The Mode Building stands at the north corner of 8th and Idaho. Completed in 1895, the building housed the Mode, Ltd., a high-end department store until 1991 when the store closed. Photo by tbishopcmsm and used under a Creative Commons License

The Mode, Ltd.

Before the Mode Building’s construction, a small store called the Palace Meat Market stood at the corner. Boise residents fondly remembered spending time at the Meat Market, possibly because it was located across from a saloon (before construction of the Montandon Building, which is now known as the Fidelity Building). Harry Falk, a member of the family that established Falk’s Department Store, hired Boise-based developer John Broadbent to build the Mode’s three-story building which featured picture windows on each floor. Several other locally owned department stores made their home in Downtown Boise during the heyday of Mode, Ltd., including Falk’s, the Bazaar and C.C. Anderson’s, all of which the Mode outlasted, as well as a Penney’s. The Mode quickly became a popular destination, and the store windows provided a major attraction for Boise citizens. Citizens traveled from all over town to witness live models portraying fairy tale characters in front of decorated sets.

Falk completed a remodel of the store on September 30, 1929. The crowds who attended the reopening celebration validated Falk’s reasons for the refurbishment, which included the construction of two additional entrances, expanded facilities and a new, sizable art department. Visitors called the new art department better than some in Paris. Despite the continued success of the Mode, Ltd., Falk and his partners sold the store to J.J. Chapman in 1938. Chapman’s wife Ethel began managing the store after he died only four years after the purchase. She established a popular high-end salon in the Mode during her years of ownership.

Fire engulfed the Mode Building’s interior on June 18th, 1958. During reconstruction of the Mode, the store temporarily relocated to the First Security Bank Building at 909 Idaho Street. Ethel Chapman held a reopening ceremony for the newly rebuilt store on April 16th, 1959. Additions to the store included a bridal consultant, cool-air hair dryers and upgraded booths in the salon, and a barbecue and patio department. In 1969, Chapman sold the Mode to James Ruark, the manager of Falk’s.

The Mode Tea Room

As soon as the store opened, downtown travelers quickly grew accustomed to the Mode Tea Room, located in the building’s second floor. The establishment began a long tradition of dining and simple gathering for food and drink in the Mode Building that continues today. After its opening, the Tea Room attracted crowds much larger than it could handle. The restaurant, known for its modern, Chinese-influenced decorations and dishwear, catered to luncheons and tea parties as well as the daily shoppers. In addition to the obvious choice of tea, diners enjoyed a well-known eight-layer cake created by the wife of Henry Falk. Other menu items included milkshakes and soufflés.

After the store’s 1988 remodel, James Ruark changed the restaurant’s name to the Mode Café. The response from disappointed and angry customers forced Ruark to change the name back to the Mode Tea Room after a single day.

Closing of the Mode, Ltd.

The 1988 remodeling project announced by Ruark included the installation of escalators, as well as a full-scale upgrade to the store’s interior. He also planned to add sections of merchandise marketed toward younger shoppers. Workers completed most of the additions and upgrades at night so that the store could stay open during the remodeling process. Ruark held a reopening celebration on September 9th, 1988 to show off the changes which cost about one million dollars in all. Ruark completely changed all four floors and expanded retail space, and also upgraded the kitchen of the tea room. He turned down an offer to move to the Boise Towne Square mall, and instead purchased the Mode Building from the Boise Redevelopment Authority (B.R.A.) who obtained the property in 1978 during the massive urban renewal project. Despite his satisfaction with the remodeling, Ruark announced that he had put the Mode, Ltd. up for sale in January 1991. At first, he stated that he had no plans to sell the store because the business still turned a profit. He wanted to see if there He claimed that the ad in the Wall Street Journal was simply a way to gauge the interest and value of the property.

Nevertheless, on October 4th, 1991, Ruark announced that the landmark Boise store would close by the end of the year. He reasoned that the business was not profitable enough to warrant remaining in business, and that the Mode’s profits dwindled after the opening of the Boise Towne Square Mall. At the time, some large retailers expressed interest in moving into the building, although Ruark predicted that finding a single retail store to occupy the space would be difficult.

The Mode Building Today

The Mode Building remained empty for a few years following the store’s closure. In 1992, Boise furniture dealers Meagan O’Halloran and Michael Latta rented out the store’s famous picturesque windows to display their European imports. In 1994, after another major interior renovation (and demolition), tenants began signing up for space in the Mode Building. Paul “Pug” Ostling’s family Italian restaurant Noodles, previously located at 6th and Main in the Old Statesman Building, headlined the building’s reopening. The Mode Building reopened in October 1994, and Ostling reported an immediate doubling of his revenue since he switched locations. While Noodles eventually closed on New Year’s Eve in 2000, Ostling’s other Mode Building business, the Grape Escape, a wine shop and restaurant which opened in December 1994 at ground-level on the corner of 8th and Idaho, is still open today. Noodles closed due to increased competition among downtown Boise restaurants, as well as Ostling’s increasing focus on his restaurants elsewhere in Boise and Nampa. Through Ostling’s Grape Escape and Noodles restaurants, he began projects such as the Fettuccuni Forum, a series of political discussions and lectures downtown, as well as several jazz music events in the area, including Wednesday night jazz, the Gene Harris Block Party and Grape Jam. Ostling’s success in the Mode Building exemplifies the relationship between the historic significance of the location which attracted him to the area, and how re-use of a historic building can foster a sense of community.

In 1995, a coffee shop called the SoHo Café opened next to the Grape Escape. The Café closed in 2004, and in 2005, pizza restaurant Piehole opened in its place. Many residents credited the area’s business boom to the reopening of the Mode Building. Other current residents of the Mode Building include the North Face and Fatty's Bar. More information on the Mode Building's current tenants:

North Face: Fatty's Bar: Piehole: Grape Escape (from the "Boise Weekly"):