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What the Treasure Valley needs next

TeyaI arrived in Boise to take on my writing job at the Idaho Business Review on July 19 at 10:30 p.m.  I looked around, very curious about my new surroundings after 13-plus years in Tucson, not at all a City of Trees.Trader Joe’s was here, and so was Whole Foods a couple blocks down. To me, they had always been here, even though I knew TJ’s opened less than five months earlier and Whole Foods just in 2012.

In the months that I was considering the “Great Isolation” of living in Boise, a city close to nothing except the desolate Oregon state line, I cannot overstate the relief of learning that Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods had reached the hinterlands just in time for my life here.

All the trees, too, were a succor for my soul. I delight in the wacky street system near downtown and the weekend raft traffic jams on the Boise River. And this town rocks with great breakfast outings.

Now that Boise has the two specialty food icons, plus a fairly thorough assortment of the big box retailers found everywhere, what does Boise need next?

We posed the question on Facebook, and received a slew of looks and a handful of replies. A few more esoteric items immediately struck me, too.

The Facebook crowd didn’t even bother with sentences when expressing the desire for IKEA, the Sweden-based “life improvement store.” Its nearest stores, like many things,are in Seattle, Portland and the Salt Lake City suburbs.

Looking at the IKEA map, I’d say the chances for Boise are slim. IKEA has a mere 40 U.S. stores in 22 states. IKEA likes big cities, especially suburbs, even exoburbs of big cities – trade centers of at least 2 million people. Boise falls under none of the above. Then again, the likelihood of TJ’s and Whole Foods finding Boise weren’t a foregone conclusion.

Boise Realtor Lynn Bradescu wants a “real” version of the upscale clothing retailer Nordstrom, not just the discount Nordstrom Rack that opened in Boise in 2012. She moved to Boise in 2005 from Marin County, Calif.

“I think we’re ready for a real Nordstrom. We have the clientele to support them,” Bradescu said. “The other store I love is Restoration Hardware.”

Nordstrom does have 117 full-line stores in 30 states, but follows a similar big city-suburb-exoburb dynamic that doesn’t define Boise. Still, Bradescu reasons that with Nordstrom headquarters just up I-84 in Seattle, maybe Boise can get lucky.

But life is not all big boxes. A couple Facebook responders pined for “more independent businesses instead of chain stores and restaurants” and “great locally-owned stores that people support. Who cares about chain stores?”

Boise Certified Public Accountant Laura Canales craves locally owned businesses.

“What I envision more of is mom and pop shops,” she said. “There has been a huge shift to by local, support your locally-owned businesses. It would be nice to see more independent, mom and pop shops.”

Life isn’t all just shopping either.

I think what Boise needs next is live Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts on Saturdays, the kind so much of the country and the world can enjoy. Boise has zero opera on radio. Full disclosure: Opera has priority over everything for me. The same is certainly not true in Boise, where Opera Idaho can barely attract 800 people to a performance.

KBSU-FM is the classical music radio station for Treasure Valley. Typically, across the country, university-based public radio stations are the Met Opera radio carriers.

“I know that the station has long had a tradition of its own with our locally produced music programming on Saturdays,” said Paul Stribling, KBSU’s associate general manager. “I can remember back in the late 80’s and early 90’s public radio trends toward building audience saw quite a few stations drop the Met from Saturday afternoons. The show had a very difficult time drawing a large enough audience.”

Boise does offer Live in HD performances from the Met, and live performances are available online.

Next on my list is more freeway ramps on Interstate 84. I find it incredible that you have to drive 3.4 miles through dense suburbia from the Flying Y to Eagle Road or reverse before you can get on or off the freeway. I-84 just passes Maple Grove Road, Five Mile Road and Cloverdale Road like an express train.

I fully understand why this is. I have a 1997-98 AAA map of Boise. Boise is on the right, Meridian is on the left and for a long time, there wasn’t a whole lot in between. I venture there was little along that stretch when I-84 (then I-80N) was built through Boise in the late 1960s.

The Idaho Transportation Department is in no hurry to fill that gap. ITD did just build freeway ramps for Ten Mile Road in 2011.

“With the incredible acceleration of traffic in the next 20-30 years, we are going to have to seek additional ways to relieve congestion,” ITD spokesman Reed Hollinshead said. “There’s a federal standard of distances between freeway access. There has to be enough space so you don’t have cars backing up.”

Maple Grove, Five Mile and Cloverdale are each 1 mile apart. Across the country, it’s standard to have ramps at arterial roads 1 mile apart.

So what will come next that the masses clamor for? Professional soccer maybe?



About Teya Vitu

Teya Vitu is an Idaho Business Review reporter, covering commercial real estate, construction, transportation and whatever else may intrigue him in the moment. Join me on Twitter at @IBR_TeyaVitu.


  1. Really? More freeway ramps? That’s what this community needs? Seriously, how about local option sales tax so we can adequately support public transit? How about infrastructure that encourages people to get out of their cars? Big box stores and the sort of development that surround them are the sort of thing that drive this narrow-minded notion that if we just accommodate more cars everything will be swell. Well, spend a few hours observing Eagle Road and tell how much you like to hang out there. C’mon, you really wanna be sitting in traffic listening to your Metropolitan Opera while spewing even more pollution into our air? Think outside the car and the big box store. Sheesh!

  2. Wow. A Californian by way of Tuscon thinks Boise needs more crass commercialism, more shopping. Boise and Idaho in general needs people to quit paving over our land. People come to Idaho for the rivers, the forests, the fishing, skiing, hunting… the outdoors in general. Seriously – more shopping? And more freeway ramps? To whiz more cars trucks and Harleys past my house? no thanks

  3. Nordstorms.. really..
    How about school funding, Medicade expansion, increased minimum wage, unemployment extension. Yeah it’s tough out here in this ‘Right-to-work’ state for the 1% with no opera. Suck it.