Main Streets Utah: This Utah generational town’s Main Street is clinging to survival

Some of the Main Street businesses have been owned by the same families for generations.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) A constant stream of traffic moves though Spanish Fork's Main Street on Saturday, March 11, 2023, where some historic buildings lost their iconic fronts in the 1950’s.

Editor’s note • This article is the first in an occasional series, Main Streets Utah, which will take a historical and modern look at the central thoroughfares of different Utah cities.

Spanish Fork • Mayor Mike Mendenhall has been a Spanish Fork resident his entire life.

One of his best childhood memories is walking down Spanish Fork’s Main Street with all of his best friends, soda in hand — going to such places as Stone Drug Pharmacy, where you can get the best hamburger and get your prescription filled.

In the way small towns often are (though small is relative; the Utah County city’s population is nearly 44,000, according to 2021 census data), Spanish Fork is a generational town.

“We’re spanning the generations and keeping Main Street alive by making sure people experience it young and old,” Mendenhall said. (One of the young is Mendenhall’s 6-year-old son, who walks into the mayor’s office while he’s on the phone with a reporter, and says he wants to go to Scott Drug before going to kindergarten.)

It’s a town at a confluence of modernity and history — home to a surprisingly eclectic mix of businesses, including a performing arts theater, a legacy music store, a compelling antique shop and a comic book shop. Mendenhall said it’s those businesses and the people who run them that make Spanish Fork’s Main Street special.

Look out his office window for an hour, Mendenhall said, and one can catch five to 10 people walking out of Cope’s Boot & Shoe Repair. Two blocks over, and there’s a shopping center and a Costco. Sometime this year, Spanish Fork will get its first Target store.

The cool thing about Main Street, Mendenhall said, is that it’s always been an experience.

Part of Spanish Fork’s “Main Street experience,” the mayor said, ties with the street’s geographical location — 14 blocks from Interstate 15 and the Costco at the north end to the Mill Race Canal to the south. The ever-looming Mount Timpanogos, about 17 miles north, can look as if Main Street is running right up to it, Mendenhall said.

The interstate, though, is even closer, and connects directly to Main Street. That makes Spanish Fork a stop-over town, with semi trucks frequently rushing through — making Main not very pedestrian-friendly.

According to data collected by the Utah Department of Public Safety from 2017 to 2022, the four-block stretch of Main Street from 400 North to Center Street saw 193 vehicle crashes, 74 of them causing injuries. None of them, though, caused fatalities.

The city and the Utah Department of Transportation issued a study on Main Street in March 2019, laying out zoning codes, looking at development intensity, and adding guidelines to retain the street’s character while creating a “pedestrian-friendly downtown that entices business owners to stay and redevelop.”

Some of that is underway, Mendenhall said. The city is putting up signs banning U-turns on Main Street, limiting the places drivers can make left turns, and adding medians to improve pedestrian safety.

“The walkability of it is something we’re really trying to protect and then trying to grow as well,” Mendenhall said.

It’s a fine balance, Mendenhall said, between growing the town and keeping it tied to its origins. That balance, he said, is reflected in the city’s motto: “Pride and Progress.”

“We are proud of our history, but we’re not afraid of progress,” he said. “In fact, we lean into progress. … We’re looking at places in Spanish Fork to have commercial and retail spaces that are just closer to neighborhoods, so people can walk to the places that they need services or need goods.”

Preserving and growing Main Street is a quality-of-life issue, Mendenhall said — and it’s the business owners who see that issue firsthand.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Angelus Theatre gets ready to open a run of "Robin Hood: the Musical" along Spanish Fork's Main Street on Saturday, March 11, 2023.

Traffic, parking and customers

Derrick Brundage said he and his wife wanted to do something for the community.

The couple had run an internet business, but were inspired by the city’s idea of promoting a more social vision for Main Street. So they started Doc Brundy’s, a burger cafe and duckpin bowling hub.

The traffic — and the fact that UDOT controls the street (it’s officially Utah state road 156) — makes it difficult to run a business, Brundage said.

“Locals kind of avoid downtown, because the traffic moves so fast, it’s dangerous,” Brundage said. “As a business owner, our lifeblood is the pedestrians. [It] feels like you’re relatively powerless to make any change.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) People try duckpin bowling at Doc Brundy’s along Spanish Fork’s Main Street on Saturday, March 11, 2023.

Curt Gordon, who owns The Angelus Theatre, agrees.

“Spanish Fork’s Main Street is more like the autobahn than it is Provo’s Center Street. It is not in the least way pedestrian-friendly,” said Gordon, who said he has jumped out of the way of cars nearly half a dozen times himself.

Also, there’s a lack of parking for people visiting businesses, Gordon said — and the street often sees jacked-up pick-up trucks, that “rolling coal” that produces heavy amounts of black smoke and a lot of noise.

With all that, Gordon said he’s grateful for the traffic because he says it brings customers.

Gordon started on Main Street working for another business, Boothe Brothers Music, and bought the theater from the Boothes in 2016. The theater opened 1912, and hosted light vaudeville theater before the motion pictures took over. It burned down in 1948, and was rebuilt. It has 450 seats, including a balcony, and now shows live concerts, stage musicals, and church services on Sundays.

Spanish Fork’s reputation with out-of-towners might be as a rodeo town, Gordon said — but it’s a great town to live and work, and the mom-and-pop businesses that have survived through the decades are what make Main Street special.

By the way, Gordon said the best coffee shop he’s ever visited is on Main Street: Joe Coffee & Espresso.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Broden Parkin and Cyndee Houtz try out some of the many guitar options at Boothe Music along Spanish Fork's Main Street on Saturday, March 11, 2023.

Preserving a hidden gem

Annalece Boothe Misiego calls Spanish Fork a hidden gem — and Boothe Brothers Music, where she’s a co-owner, is a part of that.

The shop is a music aficionado’s dream. Colorful guitars and ukuleles hang from the walls and ceiling. Patrons can rent instruments and buy parts. In the basement, some 200 students every week take classes to learn different instruments.

Boothe Misiego now lives in Orange County, California. She and her brother bought the store from their uncles, Mike and Steve Boothe. When Mike died of a heart attack, Steve didn’t want to run the store alone — but he wanted to keep it in the family.

“A lot of the businesses that are down there are owned and operated by longtime Spanish Forkers,” Boothe Misiego said. “Main Street pays homage to our roots.”

Those roots run deep. Mormons settled the town in 1851, only four years after the first white settlers arrived in Utah. In 1865, the Treaty of Spanish Fork forced the Ute Nation to leave their lands across Utah and relocate to the Uintah Basin. Spanish Fork was also the home of the first permanent Icelandic settlement in the United States.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kara Morris, owner of Confetti Antiques & Books in Spanish Fork shows off a photograph from the early 1900s that shows her historic building back when it still retained its iconic front on Saturday, march 11, 2023.

At 98, Melba King has lived in Spanish Fork her whole life. She remembers the days when the The Utah Coal Railroad ran down Main Street. She remembers taking walks with on that street with her husband. Her father, Ray Gull, was mayor for two terms in the 1950s.

For those who live there now, Boothe Misiego calls Spanish Fork a place of belonging — which is why, she said, businesses like hers have carried on for generations.

The new big-box stores, though, pose a challenge to those traditions. “That’s a huge threat for these little Main Street businesses,” she said. “Suddenly we’ve got all these haircutting places: so the little lady who used to cut everyone’s hair in Spanish Fork — what chance does she have?”

Kara Morris, who owns Confetti Antiques & Books, said her store’s eclectic offerings have changed, to keep up with what’s popular and in demand. Right now, she said, it’s comic books, records and ‘80s and ‘90s clothing.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kara Morris, owner of Confetti Antiques & Books offers an eclectic selection of vintage souvenirs, rare and out of print books, china and collectibles at her historic building along Spanish Fork's Main Street on Saturday, March 11, 2023.

Spanish Fork, Morris said, is finally a destination place — attracting people from all over the state. In the 30 years she’s been in the city, Morris said, it’s quadrupled in size.

Through all that, she said, the city has done a good job of preserving traditions and the community feeling associated with main streets.

Main streets as a concept — the one Walt Disney tried to mythologize at Disneyland — have a certain American hallmark to them. They are hubs, centers of commerce, culture and history, both good and bad. As the author and cultural historian Miles Orvell puts it, “America’s small towns and their Main Streets have died a thousand deaths, but Main Streets also live on and multiply now as never before.”

Spanish Fork’s Main Street, in some ways, has stood the test of time. But it’s no longer the only place in town. Locals can go to a big-box store, or hop on the Interstate and be in Provo in minutes. Its future, like that of many main streets in smaller towns and cities, will be affected by urbanization and development around it.

“Main Street is really cool,” said Brundage, the bowling-alley owner, “but with the highway organization, I don’t know how long it’s gonna last.”

Editor’s note • If you would like to see a street in your Utah city covered in The Tribune’s Main Streets Utah series, featured on this list, fill out the form here.

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(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ryan Adair and his son Hunter, 6, play a round of Pokémon during their regular Saturday stop at Dragons Keep comic book and gaming store along Spanish Fork's Main Street on Saturday, March 11, 2023.


What else Spanish Fork offers

Here are some other attractions to see in Spanish Fork: