Nicki Pace | Her Pride is Rooted in Downtown
Downtown St. George is often a bustling place on warm days and weekends. Families and individuals saunter through shops, eat at local cafes and restaurants, and enjoy artwork lining the sidewalks. Although many feel drawn to downtown, Nicki Pace takes particularly great pride in the area.
Much of her love for downtown is rooted in her own family history.
“I grew up listening to my Grandma tell stories about how her and my grandpa met at the soda fountain on Main Street,” Nicki recalled. “[The stories] were fascinating to me as a little kid. They really stuck with me.”
In the 1980s, Nicki’s father created Ancestor Square, a commercial downtown area filled with shops, cafes, and other attractions. Although Ancestor Square did not necessarily flourish at the time, Nicki wanted to see a downtown resurgence.
Several years later, she and her husband, Randall, bought the Painted Pony, a high-end restaurant on the square. Nicki decided to buy much of the food for the restaurant from local organic gardeners.
“We really wanted to see them succeed,” she said. “We buy as much as we can [locally]. And we have our own one-acre organic garden.”
In 2008, Nicki decided to take her support for local farmers a step further: she started a Saturday farmers market on Ancestor Square.
“It was a way to bring together local farmers, artists, chefs, bakers,” Nicki recounted.
“It benefits both our restaurants because we are able to get local, fresh food – which always tastes better.”
Nicki explained that the farmers market is not a flea market or a garage sale. The items sold must be made or grown by the vendor. In addition to fresh produce, the market often sells homemade goods such as woodcarvings, bread, jams, jellies, purses, greeting cards, hats, scarves, soap, lotion, and art.
Live music – played by local bands – is a central part of the farmers market. Nicki said about 300 people come each weekend.
“It’s as much a community event as it is a farmers market,” she said.
After watching the farmers market and the Painted Pony succeed, the Paces decided it was time to expand. “We always had our eyes open in the downtown area to do a more casual restaurant,” Nicki explained.
In 2011, they bought a building on the corner of Main Street and St. George Boulevard. Nicki’s great-uncle, George Pace, started The Big Hand Café on the same corner in 1932. She named the new restaurant George’s Corner, in his honor.
“’Gastro Pub,’ is what we call [George’s Corner] – which means good drink, good food, fun atmosphere – not fast food or run-of-the-mill,” Nicki said. “We wanted it to have the good food and the energy to bring in everyone else in the town.”
For Nicki, the Painted Pony and farmers market were her ways of supporting local commerce, but George’s Corner was a way for her to keep the history of St. George alive.
“I think it’s something to celebrate,” Nicki said. “I think the histories of towns are being lost. It’s important to write down the history, and celebrate it, and remember it.”
In an effort to continue to support downtown and its history, Nicki and Randall also started the Downtown Merchant’s Group – an organization that markets and promotes all downtown businesses.
Nicki feels her restaurants will be stronger if other downtown businesses succeed as well.
“Together we are going to succeed. We want to create downtown pride,” Nicki said. “We want to be a unique downtown, just like Boulder, Colorado or Santa Monica, California. We want people to come to St. George and want to see the downtown.”
Nicki’s believes her family roots – spanning five generations in downtown St. George – give her the energy to celebrate and honor the history of downtown, while cultivating business.