What a difference a little sprucing up can make. In the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona,
business is tricky for small, independent businesses to stand out in big, beige, box plazas because, when the vaguely noticeable entrance is just beyond a myriad of blacktop designated for parking, the walk to the front door from the street sidewalk is about five minutes in direct sunlight.
When there’s literally an overabundance of space between the consumer and the supplier
in these formerly corporate company-owned big box plazas designed favorably for vehicle
accessibility instead of walk-ability, if there’s nothing interesting that the grabs buyers attention at first glance, it’s easy to be overlooked.
Throughout the Phoenix metropolitan area, these corporate businesses non-native to
Arizona, for some time now have not only erected these mundane big box stores surrounded by parking lots decorated with a few corporate fast-food restaurants, but they also replicated these stores all over the state.
Businesses in Arizona are gradually emerging from rendering identical corporate
establishments scattered around the Valley to equipping communities with one-of-a-kind
businesses, treasured as local hangout hubs and landmarks.
Ellen Dunham-Jones, director of the Urban Design Program and professor for the School
of Architecture at Georgia Tech, said in her 2010 TED Talk “that the big design and
development project of the next 50 years is going to be retrofitting suburbia.”
This movement towards modifying businesses in the suburbs in the Valley has been
picking up steam recently but started in 1987 for a 19-year-old when she left her architecture studies at Arizona State University to open a music store called Stinkweeds.
The young local business owner noticed that an appalling amount of brilliant young
patrons at her music store were leaving Arizona. Their relocation only bothered later when her loyal patrons would come in her store to visit and tell her all about the wonderful things they’re up to in their new homes they’re so proud of.
That young woman still owns that music store and is now one of Arizona’s most notable
voices for local businesses. Kimber Lanning, founder and executive director of Local First
Arizona, a nonprofit organization that supports, promotes and raises awareness of local
businesses and their welfare for communities throughout Arizona.
When Lanning pondered about why all of these people wanted to leave Arizona she
asked: “why do I feel connected to this place when other people don’t?”
Lanning soon determined that there’s a lack of hometown pride in the Valley and with
her patrons that moved away.
Places with hometown pride are found to have a unique and historic character to them,
they’re exciting, they’re walkable and with an abundance of locally owned businesses on every corner, they encourage people to spend their money locally.
None of these traits mean that Phoenix or other Arizona cities are doomed to convey
boredom; Arizonans want their cities sought after and renowned, as they should be, they get it and are making changes to their communities.
One of Phoenix’s locally treasured and retrofitted businesses, was once just a convenience store and is now the renowned La Grande Orange Grocery & Pizzeria on the Southwest corner of 40th Street and Campbell Avenue.
The community has taken such a liking to it that real estate ads in the surrounding
neighborhood market the walkable distance to La Grande Orange Grocery & Pizzeria.
This unique establishment is lively with a vibrant painted exterior, uplifting tunes and a
diverse array of beverages, treats and cuisine. Service is offered with a car window server, at the register, at the bar and to keep it old-school tableside as well. Valet parking is complimentary to patrons or they can park for 25 minutes.
Surely, independent businesses to the Valley are catching on to what people value in
commerce. Many of them are also making cautious decisions based on their commitment to
being responsible for their choices to do their part in preserving the environment and the
livelihoods of future generations.
There’s a new Valley boutique on the rise that is working it’s way to being a model of
what an environmentally and socially responsible business should be.
This specialty shop of Tempe is called Stoneys located on the Southeast corner of
Guadalupe and Rural roads, is an eclectic boutique with a little bit of everything to offer.
Genuine characters and owners Kyle Schafer and Patrick O’keefe have been friends since
they were kids. O’keefe’s grandfather who owned the original Stoneys a jewelry store in Apache Junction passed away and left O’keefe behind with his inventory of stones and jewelry he made.
Stoneys sells this jewelry and stones and is in the process of adding a make it yourself jewelry area to the store where people can come in and pick their stones and make their own trinkets.
They sell sustainably responsible clothing brands that use re-purposed materials in their
products and brands that plant ten trees for every purchase made. Stoneys also supplies locally handmade leather goods and industrial-modern home decor.
Schafer said that they came up with this concept because of how O’keefe’s grandfather
was with his customers “that man would make you a potato gun and a pair of silver earrings in the same day.”
Schafer is full of ideas for the shop. He says they want to make Stoneys more than just a
boutique, he wants it to be a place where people can come and grab a seat and get to know
people in their community.
They are doing this now by hosting Friday night jam sessions where local musicians come in, hangout and share their talents with their community.
Stoneys is a new shop with limited funds for in-store decor and product display systems
compared to most boutiques. Instead of going out and buying decor and presentation frameworks they decided to go dumpster diving instead and make their own.
“Starting a business is hard and expensive, finding things that were once trash and using
them in our store helps us out,” O’keefe said.
Schafer acknowledges that they are in a location where it’s easy to be missed; he refers to
it as the Tempe tan and bland.
Stoneys refuses to conform to that label and is doing so by beautifying the shop by adding to their exterior by incorporating garden boxes, bright colored seating, they are planning on adding a mural and potentially soon a windmill on their roof to help out with energy costs.
Converting suburban living to like urban living is what retrofitting suburbia is all about.
It doesn’t have to require substantial funds but it does require some primping, creative initiative and community input.