The Heartbeat of Downtown By Abigail Thorpe
Twelve years ago, a nonprofit toy store opened in the back of Sandpoint’s Cedar Street Bridge. Created as a way to help support the children’s craft and play area that had been started in the Bridge shortly before, it was the realization of Shery Meekings’ dream to provide an art and play space for the community of Sandpoint. “I just kept seeing a vision for this beautiful arts space. A space where it was community friendly and under one roof, and weatherproof,” she recalls.
At the time, Cedar Street Bridge was practically empty, and Creations was a bright space that drew people into the iconic bridge. For eight years, the Meekings and a volunteer staff ran the nonprofit store and art space, until eventually the store turned into Sandpoint Toys, Shery purchased Carousel Emporium with the help of her husband Scott, and the staff of five volunteers grew to today’s staff of 29 people and two AmeriCorps employees between the two stores and Creations.
The Meekings’ story is truly a story of Cedar Street Bridge—an iconic space that has seen the ups and downs of economies, local growth and much change, but has remained the bright light at the heart of a community centerpiece. Today, the Bridge is at the pulse of a beautiful, thriving downtown scene, and in many ways, it’s the Eiffel Tower of this town, our own personal landmark at the end of Cedar Street and First Avenue.
Anyone who’s been in Cedar Street Bridge in the last several years knows of the bright space brimming with activity that pulls together so much talent, creativity and joy into one unique space. If you have a pulse on the town, you’ll also know that the Bridge recently came under new owners, and while change can often be awkward and difficult, the heartbeat of Cedar Street Bridge is still well and alive. Businesses have changed, some have moved, new ones are poised to take their place, and the ones currently in business are navigating the challenges of change—and that story of ups and downs is ingrained in the history of the Bridge itself.
Spanning 400 feet across Sand Creek, Cedar Street Bridge holds the title as the only marketplace on a bridge in the U.S. Built atop the old 1930’s pedestrian and auto bridge, which at the time was derelict and in danger of being torn down, the bridge was the brainchild of Scott Glickenhaus and inspired by the famous Ponte Vecchio public market bridge in Florence, Italy.
First opened in 1983, the bridge has gone through many ups and downs—at one time serving as the retail space for Coldwater Creek. As economic times ebbed and flowed, so too did the bridge, changing hands several times over almost four decades.
“Over the years, I’ve heard this building go from having a bad stigma to this beautiful, happy place. Our customers love it, our stores still carry it for sure,” explains Shery. Over the past several years, the Public Market grew to include 24 vendors in the bridge. While several of those have since relocated as change once again comes to the Bridge, the heart of the space lives on. “We still have that heartbeat going, all we can do now as tenants is to encourage these new owners to create that same vibrancy that was here, and to maybe even do better. I can only be hopeful that it will be better than what it was,” she adds.
The Meekings have managed Cedar Street Bridge for the past 13 years through thick and thin (the past seven of which Scott managed on his own). As the new owners recently took over this year, it seemed the right time for Scott to retire from management, but the couple is still an active part of the community in the bridge—many of whom they’ve enjoyed watching start in business, bringing their passion, creativity, spunk and personality to the space.
Like Fifth Element Hair Studio, a holistic hair salon, started in Cedar Street Bridge about six months ago by Sarah Marshall. “I have always been in business for myself and love creating inspiring spaces. The Cedar Street Bridge offered an affordable downtown location with a bustling community of other businesses,” she explains. “The bridge is a sunny, happy place, with a supportive community of other business owners and patrons, which is what makes it such a great place.”
The bridge has been a community place for families and friends to gather, for visitors to get a taste of Sandpoint, and for businesses owners to unleash their creativity and entrepreneurialism. Children have grown up in the space, customers have become like family, and so many locals have found employment they not only rely on but love. “We just have to look upward, and we have to move onward and encourage people with that awesome community heartbeat to come in, and if they want to create a business to bring their professionalism and come and join us,” says Shery.
While currently over 50 percent of the bridge is still occupied, there is news of more businesses to come, including potentially a farm-to-table restaurant.
“Change can be hard, and sometimes the best new directions in life can come from the hardest times,” adds Sarah. “I have a positive perspective on things to come, and I am hopeful that once the dust settles there will be improvements and positive growth for everyone.”
While change is being navigated, the Meekings and Sarah understand that the vital thing is to continue the legacy of the bridge, and to continue to create relationships and navigate change with a positive and forward-thinking attitude. They look forward to building a relationship with the new owners. “I admire anybody who would take on this endeavor,” says Shery.
Shery also serves as president of the downtown business group, which represents 35 local businesses on Main, Second and First. She understands firsthand the importance of small businesses, not only in creating community jobs and beautiful spaces for locals and visitors to visit, but also in shaping the community and relationships of the town. Together, as a downtown group, the businesses employ almost 3,000 locals.
“Small businesses are vital for local economies because they are where local people work and spend their money,” explains Sarah. “Without thriving local business there is no sense of community.”
So, while change may be in the air, the heartbeat, community spirit and hometown feel of Sandpoint remains, and businesses at the bridge remain open, eager to welcome all to the sunny, warm space that has delighted visitors for decades, and continues to remain a place for businesses of all sizes to become part of a unique downtown community.
“Keep shopping in the Bridge and supporting all your local businesses! Without us, Sandpoint wouldn't be as charming and welcoming as it is,” encourages Sarah.
“We are here to stay. We love our family,” adds Shery.