The eye-catcher on the corner of Main Avenue and Browne Street is the Main Market Co-op. Set on a brilliant yellow wall, its mural boasts wine bottles, a cheese wheel, chickens, goats and a sandwich. The air outside in the parking lot smells delicious, like the lunch that’s eluded you all week. A sign in the front window reads “Everyone Welcome.”
“Isn’t it gorgeous, all those big graphics, doesn’t it make you want to go in and buy vegetables?” asks Judy Randall, president of Randall Travel Marketing, Inc. Last week, the company released a study, commissioned by Visit Spokane, on how to improve tourism in Spokane.
Randall contrasted the co-op with the “brown box” across the way, its offset entrance guarded by a stone wall seemingly holding a grass moat: the Spokane Visitor’s Information Center.
“They make you want to go in and buy vegetables, something that people normally don’t really like,” Randall says, referring to the co-op. “Over here, we’re giving away fun and entertainment and can’t get them to come in. What’s wrong with this picture?” Getting a unified visitor center — there are currently two, on opposite ends of town — closer to the highway and more welcoming is one of the study’s recommendations.
But Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart says a center is a tough pitch. The building sits on city property, where rent is inexpensive, according to Stuckart. And finding suitable land closer to the highway might be a challenge.
Randall also advocates for better highway signs and more welcoming “gateways,” the places through which visitors enter the city.
Stuckart agrees with this and thinks it’s doable. “Everybody recognizes that we need better gateways,” he says. Like the experience of pulling off I-90 northbound onto Division Street:
“It’s not the prettiest thing.”
There, you glide down the exit ramp before rounding the bend through a homeless encampment beneath the highway. You sit at the Third Avenue stoplight next to the chicken wire fence of a rental car lot and round-the-clock shifts of panhandlers.
It happens so fast you might not even notice the sign in the shadow of the underpass, a depiction of buildings bearing the words, “Welcome to Spokane.”