Monday, July 15, 2024
75.0°F

JULY NIBJ: Bonners Ferry historic downtown sees new booming businesses

by EMILY BONSANT
Staff Writer | June 25, 2024 1:00 AM

BONNERS FERRY — Bonners Ferry’s historic downtown has seen revitalization in the past months as many vacant buildings have been filled with new retail and service-based businesses. 

“Downtown is the heart of the community, as it hosts the city hall, courthouse and library,” David Sims, director of the Boundary County Economic Development Council. “It’s where people go for parades and events.” 

Sims noted that natural features and parks bring community members downtown as well. Throughout the summer, at Memorial Park, located outside of the Boundary County Library, community members will have picnics. In the winter, the hill is used as a sledding hill, which is another way families are drawn downtown.

Due to the expansion of online sales, while many small town retail businesses have struggled the past two decades, he said that hasn’t been the case in Bonners Ferry. 

“What we see downtown is a rotation of business, with more niche businesses, more restaurants and more service businesses,” he said. 

In 2023 the city of Bonners Ferry completed its comprehensive plan, a 10-year plan which focuses on goals and the direction for the city. One of the goals is to realize the full potential of historic downtown and to use the city center for dining, shopping and community events, Sims said. 

The past year, the historic downtown district has begun to reach its potential and saw eight new businesses open in the area — four were based around food service. However, one business, a bar, has already closed. 

A common issue with new business in historical downtown is that many spaces are too large or too small, Sims said. Large buildings, which had originally served as one business back in the day, are split up into different units for smaller businesses.

Similarly, some businesses are utilizing spaces that were previously used as storage. CQB Underground, an indoor airsoft area, in the basement of The Creamery buildings on Kootenai Street. 

Line Point Printing, formerly Photos Plus, has recently moved from the South Hill to the old three-story furniture store on Main Street, next door to the Boundary County Museum. The business provides class pictures, printing and digital conversions. 

Also on Main Street, on the corner of Bonner Street, Froyo Mama, a frozen yogurt shop opened up in February. The location had been vacant for quite a while, now the corner has become a place for friends and families to gather for sweet treats and encourages shoppers to visit the whole of Main Street. 

Last summer, with all the vacant buildings on Main Street between Bonner and Riverside, foot traffic stayed away from that part of Main Street. With this in mind, new businesses have had to set up on the sidewalks, in order to announce their arrival, even if they have been in town for over a year. 

The Wellness Tea Bar & Bistro, located on Main Street, across from the museum recently celebrated its first anniversary and is still working to teach locals to travel down the street. Like many businesses in historic downtown, being steeped in history has its own problems; such as updating and refurbishing a space for food services and relocating. 

The tea bar and bistro first opened in 2016 in the manager’s office of the Rex Theater, next door to its current location. While the original space was small, the shop offered hundreds of loose leaf teas from around the world. 

“With the new location and additional space, our customers have room to take their time to select teas. The biggest addition to our tea shop is the long anticipated organic bistro and hot brewed teas,” Abra Chouinard, owner said. 

Another new business that has filled a former vacant space, is Good Donut, located on Kootenai Street across from the library. Serving up homemade cake donuts and specialty coffee, Good Donut is another niche business to historic downtown. 

The space has had several take out restaurants come in over the years, including a noodle shop and fusion cuisine. However, with a mix of retail and food services on that block, and with teascarlet Fine Arts next door, and the Bonners Ferry Farmers Market in an adjacent city parking lot, customers will continue to support small businesses. 

    Bonners Ferry historic downtown shops.