The Blue Boutique Wins the Battle: Lingerie Store Opens its Doors Despite Controversy

In the summer of 2006, it became apparent that it was only a matter of time until Sugarhouse, one of the most colorful neighborhoods of Salt Lake City, would cease to exist. Craig Mechem, owner of the Granite block, intended to redevelop the area into what many feared would mirror the Sugarhouse Commons across the street. Wizards and Dreams was the first Sugarhouse business to relocate. By March 2007 many of the local businesses on the street were served with eviction notices. Orion's Music sold its inventory, allowing Positively Fourth Street Music to open its doors. Pib's Exchange and I Kim moved a few blocks south of their prior homes. Spark Men's Clothing relocated to State Street, and Artopia to the center of downtown. Lucky Pirate Denim Bar and Sugarhouse Coffee moved a block west and currently share the space that once housed Millcreek Coffee. By November 2007 the once-eclectic and busy area was barren, and the Blue Boutique was the last business operating in the now-defunct Sugarhouse.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday the Blue Boutique unexpectedly received the boot from their long-time Sugarhouse location. The owners were fighting their eviction notice in court (prior to being expelled from the building), due to the fact that developer Craig Mechem had yet to receive a demolition permit. Unfortunately, the owners lost their appeal and were forced out of the once diverse Sugarhouse neighborhood earlier than hoped. The same weekend that the boutique got the boot, the moral majority of Salt Lake City reared its ugly head and claimed that the Blue Boutique, which has been a mainstay of Sugarhouse since 1987, had no place in its new location 1393 E 2100 S, a mere two blocks east from their previous location.

Protesters argued that the lingerie store should be labeled as an SOB (sexually oriented business) due to their closet-sized adult room. The room in question occupies 15 percent of the store's sales floor, the maximum percentage allowed before a store can be considered a sexually oriented business. Although the Blue Boutique has never received a violation for their adults-only room, and the room doesn't take up enough space to label the store as a SOB, neighbors argued that the boutique should be banned from setting up shop in the neighborhood commercial zone. The store's new location on 2100 S is adjacent to Sugarhouse Park and a few blocks west of Highland High School. Thankfully, the protesters cries were disregarded, and after speedy construction, the Blue Boutique opened its doors for business at its new location on Wednesday, December 19th, only four days after the originally scheduled opening.

Although the protesters managed to cause quite the media frenzy, co-owner Laura Martinez states that the naysayers had nothing to do with the late opening, and is confident that her store is in absolutely no danger of being pushed out of the new location. "I'm well within the law. [The city] would have to change the laws to not let me in," she says. Martinez is pleased with the new location, although slightly upset with the unexpected process in which the move had to occur.

"I will definitely miss the small business atmosphere," Dionn Nielsen, long time buyer for Blue Boutique says, referring to their old neighborhood. However, both Nielsen and Martinez are optimistic that a small business community might spring up around them again. "That is what happened before, It [Sugarhouse] was all furniture stores. Then we brought in all the other small businesses," Martinez says, "It seems like wherever I go other people come around and they start springing up again."

Being forced to close down, without warning, right before Christmas, would be hard on any locally-owned business, and the Blue Boutique was no exception. Although sales increased slightly at their other two Salt Lake locations (possibly due to all the free publicity from the protesters) the store still struggled. "We have suffered significant losses from being closed for the holidays," Martinez says, "It's been really hard. I'm down, but I'm not out. I'll make it back." Luckily the store was able to keep the majority of their employees, making the rocky transition to the new location as smooth as possible.

This isn't the first time the Blue Boutique has been picketed. In the spring of 2005, the store faced similar complaints when they relocated their downtown location from Arrow Press Square to North Temple. Concerned community members claimed that the store was too close in proximity to a neighborhood elementary school, but that outcry received little media attention and didn't drag on for nearly as long. "They complained for a couple weeks and then it was over," Martinez says of the picketing that occurred at the North Temple store. She is in no doubt that the controversy over the new Sugarhouse location will fizzle out, and notes that picketers haven't been back to the new Sugarhouse store since its opening.

As Martinez aptly put it, "This is against our constitutional freedoms. They're asking to lose freedoms that we've already been given." Ultimately, the controversy over the Blue Boutique's new Sugarhouse location should serve as a warning. Every few years another unnecessary commotion is created by the minority of citizens who wish to impose their morality on the rest of us.

Be sure to visit the Blue Boutique at their new Sugarhouse location on 1393 E 2100 S, and tell 'em that SLUG sent ya!