November 5, 2005 in Business

Bittersweet farewell

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Jesse Tinsley photos/ photo

Owner Jim Cate, right, and son Jack look for a way to load and move some of the antique store furnishings from The Penny Candy Store on Friday in downtown Coeur d’Alene. The store is closing because rent is being raised following a renovation of the historic building.
(Full-size photo)

COEUR d’ALENE – Going-out-of-business signs at The Penny Candy Store elicited a succinct response Friday from Dottie Smith. “Bummer,” she said.

For 10 years, the Moses Lake, Wash., woman and her husband, Dave Smith, have patronized the nostalgic store at 325 E. Sherman Ave. The 400 varieties of licorice and bins of hard candy, including old-time favorites Necco Wafers and Sen-Sen breath mints, reminded Dottie Smith of her Minnesota childhood.

“It’s a one-of-a-kind store,” said Dave Smith, “and it’s sad to see it go.”

Nov. 14 will be the last day of operations at The Penny Candy Store. Rising rents prompted the closure, said Judy Norton, store manager. Owners Jim and Mary Cate hope to reopen the store next spring in a smaller location on Sherman Avenue.

In some ways, The Penny Candy Store is a victim of Coeur d’Alene’s success. Fourteen years ago, when the store opened, “For rent” signs dominated the downtown district. Business was so slow that many retailers closed up shop during the winter months, Norton said.

Now, downtown locations are sought after. Building owners are sprucing up the turn-of-the-century brick structures. And as a result, rents are rising.

Steve Groner bought the candy store’s building 18 months ago, as part of an acquisition of five downtown buildings. Behind the building’s dated cedar siding, Groner knew there lurked an elegant 1890s exterior. He consulted museum pictures to guide the restoration, replacing the windows, redoing the facade, and adding decorative metal awnings. Groner’s investment precipitated higher rents. The Cates gave notice, and two days later, Groner had a new tenant lined up.

Brix, a restaurant, will expand into the candy store’s approximately 3,000-square-foot space with a bar and grill.

“We’re sorry to see the candy store go,” Groner said. “We tried to talk them into a smaller space at the back of the building, but Jim (Cate) said they needed to be on Sherman.”

Foot traffic and drive-by exposure are critical to a candy store’s survival, Norton said. Tourists accounted for a large part of the store’s sales. “It’s an impulse buy,” she said.

Norton has checked with other building owners. So far, nothing else on Sherman is available, she said.

At the Coeur d’Alene Downtown Association’s board retreat this year, shifts in the merchant mix was a topic of discussion, said Terry Cooper, association manager. A bit of cautious reaction always comes with growth, he said.

However, “I don’t want to leave the impression that downtown rents are going sky-high,” Cooper said. When downtown was struggling, many building owners priced rents below market value to attract tenants. As a result, some recent rent increases seem unusually high, he said.

Dave Rucker struggled with rent increases when he remodeled a 1920s building on Fourth and Lakeside. Before the work started, he had a frank talk with tenants.

“If anyone’s going to invest and fix up the buildings, they’re going to have to pass the cost on to tenants,” Rucker said. “In the long run, I think the evolution will be positive for downtown.”

Rucker’s renovations removed slate-gray paint and exposed original brickwork. One space, which had been empty for 18 months, immediately rented. Rucker said he gets numerous inquiries on the remaining space, which is still under construction. Before, “the building was so ugly, no one wanted to look at it,” he said.

Hopefully, an attractive exterior will drive more business to the building’s tenants, so everyone will thrive, Rucker said. He also predicted that Coeur d’Alene’s midtown and East Sherman districts will grow as rents rise downtown. Some merchants will move there in search of lower rents. The spill-over will help revitalize those areas, he said.

Norton, meanwhile, reminisced as she greeted customers Friday. The memories were good ones. She hired high school kids every summer and taught them the rudiments of making change and being good workers. Each of her three kids worked at the store. Norton also tried every one of the candies in the shop, so she could describe them to buyers. Licorice was her favorite.

“With the candy store closing, an era of memories has closed its door,” she said.


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