Athlos Academies buys Macy’s building in Downtown Boise

Tim Woodward: Empty building, priceless memories


By: Tim Woodward

It’s good news for Boise that the old Macy’s store has been sold after being vacant for five years. A once-vibrant corner of Downtown had been idle far too long.

Athlos Academics, a charter school company, will renovate the former department store at 10th and Idaho and use it for company operations and teacher training starting next summer.

As a new chapter opens for one of Downtown’s iconic buildings, a nod to its past seems fitting. Newcomers may not even know that it used to be a Macy’s, let alone that it had been a department store operating under various names for more than 80 years.

Boise businessman C.C. Anderson built it as a department store in 1927. It was designed by the renowned architectural firm of Tourtellotte and Hummel and originally had Spanish Mission style architecture. (Think Boise Depot.) But it wasn’t its architecture that made it a local icon. As much as anything else, it was Anderson himself.

He named the store Anderson’s Golden Rule, but almost no one called it that. It was commonly referred to as C.C. Anderson’s, or simply Anderson’s, and it was a kid magnet. The grand old man himself roamed the aisles in his elegant suits, their pockets filled with candy for youthful customers. He threw pennies to kids he saw on the streets. His mansion at 929 Warm Springs was a must for trick-or-treaters. The old man, who never had children of his own, answered the door himself and passed out the best Halloween treats in town.

His store, in the opinion of its younger patrons, had one of the best restaurants around. The Empire Room, on the mezzanine level, vied with Murray’s Drive-in for the best hamburgers and chocolate Cokes in town. For teenagers, the mezzanine’s record department was equally alluring. I bought my first album there.

My mother, a working mom long before it was the norm, worked as a secretary during my teenage years in the store office. The furniture department was on the same floor, and it was there that I bought a lamp for her as a Christmas gift. It was a swag lamp with gold-colored glass that cast a soft, warm glow. She gave it a place of honor of sorts, hanging from the living-room ceiling above the television.

After she died, I brought it home in hopes of finding a suitable place for it. It had long since gone out of style by then, and my wife’s none-too-subtle opinion was that the only suitable place for it was in the trash. That was patently unthinkable, so we split the difference by stashing it in the attic. I loved that lamp.

Anderson’s had some of Boise’s first escalators. For those of us who weren’t model children, it was a pleasant diversion to run up or down them in the wrong direction. To the best of my memory, I escaped being reprimanded for this, another reason Anderson’s was my favorite department store.

In those days, almost all of Boise’s department stores were Downtown. Anderson’s, J.C. Penney, the Cash Bazaar, the Mode, Ltd. and Falk’s all were within a few blocks of one another. At Falk’s, I’d been painfully reprimanded for spitting water through an open hatch on the roof of the elevator. Its drenched operator was not happy. (Yes, kids, there were actually people who operated elevators in those days.) It was, I think, the angriest my embarrassed mother ever was with me.

In 1962, C.C. Anderson’s became the Bon Marche. Macy’s bought the store in 2003 and briefly, with good reason, named it Bon-Macy’s. A seriously clunky name.

By any name, it was a convenient place to shop for those of us who would rather have oral surgery than deal with holiday hordes at malls. True, you had to put some coins in a meter. But it was worth it. Often as not, you could park right next to an entry door. Inside, there were no frenzied throngs of holiday shoppers. No pushing or shoving, just the quiet hum of business at a civilized pace. It was delightful.

It was also probably the reason it closed.

One of my favorite columns involving the old store was about my car being stolen and a crackerjack police investigation to try to find it. (It was a long time ago; no reflection on the current police department.)

My wife and I had gone out to dinner to celebrate our anniversary. As anniversaries go, it was routine — until we returned to where we’d parked the car and it wasn’t there. Thinking we’d made one too many anniversary toasts and forgotten where we parked, we walked up and down the street and around several blocks to no avail. The car was definitely gone.

When we got home — it was a long walk — we reported it to the police.

For the next couple of weeks, we called them every few days to ask whether they’d made any progress on finding our car. The response never varied.

“Sorry, we’re still looking but haven’t found it yet.”

We were close to giving up hope and filing an insurance claim when I found the car myself, parked right outside the Bon Marche.

With seven parking tickets on its windshield.

It seems strange to think of the store that fueled so many memories being anything but a store. But in time we’ll get used to it, and it’s good that it won’t be empty anymore.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to clamber up to the attic to look for an old lamp.

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