Many feel that hip culture and Provo mix like oil and water. To a certain degree, this is understandable. But did you know that Provo has a happening scene? That’s right; not all just a bunch of cookie-cutter BYU students walking around looking for the best ice cream joint for their group date.

A number of boutique shops and music venues are now in the downtown Provo area.  These shops and locally owned businesses have one purpose: to bring more art, culture, and vitality to the once dank downtown scene. Businesses like Mode Boutique and Coal Umbrella work together to achieve this goal, proof that department stores and mass-marketed designers have reached an intolerable level of banality.

Mode Boutique, which opened in October of 2006, sells clothing that breaks away from the stereotypical mall selection. The owners, Ryan and Becky Neely, said they are pleased with the reception they have received. As Ryan stated, "We have been getting more customers at a steady rate since we opened. People around the state have been coming to check us out."

The focus, said Ryan, is on unique and interesting style of clothing rather than what’s popular and sells the most. "It would have been a lot easier for us to open this store at a mall, but this isn’t about the money-it’s about bringing culture and vitality to Provo."

Close to Mode Boutique is Coal Umbrella, which is a vintage clothing boutique that opened about a month ago. Though the store’s entrance can be hard to find, it has a roomy upstairs area filled with some of the best vintage clothes in Utah. In fact, Matt Pauhlos who owns Coal Umbrella with his wife Elizabeth Pauhlos reaches as far as Europe and New York to find good vintage clothing. 

Besides the clothing, Coal Umbrella offers contemporary vinyl records from many of the newest indie and other music artists. There is also another room with hand-made art that has been collected from around the world. In addition, the walls are decked with eccentric art, which Matt said has been an exciting aspect of the store. "Here people can see some creative art that is hard to find in the other art venues in the area".

All in all, Coal Umbrella is an exciting addition to downtown Provo, and the prospect of having more eclectic stores like it is a welcome change to the strip-mall fever plaguing our cities.
Most impressive about some of the downtown stores like Mode Boutique and Coal Umbrella are the communal and collaborative efforts. All store owners strive for win-win scenarios, rather than trying to viciously cut each other out as we often see in the business world. Money comes secondary to displaying good art, selling good clothing, and promoting local music. Most of the owners are also friends and collaborate, particularly on the arts walk, which is held the first Friday of every month and has several businesses participating. For more information, visit

For a good taste of Provo’s unique budding downtown culture, take some time off homework and go for a stroll downtown to check some of these places out. Seeing that not everyone has bad haircuts and rents from clean flicks will make you feel better. At least being involved with downtown Provo culture will convince you that the arts do in fact exist and thrive in Provo, and its progress looks promising.

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