Macy’s Departure Is Due To Inept Government

Macy’s leaving downtown Boise comes as no surprise. For more than 40 years we have watched officials tout their “vision for the future” in downtown Boise. It changes with each new planner and consultant.

The Bon Marche (Macy’s today), J.C. Penney’s, The Mode, Falk’s I.D. and many smaller merchants vanished, thanks to the far and near sighted visions of Boise politicos. Merchants who could afford to stay in business moved west where their customers lived and worked.

Used to be a “skid row” of downtown bars with names like CACTUS, EMERALD CLUB, BOUQUET, the WESTERN CAFE and others that attracted cowboys, lumberjacks, and assorted Western characters who came to town on weekends looking for girls, booze, and card games. There were also plenty of winos. The Western is gone along with most of the cowboys and lumberjacks. The booze, girls, and bars with the same names are now trendy elements of a “vibrant downtown night scene.”

Four decades ago the Feds came up with something called, “Housing & Urban Development.” The plan was to use Fed money to purchase blighted areas of downtown, level the buildings and sell the bare ground to developers at bargain basement prices as an incentive to “Renew” downtown.

One group of politicos held out for a “downtown mall.” They were great at demolition, but creating a Phoneix from the ashes has been difficult. People got tired of the vacant blocks downtown and elected a new council that was bent on growth. They pushed for the mall as well as ANYTHING that would come into downtown.

Meanwhile The Idaho Statesman, Law Enforcement, St. Als Hospital, real estate developers, and every major retailer listened to planners and politicos and moved WEST to be at ground zero for the population boom. And did it ever boom!. That westward expansion continued unabated, encouraged by 40 years of government policies.

“HUD Houses” were built all over the place, subsidized by the Feds. At one time Idaho also had more Farmers Home Administration (FmHA) loans than any state in the union.

Those DIRECT LOANS from the Feds required a home be at least 10 miles from the city limits of a town of 20,000 or more population. When the developers got 10 miles outside Boise they were within 10 miles of Nampa. SOLUTION: Head south to build the likes of Fox Ridge Estates and Kuna…A recipe for urban sprawl encouraged by local and federal government policies. Today they do it with “planned communities.”

Bottom line: RETAILERS GO WITH THE POPULATION–CUSTOMERS! Despite efforts of downtown developers and politicos, there isn’t much of a “condo community” in downtown Boise and there never will be. Certainly not enough of them stacked atop one another to support a department store.

People come here to ski, hike, fish, and generally enjoy the outdoor mountain life. If they wanted to live in an urban tower they would stay in places like Seattle, Portland and San Francisco. Times are a changin’.

Macy’s is closing downtown
I hope a new tenant is found
Before it falls to disrepair
And we all have to stare
At another hole in the ground!

Comments & Discussion

Comments are closed for this post.

  1. That pretty much nails it on the head. Your knowledge of Boise has always impressed me.

    That said, I remember those cowboy bars, I was a little young, but my memory of them is good.
    While some of the bars remain, they have changed. They have learned to adapt and keep going. Maybe Boise should take some lessons from them. Then again, maybe not.

    The problem goes further in that Boise needs to do something to get some traction going and so far they don’t have a good record of making good choices. We keep electing new people and the ones already in place work quickly to get them thinking as they do, and the beat goes on.

  2. “……..but creating a Phoneix from the ashes has been difficult.”

    The Banner Bank building just won the Phoenix award for 2009. Irony anyone?

    EDITOR NOTE–Go green! It still wasn’t easy.

  3. I found it overwhelmingly ironic that the local paper quoted ex Ada County Commish Judy Peavey Derr as lamenting the loss of her downtown shopping experiance. She is as much to “blame” as anyone….opening the floodgates for sprawl and far flung planned communities during her tenure as Commish. Enjoy the drive to Eagle Road Ms. Derr….you earned it!

  4. The Boise Picayune
    Jan 7, 2010, 10:34 am

    Thankfully there have been a few people over the years willing to stand up to the Cleptocrats of the CCDC and City Hall, or Downtown would be completely sterile by now.

    As it stands, Downtown Boise will soon be nothing more than bars, pretentious restaurants and a few ticky tacky condos.

  5. Urban Renewal is a huge fraud on property taxpayers where the exist. Urban Renewal money is PROPERTY TAX MONEY and it gets spent without any vote of the people or oversight from any elected body or the voters.

    Property taxes where I live would go down by about 30% if UR went away tomorrow.

    UR has replaced bond elections in our Idaho cities. Citizens have been removed from the capital budgeting process via urban renewal laws.

    Canyon County Assesor’s website has the best explanation of how UR really works. It is a tax shift that most folks simply do not understand.

  6. This is not restricted to Boise. The Missoula store is another downtown Macy’s going down. And Missoula, that I know of, does not have another Macy’s in the area.

    So it’s not just Boise, and it’s not just a failure of Boise government that have led to this. Shopping patterns are changing. Anyone shop online lately? That affects store performance, too, right?

    Tell that to the folks here or those commenting on the Statesman site, though, who are eager to criticize the current leaders for something that is 20-30 years or so in the making (attaboy, Cyclops). Near-sighted, indeed.

  7. Here is the link to the Canyon County Assessor website piece on Urban Renewal

  8. Did you do any research at all for this post? Sure doesn’t seem like it. HUD has nothing to do with tax increment financing (TIF). In fact, if you’d done your homework, you’d know that HUD has few (if any) programs to help downtowns redevelop. TIF is enabled by state legislation.
    Furthermore, HUD didn’t build neighborhoods in Boise, they guaranteed loans on homes that purchasers chose in existing or planned areas. Farmers Home is a different agency completely (it’s under the Department of Agriculture, as a matter of fact), and doesn’t build homes, either. They enable loans. The loans were intended to economically develop rural areas, which is why they came with population restrictions.

    Government policies did indeed enable sprawl, but not in the way you describe, and these policies certainly didn’t contribute to the recent demise of Macy’s.

    EDITOR NOTE–URBAN RENEWAL was several decades ahead of TIF. TIF was created by the state at the behest of cities to take away property taxes from local jurisdictions without their permission when the Federal funds dried up. You are correct about most of your assertions and a careful read and comprehension will show the homework assignment was completed. The issue is all of the politico’s decisions in aggregate–often creating contrary results–put us where we are today.
    I would assert TOO MUCH planning rather than no planning is the problem.

  9. Another Voice
    Jan 7, 2010, 11:45 am

    Just think………….

    If only we had a trolley driving by every half hour or so, Macy’s would still be there.

    I am so amazed that Macy executives did not look at the long-term projections made by the mayor for revitalization of downtown because of the trolley. Remember Dick Eardley, the mayor, holding out for urban renewal to make the downtown core the retail center for Treasure Valley?

    Actually, Macy executives probably looked at the cost / benefit ratio of the cramdown coming with a trolley and increased DBA fees and said “Let’s Get The Hell Out of Dodge” and let someone else own a big building that will have high fees for operating in retail limbo of the downtown.

  10. I hate downtown. Pay to park, over priced everything, one-way streets, congestion, crosswalks, pedestrians, bums, and j-walkers. Parking nazi’s in the day and too many cops hoping you’re drunk at night. City leadership with some Norman Rockwell vision… always with their hand out… “Please help us with our poor little downtown.” What a joke. Like the editor said… it’s just a trap for federal handouts.

  11. I worked in retail downtown in the seventies when urban renewal first hit that area. The mom and pop stores went first, followed over the years by all the others mentioned. By the time the mall was built, downtown was already royally screwed and has never recovered. The truth is, at this point they really should give up on trying to make downtown Boise a retail mecca. It’s a disorganized clutter of offices, bars, coffee shops, banks, and overpriced empty condos with a few retail stores and restaurants thrown in the mix. It’s attraction is that it is eclectic, which does have an appeal to some people, but as far as competing with Boise Towne Square and westwards for retail customers, it will remain an abject failure. A lot of the people that work downtown won’t even shop downtown. The parking is still woefully inadequate and no one likes paying for it. Macy’s could be converted to office space which would be more sensible use of that building.

  12. I think Macy’s decided to concentrate retail operations. I did a bunch of contracting work for the Bon and learned from the manager there who was pleading with upper management for keeping his store open. He told me that the downtown store made more money /square foot than the Boise Mall store. By closing the store, it forces downtown Macys shoppers out to the mall thus building revenue in that operation and the Nampa store for the sprawl folks.

    Perhaps the Boise Chamber of Commerce should start the “Lets go Shopping at Nordstroms” bus again!

    I see a Big Lots moving in to the vacant Macys. Boise loves a Big Lot.

  13. Casual Observer
    Jan 7, 2010, 8:13 pm

    I thought Boise was one of the top five placed to start a business. Turns out it’s among the best places to close a business.

    I disagree, a little with the cause, but not the conclusion: the Boise area suffers from the 3 Ps, namely P Poor Planning. And, Antiphobe nailed it, Ada County, particularly at the direction of Judy Peavey-Derr, Fred Tilman, and Rick Yzaguirre, has only made things worse. It is bad enough with the cities competing against each other, but to have Ada County competing with its own cities is beyond absurd.

  14. Yet the CCDC states that “business’ come and go” To top it off, the joke we have as a mayor stated “twice as many business’ opened as closed last year” (I wonder how long it took Jade and Mike to come up with that one?) And our mayor is right! The downtowned enjoyed something like 25,000 sq.ft. of new retail. Unfortunately, when you throw Macy’s into the mix, the downtown core has lost something like 170,000 sq. ft. Not a very good trade is it? Just how many “For Lease” signs in downtown do we need before someone realizes these “jamokes” couldn’t run their pantyhose! CCDC needs to be ABOLISHED!!!

  15. I really hope the Simplot Group goes to Meridian and dumps Boise. They should go out to Meridian and avoid the hastle of the Boise “holier than thou” politicals.

    Let Meridian make the tax money and welcome them with open arms!

  16. I am so sorry to see downtown die. What I can add, however, is that like people businesses get old and die, and neighborhoods get old and die. Unlike people neighborhoods can be recreated and flourish again. It’s hard to know how long that might take. With regard to downtown Boise, it probably won’t be in my lifetime. How long has the 8th street hole in the ground been unfinished? Guess the people who worked on that transaction didn’t exactly know what they were doing. CCDC has been the worst thing for Boise for many years.

    The whole Fairview/Main corridor just west of downtown is a vast wasteland of unused property, some owned by the city of Boise and untaxed, and bypassed by the connector which enables people to get out of downtown as fast as possible. Businesses which were located on the Fairview/Main corridor have died from loneliness and lack of business. What poor planning or lack of planning.

  17. Boise does what ever is the cheapest solution except when someones ego is involved. Then they get the taxpayers to foot the bill.

  18. Some of you have it wrong. Downtown is not dying nor is it dead. I work downtown, live in the East end and there are still better shops and restaurants downtown than anywhere else in the city. The current trend downtown of having some vacant storefronts is what every other city in the nation is experiencing, it is not exclusive to Boise. There are more clothing stores for men scattered around downtown then there are at the mall. Some of the best shopping for female clothing according to my girlfriend is downtown and not at the mall. The most creative restaurants in the valley are downtown.

    I rarely need to travel to West Boise to shop because everything I need is at stores downtown or along the major streets near downtown.

    Back to Macy’s. I think the reason it is closing is Macy’s fault for never upgrading the building they are in, they never invested in it and frankly there are a lot more reasons to shop downtown than Macy’s.

  19. Clippityclop
    Jan 8, 2010, 3:11 pm

    I detest going to the mall and am very sorry to see the old Bon go. For those of us who work downtown or live in the Northend, it was fab, even though limited in some merchandise. I doubt the mall store will pick up the slack or be as productive per square foot.

  20. I am sure we who shopped at the Bon for many years will miss that nice “swamp cooler” smell in the summer.

  21. Dang, I pedaled down to Macy’s to buy wife’s Christmas present every year. Now I will find some other place as I am not riding my bike out to the mall.

    Maybe somebody like Mark Rivers will do justice to that old building.

  22. One Store Closing is Another Store Opening
    Jan 8, 2010, 5:54 pm

    The demise of the Bon/Macy Downtown is at least as much their own fault as it is the fault of the city. And, in retrospect, they probably made the right move each step of the way. My memory of events is that back in about 1980, the then new Karcher Mall was THE place to shop. They were driving Boise Merchants nuts. I remember envoys to Saint Nordstroms and all sorts of shenanigans to thwart those pesky Canyon County retailers.

    The threat might have gone away on its own if they had just waited, but waiting has its own risks. The response to Karcher was the Towne Square Mall, with Macys on board, and it continues to be successful.

    The problem is, this area is not big/rich enough to support 3 or more stores of the Bon/Macy caliber. Five or ten Walmarts, sure. Macy’s no. In many respects, it is a surprise the downtown store lasted as long as it did.

    The downtown building is still a good location, but for something, someone, else.

  23. serendipity
    Jan 8, 2010, 8:26 pm

    Jan 8, 2010, 8:22 pm
    ” Despite efforts of downtown developers and politicos, there isn’t much of a “condo community” in downtown Boise and there never will be.” Right!! Who the heck would want to live right in the thick of auto-exhaust-ville? Plus these outfits are way overpriced. I often wonder how these condo owners can get away with holding on to empty properties for years on end with no financial repercussions? Anybody have an answer?

    As for downtown Macy’s, I’m devastated. I loathe shopping at the Mall Macy’s because you can hardly ever find a clerk. It’s disorganised to the point that it’s too time-wasting to FIND what one’s looking for, unless one can walk a mile to track down a clerk and ask. I loved shopping at downtown Macy’s because the clerks there were always super helpful and you could always find one. I never had to pick over acres of c–p to find decent clothing. At the Mall store, it’s acres of c–p, so far as clothes go.

  24. Rod in SE Boise
    Jan 8, 2010, 8:45 pm

    I remember well that there was great debate as to building the mall downtown in the dustbowl (as it was called) or out west of town. When Sears and Penneys decided that they would only have new stores in the mall if it were built out west of town, that ended the debate. I cut up my Sears and Penneys charge cards and mailed them to the presidents of Sears and Penney. It didn’t stop the mall from being built where it is. Parts of downtown Boise are still a dustbowl.

  25. Perhaps if they did something like Spokane’s downtown shopping district, they might get somewhere. Just like there is a limit to shoe stores in a mall, perhaps there is a limit to boutique shops in a center city. And folk are not going to move downtown without both easy cheap parking and reasonable housing costs. As long as the city promotes boutique business and expensive housing, they will see failures every economic downturn.

  26. sam the sham
    Jan 19, 2010, 12:39 am

    ahhh yes, I remember the buildings torn down during the Urban Development of the 70’s. Almost lost what is now called The Egyptian Theater.
    And much of what was torn down for great plans are still parking lots.
    And then there is the infamous Hole on the corner of Main and 8th….
    Perhaps we will have more until people think that we were bombed.

  27. Reality Check
    Jan 20, 2010, 7:55 pm

    Are you an idiot? Your story says that the Bon and the Mode and others vanished because of Boise politicos. What do Boise politicos have to do with the Bon selling to Macy’s, the creation of a national chain and a redundant, unneeded downtown store for their concept? Or, the demise of the Mode as a viable department store, in an era of dead regional merchants throughout North America? Think before you speak. Its easy to play the blame game about anything, when you’re Mr. No and do nothing positive for our community. At least, be informed before you spread dangerous misinformation and your brainwarped garble.

    EDITOR NOTE–Thank you for your kind words. Can we assume when new stores, law schools and restaurants OPEN there is no credit to be given the politicos either?

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