Monday, December 10, 2007

Shop local

Spurred in part by a book club discussion of Bill McKibben's book Deep Economy, I'm trying to do most of my holiday shopping locally this season. A week ago tonight, I hit the annual Bonus Club sale at the Record Exchange. (What a scene that was ... I saw everyone from Curtis Stigers to Built to Spill's Doug Martsch to hip local artist Grant Olsen.) With the evening's discounts, I scooped up three CDs, one EP, and two DVDs for about $86. Just out of curiosity, I tallied up the same items at They were all cheaper online, but with the RX sale prices, shopping at would have saved me only about $10.

Ten bucks is nothing to sneeze at, and if you missed the RX sale, you are looking at an even greater difference. But shopping locally helps keep our money circulating around our community, and it's just a cool thing to do. For an even more local experience, check out the Capital City Market on 8th Street from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. these next two Saturdays. You'll find locally made breads, wreaths, baby blankets, dog bandannas, soy candles, jewelry, and much more, all available direct from our neighbors. Happy holidays!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Take your pick

Last Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, people started lining up at 7 to await the Boise Towne Square mall's special 1 a.m. opening for so-called Black Friday.

Not 7 p.m. ... 7 a.m. In other words, thousands of Idahoans blew off Thanksgiving dinner to get in line to go shopping.

News coverage showed that once the mall opened, a mass of people pressed so hard toward the doors that one fell out of its frame. "When shopping hurts," the Idaho Statesman headlined its story. Check out the video here.

But just when you're tempted to think that our nation has hit a nadir of mindless materialism - not so fast. The same Statesman front page on Saturday, November 24, featured another story, this one telling of the festive yet low-key lighting of the downtown Christmas Boise tree. People held candles aloft and helped Mayor Dave Bieter count down to the moment when the tree lighting marked the official start of our city's holiday season. Many people also chose a card from the tree's lower boughs, each one printed with wish-list items from the Women's and Children's Alliance, which helps families torn by domestic violence.

So which scene truly represents not just the holiday spirit, but the essential character of our nation circa 2007? The pessimist in me says the Mallville tableau reveals the true America, where shopping is our top recreational activity and our highest aspiration. The optimist in me believes that - despite its much smaller attendance - the downtown tree lighting still captures our nation at its finest: reflective, generous, joyful.

I do know that I will do most of my holiday shopping downtown and at my neighborhood shopping centers this year, and I will avoid the mall.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Concert review: Josh Ritter

Neil Young played the Morrison Center the other night, but with tickets in the $100 range, my husband and I decided to check out Josh Ritter instead. Ritter, the rising Moscow-based singer-songwriter, was playing for 20 bucks at the Egyptian. I am not sure that'll happen again anytime soon.

All my life, I've wanted to attend a big homecoming concert - you know, where an act makes good and comes home to wild acclaim. I thought a Built to Spill show might do the trick, and seeing them last summer (2006) at the Big Easy was big fun. But Doug Martsch and company aren't known for showmanship or even acknowledging their audience, so they may as well have been playing in Boston as Boise.

Ritter is different. At Saturday's show, he and his band not only treated a sold-out audience to a concert that was at turns gleefully raucous ("To the Dogs or Whoever," "Real Long Distance") and achingly reflective ("The Temptation of Adam," "Idaho"), Ritter just oozed appreciation for his home-state crowd. For one of today's most hyper-literate songwriters, a man who drops phrases like "the avalanche cascades" and "Episcopal philanthropists" into his lyrics, he seemed faintly overcome by the evening's energy.

"It's going to be an amazing night," he earnestly promised at the outset, and he used the adjective "amazing" several dozen more times in his ample between-songs banter. But he didn't deny his fans more personal fare, such as the story about how his family bought a hundred-pound sack of spuds from the Rotary each year. ("I don't need to tell you, that was protection money," he said.) He also recalled an eighth-grade class trip to Boise where he'd visited the Egyptian and saw "Outbreak" with Dustin Hoffman and Rene Russo. Yeah, he's that young. In fact, a birthday card for him went around some of the balcony seats, and we all sang to Ritter, who turns 31 today.

Ritter is frequently compared to Bob Dylan, but while Dylan's voice can be a blunt instrument, Ritter's is a strong, supple reed. Several times during the evening, he backed away from the microphone to sing a capella to a silent house, perhaps most memorably in his encore cover of "The River" by Bruce Springsteen, a song he said he listened to endlessly while driving an early-morning rural paper route on the Palouse many years ago. His band was in great form, too. I especially enjoyed the muscular rhythm section of Zack Hickman on bass and Liam Hurley on drums. A three-man horn section added depth to several songs including "Rumors," though the sound crew slightly shortchanged them in the mix.

My husband barely knew Ritter before this show, and I was little more than a casual fan. But we both left the show sure we had seen someone sure to attain, if not superstardom, a reputation as a wildly entertaining and thoughtful wordsmith who shines both on record and live. "He's the real deal," Bruce said. Indeed. Josh and his band treated us all to one of the most magical evenings of music Boise will hear this year.

Yes, we passed up the $100+ Neil Young show for Ritter's $20 gig. We'd seen Young years ago, and these days, I'd rather see someone as their career waxes than as it wanes - but the fact is, Ritter delivered a nearly priceless show. I just hope he never gets too big to play semi-intimate venues like the Egyptian.

P.S. Before the show, we made our first visit to the new A Taste of Memphis restaurant on Idaho Street, in the former Villano's location. We enjoyed tasty catfish, a spicy black-eyed pea casserole, buttery collard greens, and flaky-crust fried peach pie. If you are looking for great soul food, this place has it. We'll be back.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Anticipating a Nobel?

Downtown Boise's Egyptian Theater - presenting an ever-widening array of concert, lecture, and film fare - has a interesting choice for its movie this coming week. You can go see An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore's Oscar-winning documentary on global warming, on the big screen for $4 October 12-18, with showtimes at 3, 5:15, and 7:30 p.m.

Why this movie? Why now? Well, Al Gore is atop the short list for possible winners of the Nobel Peace Prize, which will be announced Friday in Oslo. And even if Gore doesn't take home the prize, we could all benefit from another viewing of this film before the winter inversion season hits. Hmmmm ... maybe I'll get tickets for the clueless neighbor who insists on warming up his big honkin' truck engine for ten minutes starting each morning, even when it's 60 degrees out.

Update: Gore won the Nobel, and tickets are only $2!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

You are where you live

I was on a Southwest Airlines flight last week, and noticed an article in the inflight magazine titled "My Kind of Town." The premise was that if you don't feel at home where you're currently living, you can find somewhere more to your liking by moving to an area where people are more like you - and that demographic research is making that easier all the time. Southwest's Spirit magazine teamed with "Best Places guru Bert Sperling" and research firm Claritas to identify top ZIP codes for "The Single Life," "Cosmopolitan Couples," "Kids Rule," and "Senior Power" categories.

Raleigh, N.C., was profiled as the top pick for "The Single Life," but "Boise 83705" was named a runner-up, with this description, "With top-notch skiing, mountain biking, kayaking, and other adventure sports, Idaho's capital city attracts young professionals who moonlight as adrenaline junkies." I live in 83705, and I am none of those things - but it turns out the seven-oh-five also includes several other demographic groups including "Middleburg Managers," "Mobility Blues," "Sunset City Blues," and "White Picket Fences." (Blues means blue-collar, not Democratic.) My family doesn't really fit in any of these categories, either. We still like where we live, mere minutes from downtown, Boise State, the airport, and most of our activities. If we were able to move, I think I'd prefer another home within this same neighborhood.

Do you want to see what sort of people live in your neighborhood? Click here. I wish the site had a way for users to discover their ideal neighborhoods via a questionnaire rather than by trial and error. Actually, Best Places seems to have that tool, albeit for entire cities, not neighborhoods.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The urban jungle

Or forest, as the case may be. As I wrote at the outset of Sidewalk 208, Idaho is an increasingly urban state, but also one where wild lands and wild critters are still close at hand. We've had elk wander into Treasure Valley traffic this month, and East Junior High School on the fringe of the downtown Boise core was locked down one afternoon last week as Idaho Fish & Game officials tranquilized a brown bear that had scrambled up a tree on the school grounds. Here's a story and video about the capture. Experts say the heavy forest fire season is one reason we've seen more wildlife within the capital city limits this year.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Are 208's days numbered?

Here's a trivia question for you: How many states still have only one area code?

I'll give the answer at the end of this post. But it's on my mind because the Idaho Statesman reported today that Idaho might run out of numbers in its single area code by 2010. The Idaho Public Utilities Commission hopes to stave off the inevitable by reducing the size of number blocks it allocates to cell phone companies from 10,000 numbers per block to 1,000. As the PUC's press release says:

This is the second time Idaho has been able to delay another area code. In August of 2001, the FCC projected Idaho’s area code would exhaust in the fall of 2003. In 2002, the commission ordered Boise area telecommunications providers to return numbers not in use and then receive new numbers only in 1,000-number blocks as needed. Today’s order expands number pooling to include the entire state. Not required to participate are rural providers that do not have local number portability or rural companies that do not have a competitive landline or wireless provider. Pagers, because they do not have local number portability, are also not mandated to participate. However, the commission is strongly encouraging paging companies to participate on a voluntary basis.

When the day of reckoning finally comes, would you rather see one area of the state (probably southwest Idaho, due to its population heft) keep 208? Or would it be more fair to allow current 208 users statewide to keep their numbers while assigning the new area code to new numbers, no matter where in the state they are?

How many states still have only one area code? The answer is 14, plus the District of Columbia.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Boise's essential neighborhood

What makes a great city? To me, a hallmark is that it has great neighborhoods where people not only live, but work, eat, drink, play, and mingle in close proximity, preferably in a pedestrian-oriented environment.

In Boise, many of our neighborhoods outside downtown and the near North and East ends sadly developed in the mid-20th century, the same time people became reliant on their cars. Instead of sidewalk-lined shopping districts, we got strip malls fronted by huge parking lots and subdivisions bereft of sidewalks. It's not impossible for a neighborhood like this to meet the ideal I noted above, but it's more difficult.

For example, my Central Bench neighborhood is seeing many cool restaurants and other amenities emerge along Vista Avenue, but Vista's auto-centric vibe detracts from the strolling ambience the best neighborhoods can claim. Bown Crossing in southeast Boise is a brand-new neighborhood whose developers understand what a neighborhood ought to feel and look like. Yet Bown may never become a truly timeless neighborhood because it's only affordable to a small percentage of Boiseans. Great neighborhoods need people of all economic classes, too. The newly emerging Linen District on downtown's west end may yet fill this bill.

All of this is a long way of getting around to saying that the Hyde Park Street Fair returns to the North End, Boise's most fully realized urban neighborhood, this weekend. The name is a misnomer, of course; the festival has gotten waaaaay too big to happen in Hyde Park, the North End's compact commercial area. All the more reason to enjoy the festival this weekend (4 to 10 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday; and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday), then return to Hyde Park some other time to enjoy more leisurely sidewalk dining, suds, and shopping.

Two additional notes:

While in Hyde Park this weekend, consider hitting up the Idaho Earth Institute's annual Yard Sale, 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday only at 12th & Eastman.

Also consider leaving your car or truck at home. The weather will be gorgeous this weekend, so walk or bike to Hyde Park if you can - or at least carpool, park many blocks away from Camels Back, and enjoy the stroll. Click here for the festival's website, which includes a music schedule and map.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Fall concerts galore

I don't remember a season as packed with concerts as this autumn is turning out to be in Boise. It's getting to the point where music fans need to pick and choose among shows to avoid blowing the monthly entertainment budget in a week.

Even more amazing is the prospect of two great shows going head-to-head on the same night - not once, not twice, but three times in September alone. It's a happy, if somewhat frustrating, situation indeed for a remote metro area that often gets overlooked on tours. Let's hope it lasts!

Here's a partial listing of big and/or interesting shows coming up in the next two months:

September 10 - Beyonce (Taco Bell Arena)
September 13 - The Academy Is ... (The Big Easy)
September 14 - Bright Eyes (The Big Easy)
September 14 - Richard Thompson (The Egyptian)
September 20 - Helmet (The Big Easy)
September 22- They Might Be Giants (The Egyptian)
September 26 - Smashing Pumpkins (Qwest Arena) canceled
September 26 - Dave Alvin (Alive After Five)
September 26 - The New Pornographers (The Egyptian)
September 27 - Queensryche (The Big Easy)
September 28 - Slightly Stoopid (The Big Easy)
September 28 - The White Stripes (Idaho Center) canceled
September 30 - Bryan Adams and George Thorogood (Idaho Center)

October 2 - Curtis Stigers (The Egyptian)
October 3 - The Black Crowes (The Big Easy)
October 4 - Nick Lowe (The Egyptian)
October 8 - Widespread Panic (Idaho Center)
October 16 - Interpol (The Big Easy)
October 18 - Neil Young (Morrison Center)
October 20 - Josh Ritter (The Egyptian)
October 30 - James Taylor (Idaho Center)

November 3 - Built to Spill (The Egyptian)

When making your plans, be aware that the touring show of Monty Python's Spamalot is in town at the Morrison Center October 30 through November 3.

Update 9/13/07 - The White Stripes have canceled due to drummer Meg White's anxiety attacks, but I've added two other shows I forgot: They Might Be Giants on September 22 and Dave Alvin, who closes out the 2007 after-work Alive After Five series on the Grove on September 26 - allowing plenty of time to get to either the Smashing Pumpkins or the New Pornographers afterward. Rock on, kids!

Update 9/18/07 - The Smashing Pumpkins show has been canceled, too, probably due to slow ticket sales. The lesson may be that Boise can only handle so many major shows in a short time frame. The Pumpkins and the New Pornographers probably do appeal to much the same demographic, and maybe overlapping with the last (free) Alive After Five show wasn't such a good idea, either.

Update 9/22/07 - Just added the Bryan Adams/George Thorogood and James Taylor gigs.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Art in the Park

Boise's fall arts season gets off to a running start each year with Art in the Park. Now in its 53rd year, Art in the Park is the largest annual fundraiser for the Boise Art Museum. Head down to Julia Davis Park to browse amid more than 250 fine art and craft vendors from across the Western U.S. and beyond.

Admission is free, and this year the Boise Art Museum is free all weekend, too. It's a great opportunity to see the 2007 Idaho Triennial, a showcase of the state's contemporary art that just opened at BAM. Art in the Park also features plenty of food vendors, live entertainment, art activities for children, and some of the most enticing (at least from the outside!) "comfort stations" you'll ever see (above).

Art in the Park opened Friday and continues from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, September 8, and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, September 9. Forget parking near the event. Park downtown and walk the short distance to Julia Davis Park, or catch the shuttle bus that's circling from the park to the heart of downtown. Shuttle bus service also is available from the north side of the Boise Towne Square mall, near Dillards.

Welcome to Sidewalk 208

Idaho is best known as an outdoors state, with more designated wilderness and more miles of whitewater river than any other state than Alaska. But for all its natural riches, Idaho is also an increasingly urban state. Sidewalk 208 (named for our still-one-and-only area code) will bring you words and pictures from Idaho's cities. I'll focus on Boise, since that's where I live, but I'll try to bring you glimpses of other communities as well.

I'm Julie Fanselow, the founder of Sidewalk 208. I'm best known in the blogosphere for creating Red State Rebels, a blog on Idaho politics that's been going strong since 2003 and now features writers from all over the state. These days, I am managing a new nonpartisan blog called and doing online organizing for the Study Circles Resource Center. But arts, culture, and urban planning are other major interests of mine - and all topics on which I plan to touch here on Sidewalk 208. If you share these interests and would like to contribute to the blog, please write me at juliewrites at yahoo dot com.