Neighboring shop owners said they could count on one hand the times that the Oxford Shop in downtown Salt Lake City failed to open for business over the course of six decades. But at midday Tuesday, the small storefront appeared forlorn, doors locked and lights out.
Its owner, Richard Wirick, had been struck and killed by a Utah Transit Authority bus earlier in the day, setting off a wave of mourning and remembrances for the man known as “Mr. Downtown.”
Wirick, 82, was on his way to a meeting on downtown issues when he was hit at 7:27 a.m. in a crosswalk near 400 South and 200 East. Salt Lake City police are investigating the cause of the accident, and the bus driver has been placed on administrative leave pending a review, said UTA spokesman Gerry Carpenter.
“He died in his boots,” said Pam O’Mara,who owns Utah Artist Hands, the store directly east of the Oxford Shop.
Ted Wilson, former Salt Lake City mayor and a frequent customer, agreed.
“There was no wasting away in a rest home for Richard,” Wilson said. “Its terribly tragic, but it was like an honorable battlefield death — he died in his downtown.”
Wilson said he relished his chats with Wirick, along with his quality inventory. “He was totally positive. There were days when business wasn’t good, but you’d never know it from talking to Richard.”
Wirick had weathered the four years of construction on the nearby City Creek development that contributed to area foot traffic dropping off. That expansive mixed-use project is set to open next month.
In 2006, the Vest Pocket Business Coalition gave Wirick the designation of “Mr. Downtown” for his 55-year devotion to the community.
“And he certainly was,” said Pat Holmes, vice-president of partner development for Visit Salt Lake. “He was just a treasure and will be so sorely missed.”
In an email, longtime customer Curt Burnett called the shop owner a vanishing breed because of his personal touch.
“Richard was the antithesis of today’s impersonal, big-box approach to marketing,” said Burnett, a former Questar Corp. executive . “He treated every customer like an old friend and made customer satisfaction more than a cliche.”
Wirick’s oldest son, Stephen, said he knew him as Mr. Optimist. “One of his favorite sayings in life was, ‘Life is 90 percent good and 10 percent bad — and just forget the 10 percent.’ ”
“He was a good father,” added Stephen Wirick, 60, noting that his dad made time for him and his two other sons, half-brothers Frederic and Andre.
At Utah Artist Hands Tuesday, O’Mara acknowledged being heartbroken over the loss of her neighbor and friend.
“The saddest thing of all is how very much he was looking forward to City Creek,” O’Mara said, “and to not get to see it when we’re so close, it just breaks my heart.”
At noon Tuesday, Shelley Woodruff, manager of nearby Caffe Molise, reminisced about Wirick’s big heart and said that area shop owners planned to place flowers outside the Oxford Shop, 65 W. 100 South.
“He was super-dedicated to our street and always trying to put us out there because we were kind of quiet during the construction,” Woodruff said. “He was always fighting for us.”
At City Hall, council members and Mayor Ralph Becker’s office praised him as a true champion of the urban core.
“I can’t think of any one individual that’s been a stronger advocate for downtown and the city,” said Councilman Carlton Christensen
Art Raymond, spokesman for Mayor Becker, called Wirick “not only an unwavering and outspoken advocate for his neighborhood but an indefatigable small-business owner who saw opportunity in every challenge.
Wirick also touched a former paperboy and current Third District Juvenile Court judge.
“I bought my first pair of shoes from him, when I was in high school, at his shop on Broadway in 1968,” Judge Andrew Valdez said in an email, noting that Wirick’s shops on Broadway and later on 100 South became Salt Lake City landmarks after the first opened in 1951.
“He never changed — he-treated me the same as a paper boy and judge, with respect and a caring heart.”
Wirick was born May 22, 1929, in Salt Lake City.
Wirick’s first wife was Caroline Evans Wirick, Stephen Wirick’s mother, who died in 1989. After their divorce, Richard Wirick married sculptor Ursula Brodauf in 1958 and they had two sons, Frederic and Andre. She died last May.
In the obituary of Esther Radinger, who died in July 2009, Richard Wirick is also noted as her loving companion of 40 years .
Funeral arrangements for Wirick are pending, but Stephen Wirick said there will be a celebration of his father’s life.
“We’ll want the city to be involved because he was such a big downtown guy.”
In 2010, the Downtown Alliance presented Wirick with its Achievement Award, which is given to individuals and organizations who have made significant contributions to the Central Business District.
“He really was downtown’s greatest champion,” said Jason Mathis, Alliance executive director. “At 82, he’d certainly weathered several storms and watched this community evolve and change in many ways. All of downtown will mourn his passing.”
Tribune reporters Derek Jensen and Cimaron Neugebauer contributed to this report.