Dotted along State Street’s nearly 18 miles are motels, tattoo shops, schools, bars, mom-and-pop stores and millennial-owned ventures. Most importantly, though, there are people. These are their stories.
Though she’s preparing to retire, memories of her 30 years working at the Capitol flood Brandt’s mind: A truck drove up the stairs inside the Capitol, children sang by the live Christmas tree in the rotunda and a tornado tore through the area.
“Well, looking down State Street, nothing really has changed. The trees still line the streets,” she says. “We were here during the tornado. That was a big event. … We knew there had been an issue, but we didn’t actually know there had been an issue until we walked out. All of the trees had been uprooted, from the Capitol grounds all the way down State Street. They were laying across the streets. That’s actually what started the renovation of the Capitol.”
Still within sight of the Capitol, a group of protestors stand outside of the City and County Building. Theresa Nielson has marched down State Street prompted by various movements, including denouncing Trump’s divisive rhetoric and demanding justice for Abdi Mohamed.
“It’s just a very large road. It’s easy to march down, it’s a really prominent place in Salt Lake City,” she says. “Some people are, like, ‘Wait what’s the point of doing this? What actually are you changing? You know, I think one thing is it visualizes the issue. It shows this actually affects how public [officials] talk about things, how government officials talk about things. When you have thousands of people mobilizing on the street, it’s on the news, it gets people rallied up, and it continues the conversation around the issue.”
Less than a decade ago, Epic was a small brewery looking to serve sustainable, full-strength beer to Salt Lake City. It now has more than 100 employees, an additional location in Colorado and a recently opened restaurant in Sugar House.
“Originally, the building was a Mexican restaurant, and then after that it was an Asian restaurant … and then it was closed, fenced off and barricaded for about two years,” Allred says. “There was a terrible slate roof on top of it, and it had fences and the whole thing was overgrown with weeds. It was a really big eye-sore right here on the corner. We came in, and we built this brewhouse on the front of it, and it has these big picture windows so you can see the brewing operation on State Street, and that was a big point to really change the façade.”
Asked to pinpoint what he likes about State Street the most, he says, “There’s such a large variety of businesses. Some that have definitely been entrenched for, you know, 50 years. We have some of the hotels and mom-and- pop stuff, but I think what’s really great about State Street is there’s a really big emphasis on local. We’re 100 percent locally owned and operated, so I think we’re a great fit for the character of State Street.”
Coachmans has been part of Salt Lake City’s culture for more than five decades. It has been through its ups and downs, but customers remained faithful and have kept flocking to the venerable eatery. Nowadays, oldies play in the restaurant while families enjoy their modestly priced meals.
“We’ve been, in my opinion, a landmark and almost an institution when it comes to Salt Lake,” Nikols says. “Back then, you would drive [on State Street] through Draper, that was nothing back then, through Sandy, which was nothing back then again, then Murray, which was a little bit bigger, and then Salt Lake … you’d keep going from city to city to city and you would get the chance to decide where you wanted to eat,” he says. “And guess what a big, I would say, decision-maker for people? That signage.”
Since 1948, Busy Bee has served good food and drinks to college students and retired friends. It’s famous for garlic burgers, and a popular spot for grabbing a beer and watching a game.
“You meet a lot of really different kinds of people. I really like the atmosphere, and people that wander in on State Street are quite original,” Duvris says.
Her husband, Dean, explains that there are customers who have been coming to Busy Bee for longer than he’s been alive.
“It does get pretty crowded on the weekends, and lunchtime,” Marci intervenes. “Our main part is usually football season … a lot of sports things. I just really love working here. I enjoy my customers, I enjoy the people that come around here, I enjoy my job.”
Sound Warehouse has provided the soundtrack for Utahns’ drives down State Street for the past three decades in the same location. The store sold speakers before cars came equipped with auxiliary cords, and now it provides high-end sound and security systems to the Salt Lake valley.
Mike Wellington, an employee of 14 years, says that while their store is close to a lot of crime (sex workers often congregate at a bus stop across the street, which brings a police presence), he has enjoyed the State Street community and his customers throughout the years.
“I just like the area. I think that it’s a very diverse area,” he says. “You know what I mean? There’s, like, there’s a lot of elderly people that live in this neighborhood, there’s a lot of young families that are moving in—it’s like an ecosystem I guess you could say. There’s every type of person you could think of here.”
“Historically, a lot of the pawn shops have been on State Street. So when people think, ‘I need to find a pawn shop,’ State Street kind of comes to mind,” Thompson says. “We try to be really fair and friendly, and we try to be real aggressive in terms of how much money we give out. We try to give a little more than the other places. … More recently, gun sales have been really good for us. We’ve always done well with tools, electronics, you know, jewelry,” he finalizes. “Whether it’s mechanical shops or pawn shops or anything, you can just about find anything you want on State Street.”
Looking over State Street in Murray is “Chief Wasatch.” Toth used a cottonwood tree to create the statue to honor Utah’s Native American tribes.
It’s part of his “Trail of the Whispering Giants” series, and is one of 74 statues that have found a home in each state and internationally.
“[Chief Wasatch] is named after your wonderful mountains there. … My work, in essence, honors people facing injustice. This is kind of a mission in life,” the Hungarian-born artist says. “I’ve been making these statues for most of 50 years. My work is a little more than just making a statue, and, you know, just leaving. I try to honor the indigenous people in every state and in different countries.”
“There’s benefits because you have a lot of visibility. It’s really easy to find the school. It stands out, so you notice it, and you remember Murray High,” Principal Goldhardt says. “Some of the challenges are traffic, getting in and out of the school … but for the most part it’s not bad. Kids are pretty good about not going into the street … the overpass that has the walkway over State Street really helps.”
Goldhardt thinks that Murray High School and its neighbors, the car lots, residents and restaurants, all benefit from each other.
“We’re just part of the neighborhood. I think being here 100 years on State Street, if we weren’t, people would wonder what was going on.”
Adding to State Street’s tattoo legacy, Jensen opened Aloha Salt Lake Tattoos, tucked back in a mini-mall in Murray in 2015. As the tattoo guns buzz, he explains that he enjoys being part of the State Street culture, and that the good traffic and community outweigh the occasional loiterer.
“It’s kind of a no-brainer to have a tattoo shop on State Street,” he says. “I love State Street, whether it’s south or north, I just love [it]. There’s a lot of activity, generally there’s a lot of good people. He pauses, “We catch some good walk-ins, meet some interesting people.”
During each Real game, thousands of people walk across State, converging at the Rio Tinto Stadium. Jim Renne, the design principal for the Detroit-based architecture firm Rossetti, oversaw the stadium’s design and construction.
“Initially, we were very interested in creating a design that basically respects and then embraces the physical context of the site and in the region,” he recalls. “If you’re seated at the west side, you’re able to look at the background of the mountain range, and feel the connection between where you are sitting and the view that you have. That way you really connect with your surroundings.”
“But even more than that, we also were looking at the area that we were locating the stadium,” he says. “We wanted to create a destination that was more than just a stadium, with natural features, outdoor space, you know, community areas, that might even encourage residential development. … The stadium is the anchor that draws thousands of people.”
Almost at the end of the street is All Star Bowling & Entertainment, where kids run around playing laser tag, and adults enjoy a beer while they bowl.
“Well, with State Street culture, we fit in just great because it gives another thing to do, where you’ve got the movie theater, you got the water park right here, you know, you got the bar and grills, and we fit in just great,” Hogenson says. “It just adds to State Street’s total environment of, you know, ‘Hey, let’s go cruise down State Street, see what we can get into,’ and we’re just another thing out here to complement that.”
“State Street has been really big to me since I lived in Utah my whole life. We’d always go down State and, you know, cruise State, have fun, and there’s always something to do on State Street,” he continues. “You’re gonna see lots of cool stores, lots of little, you know, local shops, local restaurants that you can enjoy, that’s not so franchised-out. That’s what I really like about State. … It stays local.”