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Utah’s Trolley Square surviving in face of challenges

5 years after shootings, pain of recession, shopping center moves on.



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SKB had owned Trolley for just about six months when 18-year-old Sulejman Talovic went on a rampage Feb. 12, 2007, shooting nine people in and around Trolley Square, and killing five.

After the tragedy, the state and national economies slipped into recession, and shoppers slammed shut their wallets. Later, Whole Foods, which had committed to opening a large store on the property, began to waffle on those plans after it acquired rival grocery chain Wild Oats, which had two nearby locations.

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Losing the Whole Foods store would have been a huge setback. That led SKB to file suit against the natural foods grocer, claiming Whole Foods was contractually obligated to build a store. After more than a year of delays and negotiations, SKB prevailed. The sides settled and construction began on a 44,000-square-foot store, albeit smaller than the one originally planned, which opened in March 2011.

A RENEWAL BEGINS

In spring 2007, several months after the shooting, SKB began work on the main mall building and on replacing an aging parking structure. In the mall, skylights were uncovered and seismic and infrastructure upgrades were completed.

Although the mall received a much-needed face-lift, the greatest changes were being made on the surrounding property.

SKB built three retail buildings totaling 30,000 square feet on the west side. On the northeast corner, foundation work began on the Whole Foods site, with an additional 16,000 square feet set aside for small, speciality retailers. Two stories of parking — more than 200 spaces — were built above Whole Foods.

As with any construction work, the mall at times wasn’t exactly shopper-friendly, even though SKB said it did its best to keep the mall open and navigable during reconstruction.


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CHALLENGE TO ADD, KEEP TENANTS

Undoubtedly, the nation’s and state’s retail sector has been hit hard by the economic downturn, and shopping centers and malls along the Wasatch Front have been in tenant-retention mode since 2008. Trolley, even though it has newer competitors (think City Creek) and more modern rivals (Station Park has the latest in movie theaters), has managed to remain viable.

Although it apparently is losing Restoration Hardware to City Creek Center, Pottery Barn, Pottery Barn Kids and Williams-Sonoma are locked into long-term leases, says Trolley Square’s Katter. And they remain distinctive and powerful draws given that the two Pottery Barn locations are the only ones in Utah and that the Williams-Sonoma store is one of only two in the state (the other is in Provo).

Trolley Square also has some successful longtime restaurant tenants, including Rodizio Grill and The Old Spaghetti Factory. The Italian restaurant and its neighbor, Desert Edge Brewery at The Pub, both have been in Trolley Square since 1972.

Sena Vick of Salt Lake City has been coming to Trolley Square for years to eat at The Old Spaghetti Factory. Also a fan of independent book stores, Vick now comes for Weller Book Works, too.

New tenants, led by Whole Foods, are helping to compensate for the recessionary loss of shops such as the Hard Rock Cafe, whose parent scaled back during hard times, and apparel retailer Banana Republic, one of a number of stores closed by struggling Gap Inc.

Tony Weller, owner of Weller Book Works, moved his bookstore — formerly known as Sam Weller’s — from Main Street to Trolley Square in mid-January. For him, it was one of the only a few malls that had any type of balance between locally owned shops and chain stores. In addition to selling new, used and collectible books, Weller also is working on adding a café to bring coffee, tea and food to the south end of Trolley Square.

"We needed to make a move, and I’m so glad it ended up being to Trolley," Weller said. "It feels like home."

Lesley Mitchell writes One Cheap Chick in daily blog form at blogs.sltrib.com/cheap. lesley@sltrib.com Twitter: @cheapchick Facebook: Facebook.com/ OneCheapChick



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