Every morning, Amy McCoy commutes from her home in a quiet part of north Spokane to the downtown hair salon she opened three years ago with her husband Douglas.
House of Pop is located on West Riverside Avenue, between the core of downtown and the Saranac Building neighborhood. Across the street is the record store, bar and restaurant Garageland and low-income senior housing. It’s a busy and diverse part of downtown with lots of traffic both on foot and by car.
Amy McCoy wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I love to be downtown with all the people and the traffic and the noise,” Amy McCoy said, “but I also love coming home to the quiet where we live.”
She’s not alone. Every day, thousands of people get in their cars, on their bikes and into STA buses and head downtown to work.
According to the Spokane Regional Transportation Council, 19,915 people work within the area of Monroe Street, Interstate 90, Division Street and the Spokane River, but only 76 also live in the area. That means almost 20,000 people commute downtown every day.
Expand the area outside the downtown core, and SRTC estimates the total number of commuters at more than 42,700.
Attorney Sara Maleki has commuted downtown for five years, and she said aside from the intense construction noise this summer – her office is right across the street from where crews are transforming the former Macy’s department store into The M – she likes being downtown.
She said she spends more money downtown on clothes and food than she would if she wasn’t already here.
“I do end up shopping here more,” Maleki said. “I probably wouldn’t do that if I wasn’t already parked here for work.”
If she’s going out after work, she said she rarely drives.
“If I’m already downtown, then I’m more likely to stay downtown after-hours,” Maleki said.
Like the McCoys, Jacqueline Porter also wanted to locate her business downtown. An attorney, she began looking for an office location about six years ago.
“When I started looking, I realized rent wasn’t crazy and I picked the first office I looked at,” Porter said. She’s been in the Paulsen Building ever since.
Porter said she loves the skywalk system, which makes it easy for her to walk to many of her clients’ offices.
“I can run errands and get to both my banks without going outside,” Porter said.
The downtown workforce is a captive audience for businesses. Once the car is parked for the day, downtown workers are unlikely to retrieve it unless they have to.
Bradley Warren, an intern in Sen. Patty Murray’s office, used to work from home in Colbert, but now he’s downtown. He likes the variety of food and drink within a quick stroll.
“I drink coffee like a crazy person, so that’s very fun,” Warren wrote in a Facebook message. “And also the occasional slice of Rocky Rococo’s pizza is great.”
Warren said some of his friends think his working life downtown is just like the HBO show “Sex and the City,” which follows a group of glamorous professional women in Manhattan.
“It’s not like that,” Warren wrote. “People think that after you work you can run and get a drink and run to Nordstrom on your lunch, but I never have time for that.”
Warren said he expected “stress, parking problems and lots of traffic” when he found out his next gig was downtown.
And parking has been a bit of an issue. Warren moves his car between a pay-by-the-hour garage and street parking.
“It’s difficult to deal with and just not available,” Warren said. “It’s a lot of work.”
The Downtown Spokane Partnership estimates there are 12,658 parking spaces downtown, almost 5,000 of which are in garages and 2,277 are at parking meters.
Commercial lots and garages have a variety of prices and plans. Some lots have “lunch specials” featuring cheap parking in the middle of the day. Others charge the same 24-7. A spot in the River Park Square parking garage is $175 a month. The Parkade charges $135. Across the river, a parking spot and bus pass to the shuttle that runs downtown costs $35 a month
Maleki said some of her clients are hesitant to come downtown because of parking, and taking the bus is not an option for everyone.
Her employer pays a parking stipend every month, but it may not be enough.
“And not all lots will give you a come-and-go pass,” Maleki said.
Porter said finding affordable parking is toughest on employees.
“I’ve lost employees, because it’s not worth it for them to drive down here,” Porter said. “It’s a hard transition to take the bus. It doesn’t work for everyone.”
House of Pops’ Amy McCoy said parking can be a challenge for some clients.
Finding an affordable parking solution that works is just part of working downtown. Douglas McCoy said he travels a lot, and compared to other cities, Spokane’s downtown has a lot going for it.
“Downtown is the hub, it’s the lifeblood of the city,” Douglas McCoy said.
Amy McCoy said she worries some of the smaller businesses at the edge of the downtown core are struggling. She said she prefers the local restaurants and shops where a visit is more of an experience, over corporate chains.
“Like at Atticus or Boots Bakery. They are a little different and very successful,” Amy McCoy said.
Amy McCoy said she hopes the city continues to update the streetscape in her neighborhood.
“But we are here no matter what,” Amy McCoy said. “Our success is not connected to what the street looks like.”
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