that meant hanging out in antiseptic buildings full of antiseptic chain stores that were designed to gag people like me. A mall is where I go when I need to realize that there really are some jobs in America that no one should aspire to.
And the food courts—yech! If one’s idea of exotic Asian fare is “Egg Foo Yong on a Stick,” then mall food courts are a safe haven. In over 10 years of doing business downtown, I can proudly say I haven’t spent $10 in that entire time in the food courts of ZCMI Center or Crossroads Mall. My intestines thank me.
When Gateway was announced and then built, many people—us included—wondered aloud about how that enterprise might affect downtown. In our case, we were most concerned with the few remaining small businesses on Main Street--the essence of any downtown. But when the ZCMI and Crossroad Malls were built, they pretty much scuttled downtown. There was little need for one mall downtown, let alone two, but the egos behind the major department stores of the time, Auerbach’s (now long gone) and ZCMI (now Meier & Frank), went forth and built competing structures. Downtown has never fully recovered.
My mother worked in the original Auerbach’s on 300 South and State, and for a time at Montgomery Ward. She’d park the car—angled parking, of course—and we’d walk all over downtown. Into Kress. Into Wolfe’s. Into Shulsen & Dillon. Up to the Oxford Shop, and other shoe stores on Broadway. Eat at Lamb’s. Books at Sam Weller’s. A movie at the Centre. Back then, Salt Lake City felt like a city. Then the malls went up. State Street died quickly and Main Street became very ill. People who once walked downtown, who shopped, ate and drank downtown, moved indoors. And they began to eat really crappy food.
Gateway is none of that. People are outdoors again, more so than I’ve ever seen. The stores feel like stores, not like aquariums. The sushi is real at Happy Sumo and the pizza at California Pizza Kitchen fed 20 of us one night. As for stores, I’m not much of a judge, but Galyan’s is one of the best I’ve ever entered. Sure, Gateway is a faux city, but the deception feels real. So real, I’d bet that Nordstrom will find a way out of Crossroads Mall sooner than later and join the future. The mayor may wish for Nordstrom to stay put, but I’m not betting that way. And when they leave, he’ll have an empty building to deal with in a city with plenty of office space vacancies already.
My bet is that Gateway has already won. Yeah, that’s a safe bet.