TWIN FALLS — Old-timers recall downtown’s long-gone department stores, and consultants envision the vibrant mixed-use destination Twin Falls’ historical district could become.
As the city prepares to launch a $17.2 million revitalization, downtown is an emotional center for both the city’s nostalgia and its dreams.
But today, the Times-News is taking a look at the Main Avenue of 2017 — not the beloved Main Avenue of the past or the one you might eventually enjoy, but the Main you can shop while machines rip up the sidewalks and reshape the street.
It’s been more than 40 years since the city last updated Main Avenue. Overgrown trees obscure businesses, push up sidewalks with their roots and create tripping hazards for store patrons. And just a block away from Main, the government has outgrown City Hall.
This year, the city and its Urban Renewal Agency will do four major projects in the heart of downtown: a $6.4 million reconstruction of Main Avenue, a $1.3 million public plaza with restrooms, and a $9.5 million public safety complex and new City Hall.
The projects, meant to make downtown more desirable to businesses and shoppers and to pave the way for growth, are scheduled for completion by October.
Meanwhile, downtown already has much to offer.
You can attend a cooking class, gain sewing skills, learn self-defense, play board games with the coffee crowd and watch a parade. You can have an antique armchair reupholstered or buy specialty yeasts for home-brewed beer.
I sampled just a few of the experiences in the same five-block area where this year’s Downtown Renaissance will play out.
at First Friday
The couple at a Hands On table Dec. 2 were intent on their tasks but seemed to enjoy the performance by a young woman with a blue guitar at the front of the ceramics studio.
Sarah Dupre sketched a Narnia-themed design on a mug she would paint for a friend. Husband Jerome Damey worked tediously on a sketch of an underwater diver. He planned to trace it onto a plate, then paint it.
Dupre laughed as she talked about their projects. Her husband, she said, is a perfectionist.
“I don’t care about making mistakes, obviously,” she said, showing me her rough sketch.
Lured in part by the night’s waived studio fee, the young couple came to Hands On (147 Shoshone St. N.) during December’s First Friday — a monthly event in which downtown businesses promote art, culture and social networking.
“We substitute this for a date night,” Dupre said. “I came to pick up our last piece, and the owner said, ‘You should come to First Friday. There’s music.’”
Kaylee Gomskee and her roommate, Cerrin Collins, sang original compositions and covers of popular songs at Hands On that night. It was their debut as a duo, outside of high school.
Dupre was initially leery of the live music, afraid it would be too loud inside the studio. But people listened contently as they painted and clapped at the end of each love-themed folk or pop song.
This quieter, laid-back environment was unlike some of the places I’d visited that evening. First Fridays in downtown Twin Falls have a little for everyone — from the social butterfly to the introvert.
At Jensen Ringmakers (109 Main Ave. E.) around 6 p.m., a crowd exited the shop in time for the Parade of Lights. Inside, I discovered artwork of woodland animals by the new featured artist, Richard Muegerl.
“Every single piece is like a puzzle,” manager Dolly Wiltfong said, examining the intarsia art on the wall.
Down the street at Design 125 (125 Main Ave. W.) I found more local art, and photographer Jerry K. Dodds told me about images he captured at Yellowstone. Full Moon Gallery, which used to be downtown, is retaining its presence on Main Avenue by featuring artists at Design 125 on First Fridays.
A couple of women browsing the store carried plastic cups of wine they’d gotten over at Rudy’s-A Cook’s Paradise (147 Main Ave. W.). I headed there next.
It was almost sensory overload — but in a way that reminded me of a large and boisterous family gathering. People talked loudly in small groups, while at the back of the store a slightly more subdued group listened to Muzzie Braun sing about Idaho.
“Whenever he comes to town, he draws a crowd,” said Wendy Florence, who comes to First Fridays for the entertainment.
I had a brief chance to talk with Wendy and her husband, Patrick, as they joked with Muzzie during his break. Meanwhile, the shop quickly became packed. The smell of wine was strong on the breath of people who nudged past me, cups in hand, to greet friends and neighbors.
To get out of the impact zone, I pushed my way over to where Eric Ettesvold cooked a pork loin dish with apples and onions. Over the cacophony, he told me he has cooked at Rudy’s for 13 years of First Fridays.
“It’s fun,” he said. “I get to see my friends once a month.”
In hopes of a quieter atmosphere, I was soon ready to head for the next thing. The guy I was with suggested leaving through the back door, because the shop was an ocean of people all the way to the front.
At Twin Falls Sandwich Co. (128 Main Ave. N.), the tables were full with boisterous parade-goers. We sat on a couch just behind the band speakers. The Barking Owls — Andy Cluff, Erik Wenninger and Zach Peterson — entertained the crowd.
I would have enjoyed it more had the speakers not felt overpowering for the space. My date took as much as he could handle but ducked out after a few minutes.
It was good planning that we ended the night at Hands On. Liking the tranquil atmosphere, we stayed almost until the 9 p.m. closing.
Throughout the evening, I marveled at the small-town feel of downtown Twin Falls — a city which to this Spring Creek, Nev., native can feel like a metropolis. First Friday was a time for running into friends and making new ones.
Despite the noise and the crowds, it’s an experience I wouldn’t mind repeating. But perhaps not on a parade night.
Target shooting at Advantage Archery
Draw back. Elbow up. Aim. Relax grip. Focus. Breathe. Release.
These were among the commands running through my head just before my last arrow slid through the paper target on the back wall, sinking into layers of cardboard and plastic wrap.
“You gotta be extremely patient,” Advantage Archery owner Caleb Drake said about the sport. “Patience is everything in it. It’s a very mental game.”
During an archery lesson Dec. 21, Drake instructed me in the use of recurve and compound bows. Things were quiet downtown that chilly morning, the store empty of customers, when I loosed my first three arrows from the recurve bow.
Whatever fantasies I may have fostered for having hidden talent like The Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen vanished as soon as the arrows hit.
Well, at least I had a nice grouping — even if the arrows were high of the target.
Drake coached my posture, and I tried again, with some improvement. Indoor archery shooting was a new experience for me, but I felt safe within the store — where wind couldn’t affect the arrows’ flight and I’d be less likely to hit something like a fence post (4-H shooting sports, anyone?).
The compound bow, which at first seemed complicated and unfamiliar, surprised me. Unlike the recurve, where I pulled 20 pounds or so until the release, the compound bow had less resistance at full draw. Not only that, but it used a trigger device attached to a wristband. My first round of arrows hit neatly in the white area surrounding the bull’s-eye.
“When you pick up a compound bow, it’s almost instant,” Drake said. “We can have you hitting pretty close to where you want to be really quick.”
Advantage Archery (251 Main Ave. E.) offers private lessons like these at 10 a.m. on weekdays, before the store opens, and 9 a.m. Saturdays. Drake averages probably four lessons a week.
The cost is $20, and you must have a lesson before you can rent the store’s equipment for any of its various shooting events. Advantage Archery has 24 shooting lanes and a video shooting system that projects an animal onto the screen.
“We have never had an accident,” Drake said.
Many customers are hunters, but target shooting has also grown more popular.
Hunting with a bow requires careful calculations because it’s often a one-shot chance, Drake said. Archery is at closer range than a rifle, and a bow takes longer to reload.
The sport isn’t as inexpensive as I’d mildly hoped. The recurve bow might cost as little as $100 but requires more precision; a compound bow can be $300 or more. Arrows cost around $35 per half-dozen, Drake said, though they typically last longer than a box of bullets.
It had been about a decade since I’d last held a bow, but by the end of my lesson I felt slightly better about my performance.
Still, I think I’ll stick with my .223 for my next hunt.
Pounding it out at Studio G
The first time, it might be hard to keep up with the beat. That’s what I quickly discovered during a Pound Fitness class at Studio G.
I’m a musician, so I thought I’d be up to the challenge. But full-body, coordinated movements are far different than anything I’ve pounded out, percussion instrument or otherwise.
“I’ve been where you are,” instructor Breanna McAlister told me as she offered encouragement Dec. 22.
Looking in the mirror at my fellow participants, I figured I was probably a below-average performer — the other first-timers seemed to take to it more quickly. Still, I gave it my best enthusiasm as “The Little Drummer Boy” came on.
Pound Fitness workouts include the use of weighted, one-pound drumsticks called RipStix. It’s sort of a mix of drumming and fitness — performed to the beat of music. The routines incorporate squats and stretches, rapping the RipStix together and on the mat. It’s a cardio and strength workout.
“This class isn’t super high-impact,” McAlister said, so you can do it in bare feet.
And if you’re not a fast learner with your hands and feet, just do what you can.
“It’s a fun class,” said Debbie Bos, attending for her second time. “I like the energy. It’s a hard workout, but the music makes it fun.”
Pound Fitness is still relatively new to Twin Falls; McAlister had taught it for about three months.
“I saw Pound Fitness on Facebook and thought, ‘That sounds fun,’” she said.
Without a local class available, she found a training for instructors in Boise — and felt a bit overwhelmed the first day.
“I love that it’s the new thing because I can make it what I want to,” McAlister said.
I know I must have done it wrong half the time — but for a first-timer, that’s OK. I had fun, and it was a good workout.
Studio G (218 Main Ave N.) offers classes for $10 each, or $80 for 12 classes with a pass. Participants register using the MindBody app. Studio G usually offers Pound Fitness a few times a week, with a limit of 15 people per class.
Being thrifty downtown
“Honey, you are not a 70-year-old woman on a cruise,” Bethany Kalmbach said.
Rebekah Kalmbach, 12, put down the object of her mother’s scrutiny — a silvery purse sheathed in glittering sequins — and continued browsing the selection at the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store (244 Main Ave. S.).
Shortly thereafter, her 13-year-old sister, Naomi, came back with a large, white stuffed bison that cost $5. This too, was turned down — though their mother noted its possibilities as a gag gift.
Kalmbach and another of my co-workers, Julie Wootton, shopped a couple of Main Avenue thrift stores with me Dec. 27 in search of like-new, discounted items.
I’m not an avid thrifter myself: My memories of thrift stores are dominated by funky smells, forlorn objects, stained clothing and dust. But while it’s easy to find excuses to avoid buying used things, new things are expensive.
Kalmbach, a much more experienced thrifter, had similar reasons.
“We realized kids are expensive, and clothes are cheaper when they’re secondhand,” she said.
While passing through the glassware section at St. Vincent de Paul, she mentioned another benefit of thrifting: “This way, you can break ‘em and not feel guilty.” I nodded, eyeing a set of wineglasses that looked fragile.
Wootton, who bought a purse for $2.11, regretted that downtown has lost some of its thrift stores.
“I’m still really sad Ryders’ closed,” she said. “That was my favorite.”
We headed next to Idaho Youth Ranch, where the Kalmbach family examined the selection of shoes and dresses. Kalmbach offered critiques on the quality and practicality of some items. If something appeared to meet the quality test, two questions followed: When would you wear this? How much does it cost?
Idaho Youth Ranch (162 Main Ave. S.) turned out to be the highlight of my shopping: I found a fully functional bathroom scale for $1.99. I’d wanted one but couldn’t justify the cost of a new one.
I also couldn’t resist a ceramic unicorn for 69 cents — because, honestly, why not?
Fun and games at The Orpheum
“I want you to open up your Bibles to First Opinions …”
Laughter erupted from the audience in reaction to an actor’s interpretation of the world’s worst pastor. I laughed too, until a comment behind me — “It’s true” — made me reflect morosely on past Bible study groups. Fortunately, I didn’t have long to ponder before another actor stepped forward for the “World’s Worst” game.
Thirty minutes before showtime Jan. 6, a group had gathered in the lobby of The Orpheum Theatre (146 Main Ave. W.), some holding popcorn, soda or candy. They’d come for the All Star Improv Comedy Show “Cinco” at The Orpheum, with local talents Katie Neff and Steve Kaminski joined by Magic Valley Repertory Theater’s No-Prep Players.
This wasn’t my first time at The Orpheum, but I’d entirely forgotten how improv comedy worked, so it felt like a new experience.
Before the show, the audience was quizzed on improv. “What city is known as the hometown of improv?” (Chicago.) “What is the No. 1 rule in improv?” (Say, “Yes, and …”)
The games inside the dimly lit theater became a little more unusual after “World’s Worst,” with more audience participation incorporating text messages, singing and advice from grandparents (“Don’t get married”). Ryker Harris played piano in the background, setting the mood for each scene.
A few references that night to diabetes and related symptoms also made me pause to wonder if those, like the religion jokes, were OK boundaries to cross. As a friend commented later, there’s a fine line in comedy between being offensive and being funny.
Neff, a Jerome native who met Kaminski in Chicago doing improv, also performs at Canyon Springs Golf Course, Jerome Country Club and Mountain View Barn. At the recently renovated Orpheum, she occupies a simple stage; the red brick behind her features a lighted sign with the historical downtown theater’s name.
“These guys knocked it out of the ballpark,” she said, “when they bought this theater and turned it into something amazing.”