A quick walk down Provo’s Center Street is all it takes. Starting at the east end you first pass Echo Theater tucked away in an otherwise plain, but charming, building with smooth gray stone. Five more steps and you’re passing the porch of Mexican restaurant Los Hermanos with its patio tables and ornate flowers hanging in colorful baskets above the walkway. Keep walking, and you pass Gloria’s Little Italy, where you see a jovial man playing Disney covers on the accordion for captivated patrons. Across the street you hear clanging metal and construction workers shouting to each other across the scaffolding that hugs the soon-to-be LDS temple.
The scene on Center Street is always similar. Any visitor to downtown is immediately greeted with charming brick buildings, quintessential shop windows and inviting eateries at every corner. Catch it on a weekend, and there are dozens of people on the walkways bustling in and out of establishments like clothing store Unhinged, popular music venue Velour and Sensuous Sandwich.
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Provo City has taken great pains to build a vibrant downtown area, and now it appears that work is paying off many times over.
“It’s a good feeling downtown; there’s a lot of energy,” said Dixon Holmes, deputy mayor of economic development for Provo City. “The weather is warming up, and people will be out eating.”
Housed just downtown, Provo’s Office of Economic Development connects the community with economic opportunities and tries to facilitate economic growth. Holmes and his team spend a lot of time bringing interesting businesses into the area that people will want to go to. This has created a unique and enjoyable environment over the years.
“You get a lot of independent owners and shops in the downtown that provide the unique, eclectic combination of goods and services offered in the community,” Holmes said. “People prefer to have these experiences that are authentic and unique, and that is what downtown has to offer.”
Holmes’s words ring true as it appears more students and local residents come out to enjoy downtown for its diverse shopping and food. The combination of history and independent stores just resonates with people.
Taylor Neuffer is one of these people. “I like downtown because it is fun and historical. The food is just delicious,” said Neuffer, a pre-communications student at BYU. Downtown is Neuffer’s go-to destination for dates and entertainment. But according to locals, downtown has evolved to far more than just a popular date destination.
Justin Hackworth has noted this evolution during his time in Provo. “Towns have personalities, and Provo has a great personality,” said Hackworth, who is a cofounder of the Rooftop Concert Series and local business owner.
According to Hackworth, the Rooftop Concert Series is bringing people to downtown that normally wouldn’t go.
“It has not only helped the businesses, but also the culture and the cultural stereotype that nothing goes on in Provo,” Hackworth said.
Many local businesses are benefitting directly from the local music scene and the foot traffic it brings. Rocco’s Wing Wagon, formerly known as Rocco’s Tacos, is a local favorite. A trailer propped between buildings, Rocco’s has the attention of college students and music lovers alike.
“It’s very popular. On an average day we see about 150 people,” said Jerry Wood, self-described “taco slinger” at Rocco’s.
Rocco’s opened just over a year ago serving soup in bread bowls. Now Rocco’s is known for its delicious wings and famous fish tacos. “We weren’t anticipating being this busy until summer, but it’s busier because of what Provo is becoming,” said C.J. Gandolph, owner of Rocco’s.
A Utah Valley native and business owner, Gandolph has witnessed firsthand downtown’s change over the years. “It’s awesome, man. This town is a complete transformation from when I was a kid. Provo is getting recognition all over the place,” Gandolph said.
Bailey Dodge, a senior at Lone Peak High School, attends a weekly “poetry slam” at the Enliten Bakery Cafe on Center Street. Dodge recites original poetry pieces with other poetry lovers. Events like the poetry slam and rooftop concert series give downtown Provo its unique flavor and prove that, indeed, downtown is on the rise. Downtown’s appeal is now capturing a variety of age groups and interests. “I think it’s cool; you can tell people like it here. It has character,” Dodge said.