CALDWELL — Walk through downtown Caldwell this holiday season as hundreds of thousands of Christmas lights reflect off the waters of Indian Creek, and it may be hard to imagine that, just 15 years ago, the rushing creek flowed underground.
And two years ago, Indian Creek Plaza and its ice-skating ribbon had yet to open.
Now, the years of work to revitalize downtown Caldwell are paying off. Nine businesses have opened in downtown Caldwell near the plaza this year, with a 10th set to open soon.
Five of those business have opened within the past three months. Those include a mini-doughnut shop, a bookstore and an ax-throwing venue, all within walking distance of the plaza. Each of the new business owners said the plaza contributed to their desire to open in downtown Caldwell.
Scott Gipson, president of Caxton Printers, which has been operating in downtown Caldwell since 1904, said the opening of the outdoor Indian Creek Plaza marked a major shift in the downtown’s reputation and success.
“Downtown Caldwell used to be a ghost town, and now you can’t get a table at a restaurant on a Friday or Saturday night … which is a good thing,” Gipson said.
Gipson serves on the board of Destination Caldwell, a nonprofit that works with downtown businesses and manages plaza events, and he helped support the development of the plaza for three years prior to its opening. He said years of hard work were needed to get to the point downtown Caldwell is at now.
Business owners from Boise and Nampa are taking note of downtown Caldwell’s changes and are choosing to expand there — such as Flying M, Rediscovered Books, Bella Blue Boutique and Section 37 Axe Room.
Kristopher Ott, former executive chef of popular Boise restaurants Fork and Alavita, this month opened a new barbecue restaurant called Chop Shop BBQ bordering Indian Creek Plaza.
The seeds for downtown’s success were planted over a span of several years by city officials and business owners. The plaza opened in the summer of 2018 and attracted 137,000 visitors in its first year, Destination Caldwell CEO Keri Smith-Sigman said.
In 2019, the number of crossings on the Indian Creek pedestrian bridge on downtown Caldwell’s Seventh Avenue increased by about 100,000 over 2018, she said.
“If I can share that with a prospective business, that’s huge,” she said.
Just four years ago, when Smith-Sigman was Caldwell’s economic development specialist, she had to “plead” with business owners to get them to consider opening a business in Caldwell, she said. Now, she has so many business owners approaching her with interest in Caldwell, it’s difficult to juggle them all.
Owners of six new downtown Caldwell businesses credited Indian Creek Plaza as a key reason they chose to locate in Caldwell. Those new businesses are:
- Lucy’s 13
- Chop Shop BBQ
- Fire & Ice Pottery Studio
- Rediscovered Books, a Boise business that expanded into Caldwell
- Bridges Coffee & More
- Section 37 Axe Room, another Boise business expanding into Caldwell.
Section 37’s Caldwell location is slated to open soon, according to co-owner Ashley Brennan.
Lorene Oates, a Caldwell native who opened mini-doughnut shop Lucy’s 13 near the plaza Dec. 7, said she has witnessed how the plaza launched an evolution of downtown Caldwell’s reputation. While Oates was growing up, downtown Caldwell lost its appeal to consumers after the development of Karcher Mall and other large retail markets to the east. But now, Indian Creek Plaza has turned downtown Caldwell into a destination, she said.
“I see the plaza as the most amazing event in Caldwell, no matter what day it is,” Oates said.
Other new businesses that have opened around the plaza include Soda Burst, The Good Spoon Frozen Yogurt, Idaho Soap Company, popular restaurants The Grit 2C and Amano Restaurante, and Bella Blue Boutique, which expanded from Nampa.
The plaza also played a role in The Flying M’s owners’ decision to open a coffeehouse in downtown Caldwell, the Idaho Press previously reported.
In 2014, the city designated a site for the future Indian Creek Plaza at the corner of Kimball Avenue and Arthur Street — also known as King’s Corner because of the former King’s store there. The Caldwell Urban Renewal Agency a year earlier had purchased the King’s building for $250,000.
Momentum for a plaza continued to grow in 2014 when the Caldwell Chamber of Commerce and local businesses brought in community revitalization expert Roger Brooks, who had helped revamp the downtown of Rapid City, South Dakota. Caldwell business leaders raised $65,000 to hire Brooks as a consultant, and, in 2015, a group of people from Caldwell visited Rapid City to learn from its success.
In advising both Rapid City and Caldwell, Brooks pushed for the development of a downtown plaza to be a top priority.
“A plaza is the soul of a downtown,” Brooks said in 2015. “This could be the coolest thing you’ve ever done.”
Construction on Caldwell’s Indian Creek Plaza, a $7.3 million project, began in April 2017 and finished in the summer of 2018. The 57,000-square-foot outdoor plaza, which has a stage and a seasonal ice-skating ribbon, opened to the public July 10, 2018.
In the plaza’s first year, Smith-Sigman estimated the plaza helped generate about $2.3 million in revenue from customers who spent money at nearby businesses.
“It’s nearly impossible to count the people who meet here, who take a walk along the creek and stop to play cornhole, then decide to stay downtown for dinner or dessert,” Smith-Sigman previously told the Idaho Press.
SECTION 37 AXE ROOM
Section 37 Axe Room, an ax-throwing entertainment business, will open at 716 Blaine St., across the street from Indian Creek Plaza, Brennan said. As of Dec. 23, an opening date had not been set. The business takes appointments by groups and accepts walk-ins and reservations.
Brennan said she and her husband visited an ax-throwing business in Denver over a year ago, which gave them the idea to open a similar business in Idaho.
“We just knew it needed to be in Idaho,” Brennan said.
The couple opened the first location in Boise in November 2018. Its popularity has grown. The business sees 300 to 400 customers on an average weekend, Brennan said.
Brennan said she and her husband knew they wanted to expand in the Treasure Valley, and they explored Nampa and Caldwell sites. Smith-Sigman recruited them heavily, Brennan said, convincing them the foot traffic spurred by the plaza would make Caldwell the best choice.
Smith-Sigman previously told the Idaho Press she wanted Section 37 to open in downtown Caldwell to bring another source of entertainment, in addition to Luxe Reel Theatre and the plaza itself, which is the site of many events and activities.
Plans to open the business were delayed when Caldwell’s Planning and Zoning Commission tried to classify the business as an “amusement center,” which would have required Brennan to obtain a special-use permit and follow specific building code regulations.
Brennan said she disagreed with the classification. Section 37’s Boise location is classified as a “recreation center,” which doesn’t require a special-use permit. She said she and her husband appealed the Planning and Zoning Commission’s decision to the Caldwell City Council and won.
Lucy’s 13, the mini-doughnut shop, operates as a walk-up window at 718 Main St. bordering the plaza. Right now, the shop is open from 4 to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and noon to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. But Oates, the owner, said she is hoping to extend those hours soon.
Oates works full-time as a volunteer coordinator at West Valley Medical Center, but said she was drawn to open a business in Caldwell after seeing how the downtown area has evolved.
“It’s amazing what Caldwell has done, and I want to continue that,” Oates said.
Lucy’s 13 offers three flavors of doughnuts and is looking to expand the menu. Customers can order doughnuts by the baker’s dozen for $5 or get three dozen for $13.
Since opening, Oates said her business has been constantly busy. She typically has a line of customers waiting for doughnuts on Fridays and Saturdays, she said.
Oates said Indian Creek Plaza is effective at drawing in customers and businesses alike. While working at West Valley Medical Center, she said she consistently hears people saying plans for the evening involve visiting the plaza with their friends or family.
“It’s almost like the new park,” Oates said.
CHOP SHOP BBQ
Chop Shop BBQ opened Dec. 3 as a sit-down and takeout restaurant in downtown Caldwell at 716 Arthur St., near Flying M Coffeeshop bordering the plaza, according to Ott, the owner.
Ott has been barbecuing for most of his life and said opening a barbecue restaurant has been his “brain child” for the last 15 years.
“It’s the reason I got into cooking,” he said.
The development of Indian Creek Plaza was a major reason Ott chose to open the restaurant in Caldwell. He said he was also drawn to Caldwell because local officials value local agriculture, and Ott tries to incorporate local products into his dishes as much as possible.
Since opening, Ott said the reception from the public has been great. In Chop Shop’s first 10 days, the 40-seat restaurant serviced about 1,000 customers, he said.
Ott is working to develop an outdoor patio, which will add 25 to 30 outdoor seats.
Rediscovered Books, a longtime Boise bookstore, opened Nov. 20 at 802 Arthur St., next to the plaza and across the street from Flying M Coffeeshop, according to co-owner Laura DeLaney. The business first opened in West Boise in 2006 and moved to downtown Boise in 2010.
Since opening in Caldwell, business has been great, DeLaney said. The Caldwell store is growing faster than the first Boise store when that opened in 2006. DeLaney said their busiest hours are at night when more than 1 million Christmas lights are lit throughout downtown Caldwell for the annual Winter Wonderland display.
“Every day, we have more people finding us,” DeLaney said.
When considering where to put their second location, DeLaney said she and her husband, Bruce, found Caldwell appealing because of the investment they observed in Indian Creek Plaza. She said downtown Caldwell now reminds her of what downtown Boise looked like when Rediscovered Books opened in 2006.
“What we saw was the people of Caldwell investing in their own space,” DeLaney said.
With the influx of new independent businesses, DeLaney said there is a large element of collaboration between businesses who help each other. She said Flying M coffee drinks are always welcome inside Rediscovered Books, and she and other business owners encourage their customers to visit the other businesses while they are in downtown Caldwell.
FIRE & ICE POTTERY STUDIO
Fire & Ice Pottery Studio opened Nov. 22 at 117 S. Seventh Ave. bordering the plaza, according to owner Dawn Bashore.
Fire & Ice offers hand-building and slab construction for pottery, along with ceramic painting, fused-glass molding, canvas painting and board painting. Bashore said she also offers classes in advanced ceramics, glass molding and jewelry making.
“We’re more of a DIY arts studio,” Bashore said.
The business opened in 2006 as a mobile arts studio Bashore operated out of her home in Nampa. When she saw the renovations happening at Indian Creek Plaza, she said she thought her business would make a great addition to the area.
Bashore said she grew up doing arts and crafts with her grandmother, who had her own kiln, and she developed a love for art then. Now, she said her favorite part about running the studio is helping people make personal crafts that can be kept as memories, like molding children’s handprints into a piece of clay.
“That’s really the thing that I love about this,” Bashore said.
BRIDGES COFFEE & MORE
Bridges Coffee & More, a cafe inside Treasure Valley Community College at 205 S. Sixth Ave., opened its doors Oct. 9, according to co-owner Carol Whitbeck.
Whitbeck and her husband, Phil, decided in September to open the cafe after her husband heard about the need for a coffee shop in the vacant space left in the community college building. The Whitbecks are both associate pastors at Deer Flat Church, and Carol Whitbeck said they wanted to open the cafe because they care about the city.
“We believe in Caldwell so much,” she said.
Bridges serves drinks, along with homemade soups, sandwiches and other food items. Business started slow at first, which Carol Whitbeck said is likely because people didn’t know the shop was there. But since Caldwell’s Winter Wonderland Festival started on Nov. 22, business has been booming, she said.
On the business’ first day Oct. 9, Whitbeck said her staff served 56 drinks. On Nov. 22, the staff served 398 drinks. She said it’s typical for the business to serve around 350 drinks on a weekend night.
CHECK IT OUT
In its first year, the plaza hosted almost 250 events and activities. The plaza operates under an agreement between the city of Caldwell and Destination Caldwell to host a minimum of 100 events and activities each year.
Ice skating on the plaza’s ice ribbon opened Nov. 20 and will be available through the end of February, according to the plaza’s website.
The Winter Wonderland Festival, a free display featuring 1 million lights from from Fifth to 11th avenues and between Arthur and Blaine streets, is open nightly through Jan. 15.