Mall in the Family

While other downtown malls died, Boulderís was a real success story. But then came the chains and other Block-busters.

In the middle of the next block stands the Peppercorn, one of the most sophisticated and exhaustively stocked household stores in the country, crammed with kitchenware, cookbooks, china, glassware and exotic foods -- honey from New Zealand, almond nougat from Italy, Spanish olive oil and Colorado mustards and salsas. In front of the Peppercorn is a garden of gravel and large smooth stones spanned by a wooden bridge that is usually filled with clambering children. At the end of the block, outside what used to be J.B. Winberie's and is now the locally owned Boulder Café, is a corner where, almost every sunny day for over a decade, Lucky Hudson played his sax, filling the air with his smoky notes, sometimes changing a melody to suit the taste of a passerby he recognized. Hudson lived in a Denver senior center and traveled to Boulder by bus. He died in 1997 of stomach cancer; several Boulderites are raising money for a memorial on his corner.

The county courthouse takes up the entire north side of the next block. Its presence is both a curse and a blessing for the mall. Civic buildings tend to be good for downtowns, bringing in clients and workers who eat, shop and run errands in the neighborhood. The courthouse lawn is also used for demonstrations and festivals -- not to mention national media covering Boulder's big stories. But some planners think shoppers are less apt to stroll the courthouse block because it is so different from the other three and contains fewer shops. And to the annoyance of nearby merchants and restaurateurs, the courthouse lawn has been a magnet for transients (see sidebar, page 32). The county commissioners had the space outside the courthouse reconfigured in 1997 to make it less inviting; they object, however, to Communication Arts's plan for further modification of this part of the mall.

"The county is in an odd position," says County Commissioner Paul Danish. "It's a tenant on Pearl Street. It owns the building. The city has, over the years, attempted to design our piece into part of the mall. It's an admirable goal, but it's also important to remember the courthouse belongs to all the people in Boulder County. We have to make some statement that sets us a little apart; we're reluctant to allow the plaza to spill over into our area seamlessly."

Precious jewels: Mary and Naim Doost are closing their Gem and Jewelry Source.
Precious jewels: Mary and Naim Doost are closing their Gem and Jewelry Source.
Precious jewels: Mary and Naim Doost are closing their Gem and Jewelry Source.
James Bludworth
Precious jewels: Mary and Naim Doost are closing their Gem and Jewelry Source.

The commissioners have decided to move the county clerk's office out of downtown, although other county functions will continue to be based at the courthouse. The clerk's primary function is to sell license plates and register cars, and people drive into town for this purpose, when "parking in Boulder is such sweet sorrow," explains Danish. But the county's move, along with reports that the post office, currently located a couple of blocks off the mall, is looking for new quarters because of parking problems, troubles some city officials, who feel the daily influx of government workers and customers helps keep the downtown healthy.

On the 1400 block of Pearl, the huge Cheesecake Factory has taken over space once occupied by Sawadee, a popular local Thai eatery. The new parking garage that Dick Schwarz says would have saved Stage House Two had it been built earlier has transformed the 1500 block of Pearl. It is far larger than most of the buildings surrounding it.

The east end of Pearl, now rapidly being gentrified, has long been a refuge for hippies, artists and dissidents. Its businesses include a tiny Beat bookshop with a check signed by Jack Kerouac posted in the window; Penny Lane, a coffee-drinking, poetry-reading haven for teens; stores boasting wares that would have been at home in any Sixties head shop; the vegetarian Crystal Market, on the brink of closing and whose customers are trying to resurrect it as a co-op; and Jessica Shah's well-reviewed Indian restaurant, Mijbani.

This year, the city decided to reconstruct the underground utilities in this area and to widen and improve the sidewalks. Disruption was inevitable. It was compounded by the contractor's inefficiency; eventually, he was fired and replaced. Construction of the parking facility added to merchants' woes, removing existing parking and re-routing traffic away from their stores. For long months, East Pearl looked like a moonscape.

"My business dropped by 40 percent this summer," says Craig Moelis, one of the owners of Foolish Craig's. "It was awful. People still aren't coming in as much as they used to."

Foolish Craig's is a small, cozy restaurant, strung with decorative lights and filled with orange, red and green wooden tables. The employees pick the music the customers hear -- Moelis is partial to jazz -- and the food is homey and good: salads, crepes, soups, and sandwiches made with delicious, thick-sliced, home-baked bread. It was the bread that gave the restaurant its name.

"For rye bread, you make a poolish -- like you make a starter for sourdough," Moelis explains. "I'd be in doing that, and my partners would be chanting, 'Craig's making poolish. That's pretty foolish.'"

Moelis, a onetime philosophy student at the University of Colorado, was working at Moe's Bagels when he decided to start his own restaurant. He wanted something casual, he says, "nothing too fancy, but inviting and warm."

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