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The City Journals

Murray 2020 and beyond: A new normal

Jan 05, 2021 11:36AM ● By Shaun Delliskave

Playgrounds throughout Murray were temporarily closed in 2020. They later reopened, requiring frequent sanitizing. (Shaun Delliskave/City Journals)

By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]

John Lennon sang, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans,” which could best summarize Murray City during 2020. The pandemic has changed Murray, and the question is, what will be the new normal after it’s over?

This isn’t the first pandemic that Murray has endured. The 1918 flu pandemic that hit Murray a century ago had a higher death toll but similar impacts. The city experienced a second wave of infections and required its residents to wear masks and social distance. There was even the now-familiar resistance to mask-wearing. However, back then people were ticketed and even jailed for not wearing one or not social distancing in public.

To understand Murray’s future, one might want to review Murray City’s history after the 1918 pandemic. The city made improvements to its public health system, with the town seeking to increase medical services for residents. Murray also organized a Chamber of Commerce to help businesses recover, and then, like now, Murrayites’ real estate values increased.

Ironically, while one pandemic gave birth to the Chamber of Commerce, the current pandemic caused City Councilor Dale Cox, in the July 21, 2020 Committee of the Whole meeting, to summarize the organization as experiencing financial challenges and loss of membership. The executive director was furloughed. The Chamber’s board of directors reorganized, making Skylar Galt executive director. 

Despite its challenges, the Chamber of Commerce announced an economic task force made up of local business owners and government representatives. City Councilor Kat Martinez, who is part of the task force, noted in the same Committee of the Whole meeting, “Efforts began by reaching out to businesses, other chamber members and people beyond their own networks to identify specific needs. What resulted so far is an online library of helpful resources related to the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act, that helps keep available loans and grants updated as things materialize. The site is a user friendly touchpoint for businesses to use.”

One significant casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic recession includes long-time furniture dealer RC Willey , which announced that they would close up their Murray business. 

RC Willey is planning to officially shutter their building on Winchester and 900 East after 58 years of business at that site. The building has grown over time, nearly tripling its space, but like many big-box retailers, the pandemic has hastened its demise. The store will close for good in early 2021.

With the loss of the tenant for whom the property was developed, the Boyer Company has approached the property owners and requested a general plan amendment and zone change to accommodate mixed-use development. The property also includes the Apple Spice Junction restaurant.

Alternatively, that would mean the RC Willey property could switch from commercial to mixed-use residential, namely townhomes, apartments and condominiums with retail fronts. 

Big retail sites have slowly lost favor over the years; nationally, several large retailers have gone out of business. Shopping trends were already moving away from brick-and-mortar stores, and the pandemic accelerated this change as COVID-related quarantines steered people away from in-person shopping. 

Murray City Zoning Division Supervisor Jared Hall told the Murray City Planning Commission, “Big-box and strip malls, that was development for the last 40 years. Wherever those are around, those are going to start to languish. The retail market is moving away from them.”

Also coming to a close in 2020 is weekly recycling pick-up, switching over to alternate weeks. The exception will be eastside Murray, which falls within Salt Lake County’s public services. Per Murray City Public Services announcement, costs have made weekly recycling impractical.

Many restaurants closed to in-person dining during the pandemic, offering only take out. While restaurant cooks were retained to work the kitchen, most waitstaff were furloughed until restrictions lifted for restaurants that could provide socially distanced dining. 

While large chain restaurants could buffer such an impact, many independent restaurants were forced to close. Two well-known restaurants in Murray were brought to the brink of closure. 

Restaurant Morelia, a family-owned Mexican diner that has been on the corner of State Street and 6100 South for 30 years, put out a plea on social media. “We need your help and your support now more than ever. We are currently barely staying afloat, and with winter approaching, we fear the worst may happen.” 

That weekend, a line of cars stretched from the restaurant’s pick-up door, down the street, to 5900 South.

CousCous Grill on 900 East sent out a text to their loyal customers that they were going out of business in November. Word spread, and enough customers showed up to help the owners keep the doors open. Both restaurants are hoping customers will keep coming through the winter.

Some smaller restaurants have stayed open with creativity. East Coast Subs created an ordering method from their parking lot, resembling the old carhop system. Other restaurants developed family-style take-out menu options.

Even with the current state of uncertainty, some new businesses are going to risk it and open. One of the most anticipated is Shake Shack, which opened by Fashion Place Mall. The American fast-casual restaurant has a loyal national following, but the pandemic muted plans for a large grand opening.

Across the street from Shake Shack is newly opened Tom Nox Men’s Shop. Tom Nox is a local company and off-shoot of Utah Woolen Mills. It bills itself as filling a void in quality and opening-range luxury for menswear. It took over the former Cotton Shop building. Two other new businesses in Murray are EOS Fitness and AutoZone, both on 900 East. Scandinavian Design furniture store is taking over the old Toys-R-Us building.

During 2020, new pavilions were installed at Murray Park. The final and largest pavilion, next to the Parks and Recreation Office, is set to be demolished, rebuilt, and ready by Spring 2021. Murrayites will have to wait a little longer for the Murray Theater renovation. Mayor Blair Camp said, “The $3.6 million in matching funds from Salt Lake County was cut after the TRCC (Tourism, Recreation, Cultural and Convention) tax money dried up as a result of the pandemic.”

Murray did see a new state-of-the-art fire station open in downtown Murray in 2020, and grand public tours are still promised for the future. Construction has started on the new Murray City Hall, with Hanauer Street scheduled to be completed in the next few months.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly included the Sports Mall as another business closing in 2021.