It has been nearly two years since Sandpoint’s Cedar Street Bridge was forced to close temporarily, and since then it seemed the popular shopping venue would never recover.
Home to this town’s Coldwater Creek retail store until nearly five years ago, the Bridge was always a favorite of both local citizens and visitors.
When Coldwater Creek moved, several other shops opened up in the popular location. But the retailers who occupied the Bridge just two years ago were forced to close or move due to extensive water damage that occurred from a frozen main sewer line and leaks from a fire sprinkler system. The damage not only to the building but also to the economic status of its tenants was devastating, since it all came at the height of the 2008 holiday shopping season.
“Those were dark times for the Bridge,” said John Gillham, who along with Jeff Bond owns Cedar Street Bridge. “All the water lines were in the north wall, which was unprotected. But we’ve put all brand new water lines on the interior.”
The Bridge has reopened, but the shops occupying the 16,000-square-foot space have been sparse at best.
But all that is about to change.
According to Gillham, he and Bond have turned the property into commercial condominiums, which will allow them to sell parts of the building to business owners. He says they are receiving a lot of calls from business owners interested in a lease with an option to buy: an ideal situation for those seeking to purchase retail space.
“The mortgage payment comes out to be less than the going rental rate,” said Gillham.
One store taking advantage of what the Bridge has to offer is MeadowBrook Home and Gift – an upscale furniture store that also has an extensive selection of home décor and gifts. Eric Blomdahl and Angie Obie opened the store a few blocks from the Cedar Street Bridge over five years ago.
“We really noticed the energy and activity on First Avenue,” said Blomdahl. “It’s undeniable.”
But it wasn’t until the construction of the byway – which will divert some traffic from the downtown area, making it even more pedestrian friendly – that they started to seriously consider the potential of First Avenue not only for their business but others as well.
And when tourists visited their store, there were many questions about the future of the Cedar Street Bridge.
“The Bridge is the iconic building in North Idaho,” said Blomdahl, adding that in nearly every picture of Sandpoint there is either a photo of the bridge or of Schweitzer Mountain. “They are the centerpieces.”
Long before Bond and Gillham purchased the structure, the Bridge was converted into an indoor marketplace by a local entrepreneur who modeled his idea after the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy. Spanning 400 feet across Sand Creek near Lake Pend Oreille, the bridge is built with massive tamarack logs and solar windows.
Blomdahl said he believes the architecture of the building is the major draw.
So last April the couple started researching and found that the renovations that owners Bond and Gillham have done to the property have made it an investment they could not pass up.
“It’s like a brand new structure,” said Blomdahl.
After much designing and planning, MeadowBrook will finally move into the Cedar Street Bridge on Friday, taking over 4,000 square feet of the first floor. And they hope others will follow.
They would like to see a nice restaurant and wine bar move in, as well as possibly an upscale toy store, clothing shop or bookstore.
According to Blomdahl, the owner of an art gallery that occupies a portion of the second floor has been fundraising for a $50,000 indoor playground, with the space being donated by Gillham and Bond.
Although they are moving, Blomdahl said he and Obie have chosen to continue their lease at their current location for another year.
Blomdahl said he will include window displays at his former location including directions to the store’s new location.
“I don’t like to leave holes in the downtown,” said Blomdahl, referring to stores that have either closed or moved.
Currently the Bridge has an art gallery, a small cafe that serves paninis, gelato and lattes, a market with about 10 different vendors and a store called Uniquely Sandpoint.
But after MeadowBrook moves in, both Blomdahl and Gillham say others are sure to follow.
“It looks like we’re coming back to life,” said Gillham.
And Blomdahl couldn’t be happier.
“It’s an unbelievable asset to the community,” said Blomdahl. “We are hoping to produce a snowball effect. Hopefully people from Spokane and Coeur d’Alene will make it a destination shopping place.”