BURLEY — If a bustling downtown is truly the key to a thriving city, Burley has some ground to make up.
In the past few decades, city officials say more businesses have left downtown Burley than have arrived.
Once a hub filled with banks, hotels, restaurants, markets and shoe stores, downtown Burley was a gathering place for people to stock up on necessities and hear the latest gossip.
A 1914 photo at the Cassia County Museum shows a group of smartly dressed young men sitting or leaning against a metal pole at the corner of Main Street and Overland Avenue. The area was dubbed the “loafing corner” and a place where “men enjoyed meeting friends and hearing the latest news.”
In Kathleen Hedberg’s 2005 book “Cassia County, Idaho: The Foundation Years,” former Burley Postmaster Joe Lambert, now deceased, recalled buggies and wagons filling the downtown in the 1920s.
“It was a big time for families to come to town,” he said.
In the 1920s, downtown Burley was filled with stately structures like the Rich Building on the northwest corner of Overland Avenue and 13th Street that once held Aikmans Grocery and the Bank of Commerce. The historic building later housed MH Kings.
One old, undated photo at the museum shows a sign above Kings’ advertising rooms for rent upstairs. In later years, The Mayfair, a women’s clothing store, and The Celler Men’s Shop went into the Rich Building. The Mayfair closed first, and The Celler followed suit in January 2016. The building has remained vacant since.
Across 13th Street to the south, at 1300 Overland Ave., The Burley Mercantile Company closed its doors with a splashy going-out-of-business sale in 1913, according to one museum photo. The building was later occupied by the J.C. Penney Company from 1927 to 1978, when the store relocated to Burley’s new mall. It now houses Topflight Tumbling, a multipurpose athletic building.
Roper’s Clothing was a downtown staple for decades. It moved a few times, including to the middle of the 1200 block on the east side, and later to the northeast corner of Overland Avenue and 13th Street, where it expanded several times. The building is now occupied by Rent-A-Center.
In Hedberg’s book, former Burley businessman, Lex Kunau, also deceased, said, “Coming to town on Saturday was the thing to do. Everyone dressed up in fancy clothes.”
Kunau said people would park their cars early so they could get a good spot and sit in their cars as people walked by.
“All the stores stayed open until 10 p.m.,” he said.
Brek Pilling hopes that his new fine dining restaurant at 1229 Overland Ave. can help restore Burley as a place of commerce after 5 p.m. once again.