SALT LAKE CITY — For the past five years, he's had the block more or less all to himself. Just his restaurant and the bar and the sushi place downstairs. Talk about a monopoly. Five years ago, all the stores across the street didn't just lock their doors, they blew up their building.
Ever since, silence from over there, retail-wise.
After nearly 2,000 days watching the fall and rise of the downtown malls, Shaun Jacobsen, manager of Martine restaurant, looked on with considerably more than idle curiosity as the $1.2 billion City Creek Center finally opened.
Goodbye construction cones. Goodbye building cranes. Goodbye road closures, dust and debris.
Hello crowds. Hello commotion. Hello places to park. Hello healthy competition.
He didn't say "hallejulah!" But his smile did.
"Yes, we have been biding our time waiting," Jacobsen said. "Yes, it is a happy day."
"I wish I'd taken a picture every day for the last five years," he mused. "The time lapse would have been quite interesting."
He personally watched out the window as the wrecking balls leveled the ZCMI Center — "America's Biggest Downtown Mall" it was billed when it opened in 1975 — then he watched as the resultant gigantic hole slowly started to fill up, first with concrete and rebar, then with steel pillars, finally with glass and brick.
At its height, nearly 2,000 construction workers pulled shifts across the street — and almost none of them dropped by to enjoy lunch at Martine, more of a bankers and lawyers kind of place with an honest to goodness chef in the kitchen. Its menu offers pasta salad with its sandwiches and "new world tapas," with an atmosphere described as "casual Euro country flair with big city comfort."
Business fell, not just at Martine, but everywhere downtown.
The ones that survived the reconstruction of Salt Lake City — as well as the worldwide recession that coincided with it — now have something to brag about to their heirs. And their accountants.
In operation since 1999, Martine does business out of one of the city's oldest and most colorful buildings, a three-story New York-style brownstone that started out as a bank. Francis Armstrong, a one-time mayor of Salt Lake City and owner of the Utah Commercial and Savings Bank, had the building erected in 1890. That makes the old brownstone 122 years older than the new condos and shops on the other side of First South.
If the building had taken a picture every day since it's been around, now that would be some time lapse.
For one thing, it outlasted the Utah Commercial and Savings Bank. For another, it outlasted the ZCMI Center.
Whether it will outlast the City Creek Center remains to be seen.
But no one's thinking about that right now. For his part, Jacobsen is focusing on the high tide of the new mall raising all revenues.
The fact that he can now look out the front window and see a massive new Cheesecake Factory just around the corner?
"We think it will be good," he says. "It's not necessarily direct competition; we offer a different product. We'll have to see, but I think the added competition is small compared to the benefit of all the people."
In response to City Creek's opening, Martine is expanding its hours and days of operation. It will be open for lunch on Saturdays now, instead of just weekdays, and will be open for dinner on Monday evenings.
Also, a new sign is going up soon out front, one that's perpendicular to the street.
They could have put it up sooner. But who would have seen it?
Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Monday and Friday.