As downtown Idaho Falls experiences new interest in development and investment, longtime downtown businesses will be faced with a new challenge: Old buildings with cheap rent will make way for newly renovated buildings, which will most likely come with new price tags.

Renovations and expansions are underway at several of downtown’s historic buildings. Developers, business owners and city officials hope the newly remodeled buildings will bring new life to downtown.

“I’m very encouraged by the renovations,” said Stan Ingram, owner of Ingram’s Jewelers, a 50-year-old downtown business. “I think there’s a renaissance, people are coming back to downtown.”

But as downtown moves into the future, some businesses will be left behind.

Last year, Karen’s Park Avenue Club, Eagle Rock Armory, Grape Van Gogh and A Pro Appliance closed downtown locations. This year, Ferrell’s moved to a new location, and Variety Mart will close in May.

Businesses owners have left for a variety of reasons. Some cashed in on the growing interest in downtown, sold their business and retired. But not all left willingly.

The Yarn Connection, a locally owned yarn, pattern and knitting accessory store, was downtown for 23 years before it relocated last year.

After 11 years on Park Avenue, The Yarn Connection’s owner Tish Vawter forfeited her lease to make way for an expanding business next door.

“We tried really hard to stay downtown,” Vawter said. “I love downtown. I thought it was a great place to have a business. Had there not been a change of ownership I still would’ve been downtown. And had there been a place to rent that was reasonable, I would’ve been downtown.”

The Yarn Connection moved to a new location, at 140 S. Freeman Ave., in October. It’s the yarn store’s fourth location since it opened in April 1996, but it’s the first outside of downtown.

The Yarn Connection was founded in the building now occupied by Idaho Mountain Trading, a former mini-mall. After seven years there, it moved to the Rogers Hotel building.

Most recently, The Yarn Connection was at 415 Park Ave., sandwiched between The Snake Bite restaurant and The Crystal Hair Lounge.

“In 11-and-a-half years I was on Park Avenue, my rent never went up,” Vawter said. “I also dealt with an old building that had problems.”

Todd Thoulion, owner of The Snake Bite, bought the building housing The Yarn Connection last year. He doesn’t yet know what he’ll do with the storefront or the residential space above, but he said the nearly century-old building needed attention.

The building hadn’t received any upgrades — the roof was leaky and birds sometimes flew into the store through holes in the facade.

“There’s going to be growing pains,” Thoulion said, referring to longtime businesses that will relocate. “In Tish’s case, that building shouldn’t have been rented the way it was, after 30 years of damage. Her and I decided to move on, so I can get in there and fix (it) and make it better for myself or whoever’s next.”

Thoulian said, by expanding and renovating, he’s investing in the future of downtown. And if the future means higher prices for operating a business, merchants should prepare for that.

“There’s going to be a captive audience downtown,” Thoulian said. “The older businesses, hopefully, they budgeted for that. As business owners, we have to be ready for expenses going up. There will be some growing pains, but if everybody holds on it’s going to be prosperous for everybody.”

While rents may go up as more competition comes in, downtown is already cheap compared to other commercial areas in greater Idaho Falls, and more business should benefit existing businesses, according to Brent Wilson, a brokerage services specialist at Thornton Oliver Keller.

“Rents are very affordable,” Wilson said. “Having more business downtown only helps other businesses downtown. Office tenants benefit restaurants, retailers benefit other retailers. Business downtown begets other business.”

Ingram, who has managed the downtown jewelry store for four decades, looks forward to the new customers that development will bring. He owns the building that houses the jewelry store and the building next door, which he rents as office space — $1,000 per month for about 2,000 square feet.

“Whatever the rents are, they’re way less than anywhere else in town,” Ingram said. “At some point, it’s not about the location, it’s about how you run your business. People will find you if you have a good reputation.”

People continue to find The Yarn Connection, as it settles into its new home near the intersection of First Street and Holmes Avenue.

While Vawter would prefer to be downtown, the new place has its perks.

“I actually like this spot better,” said Molly Brinkerhoff, of Idaho Falls, who has been a Yarn Connection customer for seven years. “There’s more parking. It’s brighter.”

The store still has a steady stream of customers, although not as many walk-ins and tourists as the downtown storefront attracted. It’s the only independently owned yarn store in Idaho Falls.

“I’m a destination shop,” Vawter said. “My customers will find me. People who are looking for good yarn are going to look for a yarn store.”

While Vawter will have to watch downtown’s growth from the sidelines, she’s rooting for it.

“I’m happy there’s someone with money that wants to spend money in downtown,” she said. “Downtown is going to get worse before it gets better, but when it’s all done, I think it’s going to be great. I am concerned about small businesses downtown. I think the rents are going to go high enough that it’s going to maybe chase some others out.”

Reporter Ryan Suppe can be reached at 208-542-6762. Follow him on Twitter: @salsuppe.

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