BY REBECCA PALMER
BOUNTIFUL — Nearly every customer who visits Vito’s Philly sandwich truck in downtown Bountiful has the same question for its owner and sole operator, Vito Leone.
“When are you moving into your new building?” they ask, pointing toward a pair of brightly colored buildings at the corner of Main Street and 100 South. A white, red and green Vito’s sign already hangs in one window.
The charming three-story structures, built in a quaint European style, will be the crown jewel of Bountiful’s reinvigorated downtown.
The Security Investment project includes 14 luxurious apartments upstairs and a handful of shops below. Some tenants have already moved in, and the rest are expected to do so this month, said local developer and men’s clothier John Hepworth.
For lunch-goers at Vito’s, the answer is this week or next. Leone plans to leave his lunch truck in its current spot, with a sign on it sending hungry visitors to his storefront shop. The new setting will be a little different, with more outdoor seating plus new indoor tables, but the Vito’s experience won’t change much.
It will open for a few extra hours, from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. weekdays, but Leone doesn’t plan to change from his casual plastic-jar payment system to a cash register. He may hire employees to help clean up or serve at festivals, he said, but he still plans to take and fulfill orders himself.
“It’s what I know. It’s what I enjoy,” he said. “I love cooking.”
Leone started creating the Vito’s experience for his customers when he opened a lunch cart downtown more than five years ago. At the time, he had nothing more to offer than a meatball sub made with Italian sausages.
When the city found out he was operating without the proper permits, staffers such as city redevelopment director Aric Jensen helped him find a permanent outdoor spot just south of the LDS Tabernacle.
“We got to realize he was a quality person and a quality business, and then he’s opening from a little squatting sandwich shop to a trailer,” Jensen said. “Now, he’s opening a (storefront) business on Main Street.”
More than three years ago, Leone upgraded from his tiny stand to a commercial truck, all without taking out debt. His next step up will also be financed in cash, he said.
For Jensen, Vito’s is just the right kind of business.
“I think the long-term vision is to make downtown a place where people want to come and where businesses want to be,” the city planner said. “The key elements are you have to have people that live downtown and you have to have businesses that are unique. They have to be something that’s a niche-type product, as we say.”
Bun Baskets ‘N Bakery is another example of a “niche-type” businesses that will soon move into Hepworth’s Security Investment project at 100 South and Main. The bakery will serve up its hot pastries, cookies, sandwiches and custom soups across the street from Vito’s. Paisley Skye, a gift shop for women, Touche, which carries Vera Bradley bags and kitchen accessories and Whisperwood & Co., a home decor and jewelry boutique for women, will also be part of the $3 million development.
Shops like these make Main Street an interesting place to visit, a place that doesn’t have to compete with behemoth superstores like Walmart and Target to survive.
These one-of-a-kind stores, paired with new places for people to live downtown, are the way to make Main Street thrive, said Jensen.
“I think it adds a nice feel to Main Street,” said Hepworth. “I think it does what a project should do. I think it makes the whole street feel better.”
The Security Investment project struggled to get funding because it is unusual, but Hepworth said all the shops and apartments in the new buildings were leased within days of going on the market.
The vibrant new buildings on Main Street are just one sign of its renaissance.
Other reinvigorated buildings on Main Street borrowed money from the city’s redevelopment agency fund, which was set up in the late 1970s.
City elected officials have chosen an architect for a new city call, which will face Main Street. They expect it to be finished by January of 2014. Meanwhile, the Bountiful History Museum and Bountiful/Davis Arts Center will move to the existing City Hall building, which will be remodeled.
These projects, like Vito’s, have been funded without debt. Unlike Vito’s, the municipal projects will use cash from the redevelopment fund.
“I think what we’re doing is going to be contagious,” Hepworth said. “I think it gives room for more residential European style in the downtown area so that the Main Street becomes (each resident’s) yard, so to speak.”
If all goes as planned, Bountiful’s Main Street will return to its heyday, when it buzzed with pedestrians and supported a strong tax base for the city.
Whether or not that happens, you can find Vito Leone, his delectable sandwiches and a crowd of customers almost any weekday, even during frigid Bountiful Januarys or blazing-hot August afternoons.
“I want to see a bunch of people down here,” said Leone, looking toward the future with a characteristic wide grin. “I want to see it revived. I want energy.”