The number of coffee shops in or around Downtown Phoenix has noticeably increased in the past few years. The rising competition not only leaves patrons wondering if Phoenix might become a major coffee town, but also has business owners scratching their heads to come up with ways to drive business.
Open mic nights are expected, and jazz nights are better saved for ill-lit bars. Even spoken word or poetry readings have become a staple at many coffee establishments.
But Scrabble? That’s where Urban Beans comes in.
This Midtown shop, trying to find a niche since opening last fall, has opted to shake up the traditional brand of coffee shop activities. Monday night is Scrabble night at Urban Beans. Owners Virginia Senior and Kim Cristoff have been longtime recreational Scrabble players with their circle of friends, and the ritual has become a staple in the weekly events calendar at their business.
“We just love playing Scrabble when we’re together,” Senior says. “You have an opportunity to play off of everyone else. The Scrabble board is the result of a group. There’s a way to play offensively or there’s a way to open up the board and let people play off each other.”
Senior says the Scrabble night is indicative of the type of vibe Urban Beans strives to promote.
“We’re about building community,” she says. “This building is one of our projects. It’s a new economy, a new time, a new age. People want to do the things they did two years ago for less money.”
Games are free to join, and though Urban Beans provides boards, patrons are welcome to bring their own. The games typically start at 7 p.m. and often last until the shop closes at 10 p.m.
“It’s a symbiotic relationship with the neighborhood. It’s a gathering,” Senior adds.
To encourage neighbors to join in, Urban Beans offers incentives for those who play. Spell “coffee” in a game and you’ll get a free coffee. The same goes for certain pastries and other menu items, depending on the staff’s discretion.
“We’re trying to boost up the night and it’s really had an effect, in my opinion,” says barista Perry Czopp. “There’s a lot of laughing, or screaming at times. It gets pretty competitive.”
The tradition started about three years ago when the group of friends went to Mexico for New Year’s Eve. When they returned to the States the games continued, and the group would meet up once a week at someone’s house to play.
The game moved to Urban Beans when the shop opened as a way to keep the group together and help Senior’s business.
“It gave us a place to play and a way to support her,” says Rachel Gesterle, a friend of the owners. “It gives us an excuse to get together.”
Urban Beans is located at 3508 N. 7th St. in Midtown, a half-mile east of the Central/Osborn light rail station — 602.595.2244
This week I finally broke down and bought an iPhone. I bought it because it just works. For the last few months, I have been rotating between Android phones, then bought an iPod Touch and a Verizon MiFi so that I could have an iPhone-like experience without actually giving in to the AT&T machine. By the time I put my phone, iPod Touch, MiFi, my wallet and my keys in my pockets as I walked out of the house, they were literally overflowing. God help me if I tried to squeeze a Metro pass or some change in there.
Sure, my Android phone plus iPod Touch plus MiFi combination had the features I needed to check in on Yelp, read Facebook posts and check my Google Voice messages, but it was a real pain in the ass to find a place for everything, not to mention the trouble that went into managing three different sets of batteries.
This electronic experience caused me to reflect on my recent post about why people move away from Phoenix to places like Seattle, Portland and San Francisco. I think the reason people move from Phoenix to these cities is because, like an iPhone, they just work. In Portland you just jump on the streetcar to get wherever you want to go in the central city. Need to go further? Hop on the extensive light rail system. Restaurants, bars, and shopping are all oriented around public transit and dense neighborhoods. It just works.
In Phoenix, things are a bit more like the Android phone, iPod Touch, MiFi combo. Sure you can make it to a dense neighborhood, but that is a rare experience, and almost considered an oddity by those who aren’t committed to the city’s central core. Public transport connections outside of the single light rail line are sparse and unreliable. And don’t even get me started about the light rail segment between Phoenix and Tempe, on which I am generally asked to disembark and get on the next train at least 30% of the time.
Is this a standard Phoenix bitch session? Not at all. There is a charm to the Android ecosystem. It is complicated, it asks a lot of you and you feel clever when you master it. But, it is a hell of a lot easier to just get the phone that everyone has, that everyone has apps for and just works.
The goal of a thriving Downtown in Phoenix should be to make our town an iPhone. Get businesses, people, leaders, kids, neighbors and friends talking about how we can make living, working and shopping Downtown an enjoyable experience. And, for the love of God, let’s keep the trains running on time.
There is no denying the abundance of specialty shops and quaint boutiques that have been popping up around Downtown Phoenix the past several years. But, to the surprise of some Phoenicians who have never dared to venture past Indian School Road, many boutiques been in existence and maintaining clientele several years prior to the recent Downtown rush.
Easley’s Fun Shop, located at 5th Avenue and McDowell Road, opened its doors over 62 years ago. Original owner Bert Easley was a Vaudeville magician and entrepreneur, whose initial intention for Easley’s was nothing more than a magic shop. However, Easley quickly filled the store with gag gifts and novelties. Decades later, Easley’s Fun Shop is still under Easley family ownership and has since graduated to a store filled with much more than just magic and novelties.
With well over 10,000 retail products, Easley’s offers everything from costumes, theatrical makeup, hats, wigs and countless costume accessories. The shop also maintains a rental department with over 7,000 products available, says Greg Fox, Easley’s Web designer and store manager.
Fox, who has been working at Easley’s for over eight years, has admitted there have been some changes since the recession began.
“This past year there were less costume sales, but much more sales in accessories,” Fox says. He attributes the shift in merchandise popularity to customers trying to piece together costumes with the intent of “saving a couple pennies.” But, Fox says one thing has remained consistently in demand: the ’70s outfits.
“People always seem to come in and need a ’70s outfit for a party of some sort and of course, for Halloween,” Fox says.
From ’70s outfits, to Mardi Gras beads, to thousands of Halloween costumes, this funs shop is just that… fun!
While Easley’s has seen a shift in sales due to the current economic downturn, the Antique Mall, situated on the southeast corner of 7th Avenue and McDowell Road, has maintained a constant flow of shoppers over the past 18 years, since its doors first opened.
Melissa Montgomery, a manager of the Antique Mall, attributes it to the fact that besides selling antiques, the store also sells secondhand, gently used products.
With over 6,000 square feet of retail space, this antique mall is filled floor to ceiling, wall to wall with art from the pre-Columbian era, mid-century works and of course collectibles from more recent decades.
“People are looking for bargains,” Montgomery says, “our numbers are actually up because resale sells.”
Montgomery, who started out as an antique dealer, and has been working as a manager at the Antique Mall for a little over a year, says that 7th Avenue has been a wonderful location.
“We pick up the traffic coming and going down 7th Avenue. We’re either the first stop on the way or the last, when heading on and off the freeway,” Montgomery says, referring to the close proximity to I-10.
While the Antique Mall offers items as low as $1, there are some things that can be on the pricier end, but it does not seem to dissuade patrons. Whether they are looking for a vintage, one-of-a-kind piece or an original VHS, the Antique Mall seems to have it all.
While on a “boutique tour” down McDowell, a stop at Sage is absolutely necessary. If you’re looking for inspiration for a home renovation, or to purchase a vintage stained glass door, Sage is sure to provide motivation.
Many of the customers that visit Sage are willing to pay a bit more for pieces that are extremely unique to the store and to Phoenix.
Sage is situated just down the street from the Antique Mall, and with an undeniable European/French feel, soft lighting and soulful music, Sage creates a wonderful atmosphere to shop and spend money in. From a vintage claw-foot bathtub to a 6-foot cross, Sage seems to fulfill the different niche the Downtown Phoenix community yearns for.
Most of the items, while distressed, are in ready-to-use condition, making it even more convenient for patrons. And, similar to the Antique Mall, Sage also offers a nice variety of jewelry for someone looking to spruce themselves up.
Easley’s Fun Shop (509 W. McDowell Rd., 602.271.9146), the Antique Mall (539 W. McDowell Rd., 602.253.3778) and Sage (335 W. McDowell Rd., 602.258.3033) are all located within a half-mile walk from the Central/McDowell light rail station.
Alternative art gallery .anti_space is moving from its Roosevelt Row ‘hood to a 7,000-square-foot warehouse off 7th Avenue and Buchanan Street.
Owner Scot McKenzie says the move is partially for more space, but mostly for more creative freedom. The kind of art he encourages — everything from electronic music to experimental and abstract art — is something that “most people in Phoenix don’t get.”
The electronic music he creates is representative of “other other side of life that you don’t get to see,” he says. “I want someone to see what I’ve seen in my head. It’s like something I see in that speaker. The space between one and zero. The analog. The space between the beat.”
McKenzie says that at first, the First Friday idea seemed to work as a way to showcase experimental art. But, when it quickly dissolved into “kettle corn, screaming kids and cops everywhere,” he knew he needed a new space. A bigger space.
“It was fun while it lasted,” McKenzie says of First Friday. “But, it wasn’t conducive to me being creative. If it’s a swap meet, I don’t want to do it.”
So, McKenzie found the warehouse, which was an old prop storage facility for an Arizona children’s theater company. He and a team of volunteering friends have just started the renovations, aiming to be open to the public by Art Detour 2010, but he acknowledges it will never be fully completed.
“It’ll never be done,” McKenzie says of the space. “It’ll always be a work in progress. It’s an always changing space.”
The nature of this space lends itself perfectly to the art McKenzie looks to create and hopes to house. In the past, .anti_space has shown work from the likes of Jason Hill and Luster Kaboom. In addition to continuing to show these and other works, he plans to have part of the warehouse be an area for restoration of old mod scooters, a hobby of his.
With this reimagined .anti_space McKenzie wants to show “anything that has beauty. It doesn’t seem to jive,” he says of the scooter aspect, but, “there’s nothing that’s not beautiful about that.”
The warehouse will have floor-to-ceiling gallery walls up to 14 feet tall and an anticipated five studios, but it also takes McKenzie back to his roots.
“It’s my biggest art piece,” McKenzie says of the space itself. “We’re going to try to make this one what we wanted the other one to be.”
For McKenzie, that means a return to the minimal. The warehouse is going to be a huge focal point for this space. He plans on lighting the bare beams, keeping the cold, cement feeling by painting the entrance walls to the gallery black and he even hopes to strip the outside façade down to its bare bricks. The fascination with warehouses began years ago when, at a younger age, he would explore the old warehouses in Phoenix.
“We used to break into warehouses because no one gave a shit about that stuff,” McKenzie says. “We were finding old junky spaces that people were letting us fix up.”
He later would use one of these spaces to create the first .anti_space, which was then located off of 9th Avenue and Madison Street. Let’s hope this move back to that original neighborhood is just the inspiration he needs.
The current .anti_space is currently located at 718 N. 4th St. in Evans Churchill — 602.256.ANTI. The new space, set to debut this spring, will be located at 715 W. Buchanan St. in the Warehouse District.
After a brief hiatus, the Insecure Critic column is back with the same poignant, insightful, selective insecurities as before, but with a new focus: examining the city in which he lives, the issues that he faces and the people and places he encounters.
When I got home from my recent trip to Ohio to visit family for the holidays, it struck me: Phoenix is home to me now. I know that may seem obvious since I have lived almost a third of my life here, but it hadn’t hit me until this trip that I was most at home in the desert. When I first moved to the Valley in 2000, transferring jobs with a former employer, I never saw the move as something permanent. I expected to stay here for a few years then move on. Something has kept me here, though.
If I boil it down to the basics, there are three things that keep me here: the special places that make Phoenix unique, the interesting blend of people you will find here and the paradoxical beauty of the desert.
While some people say that there isn’t anything to do in Phoenix, I find I have the opposite problem. When family comes to visit from out of town, we have trouble getting everything done in time. For example, the Heard Museum is unlike any museum I’ve ever been to, with its unique collection of Native American art. Every time I visit, all I can think is, “Why don’t I come here more often?” I also love the experience of taking someone into You Who Are Getting Obliterated in the Dancing Swarm of Fireflies at the Phoenix Art Museum for the first time. Sure, neither of those places is MoMA, but they offer things that are uniquely Phoenix.
Not to get all museum crazy, but the other thing that I absolutely love in Phoenix is the Desert Botanical Garden. It is fun, interesting, beautiful, romantic and inspiring. I also highly recommend the guided tours they offer — I’m personally not much of a guided tour kind of guy, but I went on one last time I was at the garden, and it was fascinating.
I just realized that I am starting to sound like one of those cheesy tourist guides that you find on the nightstand at the Airport Hilton, so I apologize, but there is a reason that the Convention and Visitors Bureau recommends these places: they really are world class, and they are right in Phoenix.
Anyway, my other favorite places in Phoenix are our unique, local restaurants. There is nowhere else that you can find Matt’s Big Breakfast or Postino. I’m not sure of another place that I could find a bar as chill as The Lost Leaf or service as ambivalent as that at Carly’s.
I love the people in Phoenix; sure, when you have a populace that consistently elects the craziest sheriff in the country time after time, you have to wonder about the general mental state of the people, but I appreciate the distinct Arizona culture. As someone with a libertarian political view that borders on anarchist, I like the sort of “live and let live” attitude that tends to prevail in Phoenix. I see it in the way people interact in social situations, the way people behave at work and the way laws are written. Yes, this means that in Arizona your pet project, whether it is bike paths, or publicly funded solar panels, is less likely to be showered with tax dollars, but it also means that people in general respect your ability to make your own decisions. I like that.
I have met some of the most thoughtful, intelligent, clever people I have ever known right here in Phoenix, and I am sure I am going to meet many more.
I remember the first time I was told this maxim about our desert by a priest at a church I attended long ago: The miracle of the desert is finding beauty where you would never expect to see it. It is so true. The most barren and desolate mountain has an uncanny majesty as it stands against the bands of color in the Phoenix sunset. There is inspiration in seeing the tiny blossoms of a desert plant surrounded by acres and acres of dry, dusty land. It is a reminder that the most beautiful and meaningful things often come to us in hardship and difficulty. The desert speaks to me.
Am I a diehard evangelist for Phoenix, or am I vowing to stay here until I die? Absolutely not. But, by the same token, I will never be one of those people who constantly bitches about Phoenix, about how awful the transit, weather, people, politics or education is here, and how they can’t wait to move to San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland or Seattle, as though someone were holding a gun to their head forcing them to stay here. If someone offered me a dream job in Boston or Chicago, of course I would move. But, I’m happy where I am now.