Walking down memory lane in Downtown Sioux Falls

Eye on KELOLAND

Sioux Falls is growing, and with growth comes a lot of change, especially for the downtown area.

In the last 70 years, Downtown Sioux Falls has gone through some highs and lows. We take a look back at some of the most significant changes, and find out what’s next for the future of the heart of the city.

Downtown Sioux Falls is a busy place, even on a weekday afternoon. That’s one of the few things modern day downtown has in common with this same area in the 1950s.

“There was one store that sold nothing but ladies’ corsets. Another sold nothing but ladies’ hats, millinery. Now you won’t find that anymore,” said Pay.

Bill Pay has been photographing Sioux Falls for 75 years. He can tell you all kinds of stories about what it was like when Sioux Falls had high-end department stores and numerous theaters.

“You could go down at Christmas time downtown and the stores would be open between Thanksgiving and Christmas every night of the week. People would be in throngs. Police would be at the intersections to hold the traffic so the pedestrians could get across. And the town was only 45,000 people. 50,000 at the time,” said Pay.

Like most of the country, Sioux Falls’ downtown shops got hit hard by malls popping up in the city. Pay says around the 1970s store fronts were starting to look bare.

Current Downtown President, Joe Batcheller, says the downtown area had a bad reputation for awhile.

“It seems like it’s a different downtown than when I grew up.  A lot of people like to say you could have shot a cannon ball down Phillips Avenue back in the day. Especially after 5 o’clock,” said Batcheller.

Thankfully, leaders at the time weren’t ready to let this part of the city die off.

“Back in the mid 90s, when Falls Park was revitalized and then a lot of other things started happening after that,” said Batcheller.

“The good fortune about our downtown is that we never lost it. A lot of towns when they lose their downtowns, it’s hard to get it back. But we had some good visionaries,” said Murphy.

Dick Murphy has owned Mrs. Murphy’s Irish Gifts for more than 20 years in Downtown Sioux Falls. He saw the ups and downs of the area, and credits former city leaders like Steve Metli and Carole Pagones as visionaries who kept this place going.

“It was like that light switch was turned on and people started living downtown. And as people felt comfortable and safe to live down here, then the rest of it is part of the success story,” said Murphy.

“I think that people living and working down here has changed the landscape of what we do and how we communicate with our people,” said Castle.

Erin Castle works in another long-standing shop downtown, Rehfeld’s Art and Framing. She says new entertainment options are keeping this area not just surviving, but thriving.

“I love that they have concerts on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Maybe that would have been a more dead day for a downtown retailer. When those events are happening, people are coming to town specifically for that. So they’re going to have dinner. They’re going to walk downtown and see what’s open and all of us being here and aware of that helps us too,” said Castle.

When local businesses do well, the future looks bright for the heart of the city.

“You know what the downtown meant to us, and you know what it can be. As far as the, I’ve always called this the living room of our community. It’s a warm and welcoming place and continues to be that,” said Murphy.

Batcheller says the next steps for downtown include more walkability for visitors. He hopes to create a more pedestrian friendly environment.



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