It is no secret that the neighborhoods in Downtown Phoenix have undergone several transformations, serving a variety of purposes over the years. But the houses that date back to the early 1900s have taken on a new and original purpose. Entire blocks have been infused with young, artistic and optimistic life.
With a “do-it-yourself” attitude and “reduce, reuse, recycle” taking on a completely new meaning during a recession, it’s no wonder the quaint, local businesses are flourishing.
Roosevelt Row, a nonprofit organization, has been spearheading the movement to further the distinct character and assets of its Evans Churchill neighborhood and to nurture a diverse, walkable urban environment. This includes a uniquely Phoenix breed of boutiques in the area. Many of the boutiques that make up Roosevelt Row have become a hub for people who wish to stay chic and trendy while not emptying their wallets.
Butter Toast has a very unique twist to what could be construed as another vintage shop. Part-owner Traci Nelson says that to ensure the “usability and modernization” of the boutique’s vintage clothes, she implores the talents of a seamstress. While they do not advertise alterations as a service provided, they do alter clothes brought into their store in need of a slight pick-me-up.
Now in its third home on 6th Street, Butter Toast seems to be flourishing with it unique take on vintage clothes.
Nelson says they pick each item personally for the store and ask the question, “Is this modern and wearable?” As ironic as it may seem to look at a piece of vintage wear and ask if it’s modern, that’s exactly what sets Butter Toast apart from other vintage stores.
Along with the eclectic clothing variety offered at Butter Toast, they have recently introduced Merry May, a DIY company offering its merchandise in a smaller room located within the store. Owned and operated by Ashley Eaton, it offers a variety of crafty options.
Conspire, notoriously breathing life into the corner of 5th and Garfield streets, not only supports local Phoenix artists, but also gives them a very unique platform to showcase their art.
The space is collectively owned and operated by about 10 local artists, and offers boutique space featuring an espresso bar, an “anarchist library” and neighborhood hangout. The establishment is undoubtedly unique in not only the merchandise available, but also the concept itself.
Star DeLuna is one of the featured artists selling homemade gems like jewelry and magnets.
“The foot traffic through here has been awesome, especially on First Fridays,” DeLuna says.
Similar to both Butter Toast and Conspire, MADE is very aware of the foot traffic it receives due to its location. MADE, which opened five years ago, offers a wide variety of options. Always thinking locally, the boutique features everything from custom baby clothes to what some might consider controversial art.
Owner Cindy Dach that they couldn’t have found a better location.
“I love where we are,” she says. “First Friday alone brings in so many people who might not have stopped in before.”
Whether you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind purse, a vintage sundress or you just want to satisfy your local art craving, Roosevelt Row is a must see.
Butter Toast (602.258.3458) is located at 908 N. 6th St., Conspire is located at 901 N. 5th St. (602.237.5446) and MADE (602.256.MADE) is located at 922 N. 5th St., all in Evans Churchill (light rail station at Central/Roosevelt).
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.
Long before Downtown Phoenix became the “Downtown Phoenix” of recent memory, the Melrose District on 7th Avenue provided a home for local artists, business owners and restaurateurs. Years later, the district is still bustling, boasting an impressive number of independently owned and operated stores.
Three such establishments, Qcumberz, Rust and Roses and Retro Ranch, capture the essence of this mile-long mecca. All three strive, and succeed, in creating an environment where shopping is fun again and treasure hunting pays off — big time.
The oldest, 15-year-old Qcumberz, has endured a major face lift and expansion to its current 6,500 square feet. Yet it’s enjoyed steady business despite a faltering economy and seemingly constant construction.
“We have shoppers from every strata: young, old, rich, poor. [There are] just as many single guys as women buying for the home,” says owner Linda Moore-Lanning. “We have low prices — the best prices in town — and a broader range than most stores.”
Moore-Lanning, 64, took over the store 10 years ago and has remained a hands-on business owner ever since. Even as her husband battles cancer, Moore-Lanning continues to purchase products, style the store and stay involved.
“It’s a small business, a classic mom-and-pop shop” she says.
Indeed, the store resembles a collection of pieces from the mom-and-pop shops of the 1950s. Or, in many cases, items from houses that belonged to someone’s mom and pop. From full table-and-chair sets to seedy romance novels, Qcumberz leaves no decade or genre unturned. It even boasts an impressive collection of historic doors and windows. Yes, windows.
Moore-Lanning notes that there are a lot of historic homes in the area that look for pieces that fit the time period — be it furniture or a specific hinge. Many customers come in looking to start a project. They find ideas, parts and pieces, she says. And, though the shop does see a lot of customers who come in looking for desired pieces, many come for inspiration.
“A lot of people come here and browse for two or three hours,” she says. “A lot come to escape. It triggers a memory.”
Undeniably, all of the store’s stock belongs to someone’s memories. Moore-Lanning does most of the purchasing, though Qcumberz is home to five or six different vendors. They bring in their finds, and Moore-Lanning gets a piece of the commission. The variety is apparent, providing the ideal environment for perusing on a lazy afternoon, and the items change daily.
“Everything eventually goes through Qcumberz,” Moore-Lanning explains. “We go through every legal place [to find things]. Wherever there’s good stuff or interesting stuff, we’re always in the middle; we get new stuff every day. You never know what you’re going to find — we never know what we’re going to find.”
That constant inflow and devoted patronage has kept the Melrose District on the map as a shopping destination. Soon after Qcumberz opened its doors on a then-vacant 7th Avenue, several like-minded shops followed suit. Though the local market took a bit of a dip after 9/11, Moore-Lanning says she noticed one day that there were suddenly 25 boutiques in the district. The number has stayed fairly consistent, which allows businesses to feed off each other’s customers.
“We’re probably the best-known independent store,” she says. “It’s the kind of business America is made of. The economy has definitely affected it, and in some ways we should be recession proof. But, when people start to need more furniture… when the cabinet breaks for the sofa rips… we’re a fun store. We’re a destination shop.”
Ironically, the destination status hurt Qcumberz during the three-year light rail construction. Business slowed substantially for the entire district, and even with the light rail recovery has been slow.
Yet, fellow businesses Rust and Roses and Retro Ranch have also maintained a modest yet consistent following.
After 12 years in the business, Shelly Session has seen boutique traffic ebb and flow. Session, 44, opened Rust and Roses three years ago. The store is an extension of Session’s own style, and its success led her to open a companion clothing boutique, Sirens and Saints, this past September. The boutique was something she always wanted to do, she says, and has only helped business.
Whereas Rust and Roses has an “urban farmhouse chic” feel, she describes Sirens and Saints as a place to find “hand-selected, limited-quantity clothing at a very good, competitive price point. A vintage feel in an urban, hip way.” Regardless, Session’s stores are rooted in practicality.
In choosing the products to showcase in her stores, Session says she looks for two things: functionality and feeling. The pieces have to fit the mood of the store, which she calls “dreamy, monochromatic and livable.”
“It doesn’t matter if you put a glass on the table, it makes it better,” she says.
All of the garden iron pieces are manufactured from vintage prototype pieces. The store itself feels French inspired, with a touch of flair — Session has two pairs of Romanesque columns and a pair of old chairs reupholstered in zebra print. She styles the store to look like a livable warehouse, with furniture that could be from your grandmother’s house — except grandma would never showcase a pair of gold heels in a bell jar.
“I’ve always worked in retail,” Session says. “I’ve always done home. I like to mix this architectural feel with modern home living.”
Session travels at least once a month to collect the pieces she sells. The continental U.S. is fair game, but the majority of the inspiration and look comes from Western Europe. Still, Session does not discount the power of Phoenix. She regularly participates in Third Thursday, and frequently has artists perform in front of her store.
Utilizing a local atmosphere has kept Melrose alive, and that is the sole feeling behind Retro Ranch, located just up the street from Rust and Roses.
Owned by Indigo Nielsen, Retro Ranch houses vintage found in the Phoenix metropolitan area. The inspiration for the name comes from the ranch-style houses in the area. The store has a distinct 1960s and ’70s feel, and Nielsen primarily finds her items at yard or estate sales.
She attributes Phoenix’s diverse population and constant influx of people to the great finds she sells. The fact that Melrose has so many great treasure hunt boutiques on one strip has only solidified the district and given it a new energy, she adds.
Retro Ranch lends itself to a fun environment, and is constructed that way to benefit the customer, she says. It was given the Phoenix New Times 2009 Best of Phoenix award for vintage clothing, most of which is supplied by vendor lollyPOP vintage.
In addition, Nielsen houses a large collection of furniture and one-of-a-kind pieces. She hopes to expand the store in the direction of accessories, and has received many requests to carry record players and similar music equipment.
The best part of the business, Nielsen says, is not dong the collecting and buying that she loves, but meeting the customer.
“I just love getting to meet the cool people that walk in the store. I feel so lucky,” she says.
QCumberz is located at 4429 N. 7th Ave. — 602.277.5133. Rust and Roses is located at 4200 N. 7th Ave. — 602.264.4999. Retro Ranch is located at 4303 N. 7th Ave. — 602.297.1971. All are accessible via light rail stations at Central/Indian School, Central/Campbell and 7th Ave/Camelback.
It’s hard to miss the strip of brightly colored shops located at Central Avenue and Camelback Road.
Red Hot Robot is what owner Jason Kiningham describes as, “The definitive designer toy store in town that carries collectibles and gifts, including designer toys, art, books clothes and gifts.”
Don’t know what the designer toy movement is? Drop by and Kiningham will explain it with the passionate finesse of a true collector. Before even beginning our interview, Kiningham explicitly explains each of the various lines of toys.
“Designer toys in general [are] a combination of a bunch of different movements like pop cultural, comic books, anime and lowbrow art and music, film and TV, and brings it together. It is very unique and dynamic and has caught the eye of a lot of different people,” Kiningham says.
Featured at stores like Urban Outfitters, designer toys include the popular lines of Dunnys, uniform bunny molds that various artist paint and design unique to their style, and Uglydolls, a line of plush dolls that are so ugly they’re adorable.
“One of Obama’s girls went to school with an Uglydoll in her backpack at the beginning of the year,” says Kiningham. “Those things are making the movement more widely known.”
Items in the store range from $8 blind boxes, where you never know what you’ll get, through collector’s items priced around $100. Kiningham describes his target market as “consumers.”
“The No. 1 consumer is the passionate toy and art collector, and No. 2 is the gift buyer or the casual buyer. I have a lot of items for non-collectors. I cater to whatever consumers are interested in.”
He admits the change in the economy has eliminated a lot of his regulars. Now, Kiningham is careful to only buy what he knows he can sell.
Red Hot Robot’s name fits. After making a list of words he liked, including robot, Kiningham “literally woke up in the middle of the night and Red Hot Robot just stuck.”
“Robot,” according to Kiningham, already carried the cache of designer toys. Kid Robot is the most predominant designer toy maker, and only two other things sport the same name: an East Coast DJ and a 1950s comic series. “It is a perfect fit,” says Kiningham.
The stores at Central and Camelback all seem to be a perfect fit, like a tiny jigsaw juxtaposed with a Boston Market, lawyers’ offices and the light rail stop across the street. Each has an exposed wood-beam ceiling and is warm and welcoming.
Frances, one storefront over from Red Hot Robot, is an eclectic boutique owned by Georganne Bryant. Bryant seems to be an every-person’s woman. She greets her customers like old friends and she carries friendly conversation with a pair of teenage girls excited with their purchase.
The store, which opened in May 2006, has a folk feel to it. Mismatched, antique, wooden armoires display jewelry and clothes. Feathers, tree branches and antlers create a unique decorative appeal. A chalkboard behind the registers adds a crafty touch.
Gifts, clothes and vintage items are in every nook of the space. Bryant finds her vintage pieces at estate sales and markets. Frances carries about 40% local pieces.
The interior designing is done by Bryant, herself. “Everything about it is in my head,” she says.
The shop is a direct reflection of Bryant’s personality and style. She doesn’t sell anything she doesn’t personally like. A stay-at-home mom raised in Tucson, Bryant was encouraged by her daughter to open the boutique. “She felt like I had a sense of style,” she remarks.
As for the name, Frances, “It was my grandmother’s name. When I was trying to figure out what to name it, I wanted something that was meaningful, so that stuck with me,” Bryant says.
The store appeals to every woman. “I have high school girls who love it, and women my age like it. Even 70-year-old women. It’s all ages,” says Bryant.
The same goes for Bryant’s other store, Smeeks, which opened in July. Located on the other side of Red Hot Robot, Smeeks is an old-fashioned, good-times candy store. “A lot of the neighborhood kids will walk with their parents to the store,” Bryant says.
Painted light blue and red, the shop smells strongly of sweet peppermint. A cute candy house sits on a ledge next to the shop’s name in lights. The store houses a photo booth, and its photos decorate a wall.
Smeeks features classic candies, sodas and childhood novelties. Smeeks recently started carrying its own line of candies, featuring pieces like chocolate-covered cinnamon bears and gummy army men. Bryant describes it as the “finishing touch.”
Smeeks is Bryant’s nickname. “My father still calls me Smeeks. I’m not sure where he came up with the name,” says Bryant.
Bryant loves the community feel of Phoenix. She feels as though the business owners are the ambassadors for the city. “I feel like the business owners will really help you out. People will recommend my store and I’ll recommend theirs.”
Red Hot Robot (602.256.8560), Smeeks (602.279.0538) and Frances (602.279.5467) are located at 14, 14 and 10 W. Camelback, respectively — light rail station at Central/Camelback.
DPJ is proud to bring you the best Yelp reviews of your favorite Downtown restaurants, boutiques, venues and everything in between. Every Tuesday, visit DPJ for a finely crafted, tell-all account of a Downtown spot straight from the experts: the people!
First things first, don’t visit this place on a First Friday, that would be a mistake. Every other day you will be free to browse this cozy little store at your own pace and with your very own bubble of personal space.
MADE carries a rather interesting selection of items. They have a variety of screen printed T-Shirts in the back along with a fairly extensive magazine collection and a smattering of handmade pottery across from that. In the same vicinity you will find cleverly crafted jewelry to fit most budgets and styles. The store also carries items like handmade purses and scarves all made by local designers. There is also a rather interesting mish mash of funny and interesting books that make great gifts for the hard to buy for person.
I like having a great place like MADE in my neighborhood. Businesses that support local artists will most definitely get my business, especially when the carry such fun and interesting products like this lovely boutique.
MADE is located at 922 N. 5th St. (602) 256.6233
The DPJ Yelper of the Week offers honest insight on a Downtown business to help you explore your core. DPJ hopes that by partnering with Yelp to spread the good word about well-loved Downtown spots, you’ll spread your patronage and support local business.
Yelp is a social networking and local search engine that provides the reviews of places and things that matter to you. Simply log in, pick a place and queue up your inner critic. You can write a beaming review of your favorite gelato spot, or a scathing portrayal of that rental car facility you had to use after that curb came out of nowhere. Yelp’s reviews are at once honest, uncensored, wildly hilarious and true. Heck, the site must be doing something right — it had 25 million viewers just last month!