By Stephen Jermanok, The Washington Post -- With its broad streets lined with formidable government and mercantile buildings, Salt Lake City isn’t known as a good walking town. Perhaps that’s why the burgeoning 9th and 9th neighborhood comes across as such a pleasant surprise.
At the intersection of 900 East and 900 South streets, the sidewalks are humming on a warm afternoon with people sipping lattes at Coffee Garden; strolling to Middle Eastern or Thai restaurants or to the acclaimed farm-to-table establishment Pago; catching a movie at the arthouse Tower Theatre; and shopping for orchids, purses, gifts and stylish outdoor wear. Once a favorite of University of Utah professors, this residential neighborhood has lately been re-energized by an influx of young couples and families lured by its two-story bungalows and Victorian houses.
“I love this area. We’re the anti-mall. Small businesses, locally owned,” says Jen DeVries, the owner of Purse Dreams. In her petite store, I find designer leather handbags from the San Francisco-based 49 Square Miles and bowler satchels in black, red and taupe designed by Olivia Harris. DeVries, who previously worked retail at Nordstrom and REI, wanted to open a store selling stylish yet unique purses in a way that made it possible for the clientele to touch the leather, play with the zippers and see whether the pockets are pragmatic for daily use. She also sells men’s accessories, such as shoulder bags and wallets.
On the next block, Hip & Humble is the place to go to when you’re looking for a gift but have no idea what to get. The hodgepodge of small rooms in the historic Victorian house showcases a wide range of merchandise, from women’s blouses, scarves and pants to cuckoo clocks, bathrobes, votive candles and an “I Love Trader Joe’s” cookbook. Kitchen supplies run the gamut from purple colanders and plaid plates to bottle bags ideally suited for a summer picnic.
Closer to the 9th and 9th juncture, Orchid Dynasty is an odoriferous delight. As soon as I enter, I’m greeted by the smell of fresh flowers, along with a wave of humidity. Purple, white and yellow orchids are but a small sampling of the more than 200 varieties that owners Shelly Huynh and Clinton Lewis grow behind the store in a garage converted into a greenhouse. Florists for more than 15 years, the couple moved their store to the neighborhood four years ago, enticed by the low-key, friendly and communal feel. Their clientele is a mix of regional homeowners and event planners who use the vast array of orchids for weddings and fundraisers in town.
Walk diagonally across the intersection and you’ll find Fresh, featuring stylish urban wear with a distinctive Salt Lake City feel. This being Utah, many of the store’s customers like to play outdoors. Fresh does its best to blend Patagonia attire with more cutting-edge design, such as a streamlined black spring jacket selling for $88. Other pieces of clothing include men and women’s jeans, colorful women’s blouses, baseball caps, shoes and Brixton T-shirts. The young brother-and-sister team of Ian and Helen Wade, who own the shop, hit tradeshows in Las Vegas and across the Southwest to keep the merchandise, well, fresh. They look for independent labels not very well known outside London, New York and Los Angeles.
WHERE TO STAY
555 S. Main St.
Built to impress the public coming to town for the 2002 Winter Olympics, the 24-story property includes such amenities as a children’s toy store, a French pastry shop and tea time in the lounge. Rooms from $199.
15 W. 200 South
Kimpton property smack-dab in the middle of downtown, with hosted wine parties each evening and free storage space for ski and snowboard equipment. Rates start at $119.
WHERE TO EAT
878 S. 900 East
Morgan Valley Lamb, Taylor Made Beef and Beehive Cheese Co. are a few of the local purveyors found on the menu. Dinner entrees $19 to $38.
912 E. 900 South
Chicken shawarma, lamb kebabs, hummus and roasted tomato and red lentil soup are just some of the offerings at this popular Middle Eastern eatery. Lunch dishes from $6.50.
WHAT TO DO
900 S. 876 East
Matinee tickets $6.75, evening (after 6 p.m.) tickets $9.25.
301 Wakara Way
Leave the 9th and 9th neighborhood to see the striking new building that houses the Natural History Museum of Utah. Inside, you’ll find cases of colorful Navajo baskets and intricately beaded Paiute jewelry and an entire floor devoted to dinosaur bones. Daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesdays to 9 p.m. Adults $11, ages 13-24 $9, ages 3-12 $8.