Remembering a Spokane business incubator that built a city within a city

More than 50 years ago, Billie Moreland, Janis Hefta and Joanne Prigmore had an idea to join together to create an arts and small business cluster in Spokane.

Hefta owned a women’s clothing boutique, the Wardrobe Trunk, and Prigmore owned the Juniper Tree Gallery. Moreland was working to open a store selling coffee beans, teas and spices.

The business owners knew that forming a cluster of shops would help their businesses thrive through collaboration and shared foot traffic, rather than if they were scattered throughout the city.

The three entrepreneurs found a home in the since-demolished Kroll Building on First Avenue between Howard and Wall streets in downtown Spokane.

“I don’t know how we got so lucky,” Moreland said. “But we found the Kroll Building and its wonderful landlord, Dave Clack. It had been recently vacated by Kinman Business University, so it had a number of classroom-size, open uncluttered spaces. And we thought it was perfect. Except it was too big for three shops.”

Moreland, Hefta and Prigmore found eight other businesses to join them.

The cluster of 11 businesses opened in June 1972 as 2nd City. It became a neighborhood of one-of-a-kind specialty shops, artisans, galleries and restaurants as well as a place where business owners could support and encourage each other while paying reasonable rents.

“It was only 6 1/2 years, but it was a really dynamic place,” said Judith Hamel, who operated the Children’s Corner Bookshop at 2nd City with business partner Susan Durrie. “So many people were able to start businesses there.”

The impact to the local business community goes far beyond the years 2nd City was in operation. More than 47 businesses were a part of 2nd City, including the Human Race, a former running store co-owned by Bloomsday founder Don Kardong, and Rings & Things, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

After opening in 1972, 2nd City gained momentum with retailers selling items such as screenprinted clothing, poetry books, metal sculptures and more. Based on the retail momentum, Clack remodeled space in the building, providing more retail space.

By 1973, the Kroll Building’s second floor was at capacity with more than 22 tenants occupying the space. The building’s street level also was filled with specialty shops, some of which were expansions of retailers on the second floor.

During Expo ’74, a world’s fair hosted in Spokane, visual arts and music expanded at 2nd City, with folk and bluegrass concerts, brass bands, poetry readings and children’s theater performances held in the building’s auditorium.

Bloomsday’s Kardong opened the former Human Race running store with business partner Rick Riley in 1977 at 2nd City.

“You could really start a business in 2nd City with almost no capital, depending on your product,” he said. “We pooled limited resources and we were able to be in business. It was a very good business incubator in that sense.”

Kardong said 2nd City provided a foundation for learning how to operate a business.

“Most of us didn’t have a business background and weren’t likely to be able to go to a bank and get funding,” Kardong said. “But we were able to get started there and prove ourselves and when we did go ask for funding from a bank, we could show we knew what we were doing.”

Kardong added that 2nd City was a unique concept for Spokane.

“I don’t know of anything now that is sort of like what 2nd City was in Spokane,” he said. “To me, it was really important because some of those businesses were around for many years afterward and filled a variety of needs in the community. It added a lot to the life of the city.”

In 1977, Farm Credit Bank purchased the Kroll Building with the intention of demolishing it to build an office tower. Some retailers relocated from the building to River Park Square, while others found a new home at the Bennett Block.

The Kroll Building was demolished in 1980. The site on First Avenue is now occupied by the Wells Fargo Center building.

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