ONARCHITECTURE- Scrap heap: Iconic Mall kiosk set for demise
While developer Lee Danielson's latest project is about to go up– a 9-story luxury hotel on the Downtown Mall's central place– it looks like one of his very first contributions to the Mall is about to go down: the wood and copper kiosk in front of CVS.
In the early 1990s, Danielson secured a lease from the city for the kiosk, and SNL founder Reid Nagle paid to have it built and hired someone to run it as a newsstand.
Constructed with western red cedar (known for its excellent water resistance and durability) and capped with a copper roof and counter, the structure cost $15,000 to $20,000 to build, says Rick Wyatt of Gaston & Wyatt cabinet makers, who says they designed the kiosk based on a sketch Danielson had provided.
Eventually, Nagle– busy growing SNL Financial into a worldwide financial info company– donated the kiosk to the City.
Since then, it's been many things– a tobacco shop, a gift shop, a news stand again– and most recently a flower shop. One time, Orbit Billiards owner Andrew Vaughan tried turning it into a happening nightspot, but he wasn't able to secure a liquor license.
For almost two years now, it's been home to Secret Gardens, a flower shop owned by local musician and flower designer Betty Jo Dominick. But Dominick, too, has decided to call it quits.
"It just wasn't economically feasible anymore," she says. "The first eight months, I was there everyday from 12 to 4, but it really wasn't a desirable place to sit. People are either shooting to work, grabbing lunch, and it was magnet for loitering."
Among many inconveniences and challenges, Dominick said she arrived one morning and discovered that all the eye-hooks she hung the kiosk's windows on had been unscrewed.
"It could be a real horrible place to spend the day," she says. "It's a really bad loitering area outside CVS, because they know people are coming out with money."
Indeed, a Hook reporter has noticed that the kiosk has become a favorite spot for panhandlers, a place where they can put their stuff down, lean on the counter or sit against the kiosk, and hit up folks coming out of CVS. Still, a beat cop we spoke to said it was much worse when there were chairs along CVS's storefront.
On windy days, Dominick says her flowers would get blown over. "The Mall can be like a wind tunnel," she says. "Nothing stays up," she says. And with no heat or cooling, sitting in the kiosk in August and during the winter was unpleasant and not very lucrative.
"August is actually worse than winter," she says. "No one one is out on the Mall. May to June and November to December are really the only good times for the kiosk."
Perched at the kiosk for two years, what did Dominick's birds-eye view of daily life on the Mall reveal?
"The retail thing has really slowed down on the Mall in the last year," she says. And while she doesn't presume to speak for all vendors, she observes: "I really didn't see a shopping mentality there. The Mall has become more of an eating place than a shopping place."
She also worries that two impending projects will disturb some already struggling retail businesses: "Once they start that hotel and re-bricking the Mall, I wouldn't want to be there"
Still, Dominick says she'd like to talk to Neighborhood Development chief Jim Tolbert about moving the kiosk.
"I think it's simply a bad location," says Dominick. "If the CVS weren't there, if you had a nice department store or a grocery store, I think the kiosk might work." She suggests moving it to the plaza in front of the Omni hotel.
Indeed, the original news stand idea, combined with selling cigarettes, convenience store items, and offering information for tourists (after all, a kiosk does provide a powerful visual beacon for the lost and disoriented) might be an interesting business model, but about two years ago another news stand near the Omni lasted less than a year. And CVS does sell an array of periodicals.
Still, Tolbert doesn't appear inclined to move the kiosk.
"It's just going to go away," he says when asked about the City's plans. "It's just not been successful. It's going to be removed and scrapped as soon as it fits into the public works schedule."
"But if someone wanted it, if they'd be willing to haul it away," Tolbert adds, "they could take it."