The end of January hit Salt Lake City vintage shop owner Jacqueline Whitmore like a blast of freezing wind. She caught COVID-19, and found out the building where her store, Copperhive Vintage, had been located for seven years was fated for demolition.
“We found out very unexpectedly through an article that they were tearing down our building for apartments,” Whitmore said. Sisi Katoa, owner of neighboring vintage store Haight & Ashbury Home, confirmed she found out through the same article.
When Whitmore spoke with the owner, the conversation was “awkward, to say the least,” Whitmore said.
The owner of Copperhive Vintage acknowledges that their olive-green building in Sugar House on 700 East — with its hand-painted mural of flowers on the front — “was not in the best shape.” And Whitmore added that, “I’ll never be mad at them for selling the building, because you got to get your money [and] do what’s best for you.”
However, “I think the way we found out was kind of s---ty,” she said.
The owner, 76-year-old Susan Gallacher, told The Salt Lake Tribune that she never sold the building and doesn’t plan to, and instead entered into a partnership with a developer, through which she would be a co-owner of the property.
She calls the cluster of buildings Kings, after her father, and said they’ve been in her family since before she was born. Her father, she said, used to sell pianos and organs on the first floor of the main building.
“It’s very, very, very emotionally difficult for us to give up that building,” Gallacher said. “In fact, I can hardly even stand to think about it. Because my whole life, really, was there.”
Copperhive Vintage has a new home now, at 2709 S. State St. in South Salt Lake, and it’s filled with Whitmore’s trademark variety of vintage clothing, furniture and kitschy “odds and ends” from the 1940s through the 1970s that she and her husband source themselves.
Since the move, she said, the business has been experiencing a bit of a slump, something she’s seen happen to other businesses in the city.
“I’ve just honestly been trying to survive and build the store and make sure that we can open again,” Whitmore said. “There’s got to be a different answer than just tearing down stuff and making residential. I’m not against growth, but I feel like there’s got to be some mixed-use solution.”
In her new airy space, which has more room to browse in than the old store but is still cozy, it’s easier for Whitmore to discuss what happened. “The move was really rough,” she said.
She and her husband, Logan Whitmore, had 90 days to move the business out of the 700 East location and find a new spot, she said, and they were turned down a few times by building owners who seemed to be squeamish about renting to them. Jacqueline Whitmore’s theory is that they didn’t realize Copperhive Vintage sells curated vintage items, and isn’t a thrift store.
Another problem was location size. Whitmore said most of the places they looked at were either smaller than the old space, or more than twice as large as the building they ended up in. “There’s no small-use retail spaces that are affordable as well,” she said.
Katoa was able to find a new location for Haight & Ashbury Home in Salt Lake City’s Ballpark neighborhood, but the building needed a complete renovation, she said. Remodeling plus moving 10,000 square feet worth of merchandise “was very difficult,” but she said business has been “OK.”
Gallacher was facing her own troubles as well. Her own business in the group of buildings, Kings Cottage Gallery & Academy of Art, was suffering during the COVID-19 pandemic, because she couldn’t hold art classes in person. Repairs on the property were costing her a fortune — including $100,000 for a new paint job — plus she was paying utility bills and contending with property taxes that “just keep going up,” she said.
Gallacher also has a son and grandson who are both disabled and, she said, “need a lot of my attention.”
Despite all that, Gallacher said she had not asked Copperhive Vintage and the other tenants to sign leases “because it was such strange times.”
The arrangement wasn’t sustainable, though. “There was almost no other option than to either sell it or do something,” she said.
When the tenants learned they’d have to leave, Gallacher said that came as a surprise to her as well, even though she entered into the agreement with the developer, The Lotus Company, more than three years ago.
“It happened even faster than I expected,” she said. “I actually found out the same time the tenants did, because the developer — with the looming recession and with the fact that all the costs and everything were going up, the interest rates were going up, all of that — he said, ‘We’ve got to do it faster.’ And I had wanted more time for everybody, including myself.”
Gallacher added, “the developer hadn’t even told me that he had put in for a demolition permit.”
Joe Torman, president of development and construction for The Lotus Company, said the process to apply for a demolition takes between two and four months. The company started that process in January, Torman said, but that didn’t mean demolition would start right away.
Since none of the tenants had signed a lease, Gallacher said she could have told them to be out in 30 days. But instead they got at least three months.
Gallacher said things could have turned out differently if she had received a loan and did a lot of repairs. But then she probably would have had to raise the rent.
“Nobody can find rent as cheap as it was,” she said.
On the Salt Lake County assessor’s website, as of July 6, the only owner listed for the Kings parcels at 2219 S. 700 East and 2225-2233 S. 700 East, plus the plot of land directly east on Lake Street, is Lotus Sugarhouse Homes LLC.
Demolition on the former Copperhive Vintage building began Monday. Torman had said last week that The Lotus Company was planning to demolish the buildings the second week of August, and then start construction that month.
According to Torman, the 69-unit apartment building will be located right next to the S-Line streetcar, and will be made up of an energy-efficient mix of “microunits” and 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom units. The building will consist only of residential space.
The Lotus Company performed a feasibility study on the location to see whether a mixed-use project would be doable, but Torman said they decided against it because 700 East sees heavy traffic.
The project doesn’t have a name yet, Torman said, but Lotus plans to come up with a name that honors the legacy of Gallacher’s family.
Not just stuff
When Copperhive Vintage had its grand opening on State Street on May 14, so many people attended to show support that “we were kind of like deer in headlights,” Whitmore said, laughing. “It was very overwhelming. People brought us treats, gifts, so sweet, like [they] were happy that we were still here.”
After that, though, things slowed down.
“To be honest, we made it by the skin of our teeth last month,” Whitmore said. “But we were able to pay all of our commitments and keep going, which is hard because we were doing well in the other space.”
Now, Whitmore said she feels like she has stepped back in time, not to the 1970s, but to the first days of Copperhive Vintage.
She said she figures that people still need to get used to the new location, and that with the state of the economy now, vintage Pyrex bowls probably aren’t thought of as a necessity.
But she has plans anyway.
Whitmore said she’s excited to grow her business in the new space, which is about a third bigger than the old location. She’d like to hold markets in the outdoor area behind the new building, and feature more local artists. And there’s going to be much more color, with floral designs painted on the storefront’s roll-down security grilles as well as the expansive white wall behind the register.
Whitmore, who grew up in the late 1980s and 1990s, said the vibe in Copperhive Vintage is meant to evoke that world.
“It’s important to me to be able to share those things that I love with other people,” she said. “It makes me feel like I have purpose in some weird way, which seems dumb because it’s just stuff.”
Copperhive Vintage is also meant to be a safe space for everyone, in a community, Whitmore said, that can feel racist and homophobic.
“When we were building the store,” she said, “our mantra was, ‘Let’s make a beautiful place for people to come.’”
Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.