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Vintage Rabbit closing; owner blames planned North Monroe Street project work

UPDATED: Fri., Aug. 18, 2017, 8:24 p.m.

“I’d rather not spend retirement money trying to stay open through the upcoming construction,” Jan Richart said about her decision to close Vintage Rabbit Antique Mall. She talks with customers at the store on Thursday, August 17, 2017. (Kathy Plonka / KATHY PLONKA/The Spokesman-Review)
“I’d rather not spend retirement money trying to stay open through the upcoming construction,” Jan Richart said about her decision to close Vintage Rabbit Antique Mall. She talks with customers at the store on Thursday, August 17, 2017. (Kathy Plonka / KATHY PLONKA/The Spokesman-Review)

An antique emporium on North Monroe Street is closing after 23 years, in anticipation of major street renovation.

Jan Richart, who owns the Vintage Rabbit Antique Mall, said the consignment vendor store must be out of its building by Sept. 30. She lays blame for her business’s closure squarely with the city and the planned renovation of Monroe between Northwest Boulevard and the base of the North Hill. Work on the street won’t begin until next year, but Richart expects it to be disruptive.

“If the store could survive it, it would take a fair amount of my retirement,” Richart, 63, said of the construction work. “I really feel like the city killed my business.”

While Richart said she may have “jumped ship too early,” she didn’t want to watch her savings shrink while the street in front of her business is reconfigured.

The $7.1 million North Monroe Corridor project will reduce the number of lanes from five to three, construct more visible crosswalks along the arterial and widen the business center’s sidewalks, adding trees and benches.

The city received $4.6 million in grants to help finance the project, which supporters say will slow traffic, increase pedestrian safety and make the Monroe corridor a destination shopping spot akin to the Perry and Hillyard districts.

Richart said the extensive street work will make it nearly impossible for customers to get to her building, leading to a drop in business.

“If the vendors don’t sell, they move out. If they move out, I don’t get paid. I know my sales will drop. I looked at what happened over on Sprague,” she said, referring to the continuing work on East Sprague Avenue. “I’m not willing to spend my retirement.”

Richart and other business owners on the arterial opposed to the project have ramped up a campaign to pressure the city to drop its plans. Billboards, pamphlets and window posters urge passers-by to “Say NO to Monroe Street Project.” One reason, they say, is a lengthy two-year construction period.

“This will force business after business to close, or move elsewhere with NO traffic, NO business!” reads a pamphlet created by the Monroe Street Business Association, which was incorporated in June by Gary Jarvis, who owns the Skippers restaurant at the north end of the construction area. “This is NOT a business friendly project, many will not be on Monroe by the time this ill-conceived project is complete.”

City officials say work will last for the construction season of 2018, which is about eight months.

“All of our elected officials have told our engineers that they need to come up with a way to get that project done in one construction season,” said Marlene Feist, director of strategic development for the city’s public works department.

Design of the project is underway, and Feist said work will occur between March and October.

Richart said she didn’t only take issue with the construction time. The final design is wrong for Monroe, she said.

“I view it as a commuter street,” she said. “This is not a walking street. We’re talking a mile-and-a-half of antique stores, auto shops and fast-food restaurants.”

Monroe has long been an important street for motorists and something of a danger for pedestrians. It was the first street in Spokane to get overhead lights, installed in 1946 by the Washington Water Power Co., giving it the nickname “street of light.” It also was dubbed the “path of life” because officials hoped the lights would cut down on the number of incidents on the road. From January to August 1946, the city counted 151 incidents on the street, including one fatality and eight involving pedestrians.

The street’s popularity with commuters grew, from an average of 14,500 vehicles a day in 1946 to 23,450 in 1970, and then to 32,850 in 1985.

Now, however, average daily traffic counts on Monroe have plummeted. In 2016, they ranged from 17,000 to 18,300 on the stretch of Monroe to be renovated. As a principal arterial, it sees more traffic than most streets but less than other north-south arterials in the northern part of town: Northwest Boulevard and Maple, Ash, Division, Hamilton, Freya and Market streets.

The city says the three-lane road can handle up to 25,000 vehicles a day.