The Garland District on Spokane’s North Side was unusually quiet at the start of the pandemic with few pedestrians and some business owners wondering if they would remain open.
More than two years later, the neighborhood has a bustle that stands in stark contrast to COVID’s dampening arrival – foot traffic has returned and several new businesses have opened, with more on the way.
“We’re definitely seeing with the (pandemic) mandates lifted that the streets are busier than they were in 2020 and 2021,” said Taryn Graves, co-owner of Garland Mercantile. “We’re getting a lot more foot traffic in the neighborhood and a lot more people doing in-person sales rather than online.”
Graves and Zack Thurman purchased Garland Mercantile, 823 W. Garland Ave., in October 2020 from former owner Jerry Huston.
“During COVID, people were really trying to support their local farmers, their local bakers, their local soap makers,” Graves said. “So, we found that it was actually perfect timing to open a shop where everything is local.”
The couple, who also own Gas Automotive Service in the Garland District, expanded Garland Mercantile by adding online shopping and featuring farm-fresh produce, eggs and cheese, in addition to products from 20 to 30 local vendors.
“It has really become a staple in the neighborhood for people to find their farm-fresh local goods year-round and not just during the market season,” Graves said. “It has always been a store with unique local products, but we really wanted to make it like a year-round farmers market and support as many people as we can in the community.”
Although some businesses have relocated or closed in the Garland District, commercial property owners quickly find tenants to fill empty storefronts along the avenue, Graves said.
“The property owners here on Garland (Avenue) do a fantastic job of getting new businesses in that are right for the neighborhood,” she said. “They don’t just fill them with whoever has the most money. They really try and fill the businesses here with stores or services that will really help the community thrive.”
The Garland District dates to 1910, but it began to take shape in the late 1920s.
The Benewah Milk Bottle building was constructed in 1935 for the Benewah Creamery. It’s now home to Mary Lou’s Milk Bottle.
The Art-Deco style Garland Theater opened in 1945, becoming a premier movie house in the West. Several businesses in the Garland District still have original neon signs dating to the 1950s, according to the Garland Business District website.
Founded in 2007, the Garland Business District is a nonprofit that fosters economic development and supports locally owned businesses.
Businesses in the district became creative in an effort to remain afloat during the pandemic by launching online stores and boosting their social media presence, said Julie Shepard-Hall, Garland Business District president.
While seven or eight businesses closed or relocated because of the pandemic’s impact, the Garland District gained about 15 new businesses, with more expected to open in the coming months, Shepard-Hall said.
“We are seeing an uptick in foot traffic, businesses and sales,” Shepard-Hall said. “It’s exciting.”
Some of those businesses include Outlaw Woman, Pitotti Coffee Roasters, Garland Brew Werks and Giant Nerd Books, which relocated to the Garland District from its former storefront on Monroe Street.
“The Garland District has been around since 1910 and is one of the prominent business centers in Spokane,” Shepard-Hall said. “It’s eclectic. It tends to draw people that like the variety of our businesses.”
The Garland District is also desirable for some business owners because it’s where they grew up, she added.
“It’s where their friends and neighbors are,” she said. “I think that is part of the draw .”
Emerald & Evergreen
Darby Schmidlkofer launched screenprinting business Emerald & Evergreen in 2017. A single mother at the time, Schmidlkofer operated the business out of her apartment, creating custom apparel, fulfilling orders and overseeing social media.
She launched a Pacific Northwest-inspired women’s apparel collection for Absolute Apparel in 2018. Two years later, Schmidlkofer quit her job as a paraeducator to focus full time on expanding the screenprinting business.
“For a year, I was looking for a spot, and I only wanted to be in Garland … this spot popped up and I took it,” Schmidlkofer said of Emerald & Evergreen’s new store on Monroe Street. “I went to Shadle (Park High School), so I grew up in this area, and we live about a mile away. I love this area.”
Emerald & Evergreen, which offers in-house screenprinting, custom apparel and items from local vendors, celebrated its grand opening in April at 3915 N. Monroe St.
“I have a lot more room … I still have my online store, but it’s nice to have a place where people can try stuff on, feel it first and do all of that,” Schmidlkofer said.
Emerald & Evergreen differs from larger screenprinting companies because it’s able to design and print single T-shirts as well as bulk orders, Schmidlkofer said.
“If someone says, ‘I have this really small sewing company and I just want one shirt with one design on it,’ I could do that,” Schmidlkofer said, adding she has already made shirts for other business owners in the Garland District.
“It has been fun to be able to network with people and build community,” she said.
A vision of the future
In 2015, Stantec Consulting Services Inc. and nonprofit You Express Studio prepared a report outlining a short- and long-term vision for the Garland District.
Stantec gathered community input and recommendations, which expressed desire for a greater mix of businesses and restaurants; outdoor seating; business façade upgrades; street and sidewalk improvements; and partnerships with developers to spur more multifamily housing in the neighborhood.
The Garland Business District applied for an American Rescue Plan grant via the city to improve infrastructure, Shepard-Hall said. Spokane City Council also passed an ordinance this year that extended the boundaries of its multifamily tax exemption zone to include parts of the Garland District.
In January, Greater Northwest Assets LLC submitted a predevelopment application with the city to build the 48,100-square-foot, 47-unit Millennium North Hill apartments at 3911 N. Wall St., adjacent to the former Masonic Temple building on Garland Avenue. The structure will include 1,800 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor and a rooftop patio on the third floor, according to the application.
The former Masonic Temple building at 706 W. Garland Ave. will remain part of the development, which will span north along Wall Street up to Walton Avenue.
Keith Riddle, owner and managing broker of Synergy Properties, is the principal of Greater Northwest Assets LLC, along with Synergy real estate agent Paul Cassel. Synergy Properties has an office in the former Masonic Temple building at 706 W. Garland Ave.
Riddle did not respond to a request for comment on the project’s status.
Graves, of Garland Mercantile, would like to see more retail, street improvements and housing in the neighborhood.
“Garland is one of the best neighborhoods in Spokane to own a business, in my opinion, because there are so many great stores, services, restaurants and bars,” Graves said. “We have a lot of foot traffic and, knowing that, I would love to see the district improve on things like street lighting and a park because we have a lot of families in the neighborhood.”
The Garland District is hosting several outdoor activities, such as the Garland Summer Market, an alleyway art showcase and Street Music Week – all of which are expected to attract visitors to the neighborhood, Shepard-Hall said.
Shepard-Hall said Garland District business owners and residents have renewed optimism, following uncertainty during the pandemic.
“Stay tuned because there are changes coming and they are going to be good changes,” Shepard-Hall said.