Population Explosion Changes Buckeye

By Will Argeros
May 30, 2014

(Photo by Will Argeros)
This storefront will soon be part of the city's library expansion.

6,537. That was the population in the town of Buckeye 14 years ago according to the U.S. Census. The section of Interstate 10 that passed by the town was lined with gas stations and fast food restaurants.

Today, it has a much different look: 54,542. That’s how many people live in Buckeye today. The town 38 miles west of downtown Phoenix looks nothing like it did 10 years ago.

Now it’s pretty cookie cutter. There's a Fry's, a Walmart, Peter Piper Pizza.

In the years after the recession, Buckeye and other West Valley cities have seen rapid growth and development. That’s good news for businesses like Sally Beauty Supply in Buckeye’s Watson Center. The aisles are lined with makeup, hair care products, and nail polishes, but assistant manager Jordan Hamilton has struggled to keep these items on the shelves.

“It’s been a lot busier this year. It started around Christmas time and we’ve been getting more and more people shopping here," Hamilton said.

A housing report from RL Brown shows the West Valley accounted for 42 percent of all home sales in the Phoenix metro area in 2013. Buckeye’s population grew more than six-fold from 6,500 in 2000. And that kind of spike is what attracted shops like Sally Beauty Supply and restaurants like Native New Yorker.

“There’s no natives out here," said Native manager Kyle Weltsch. The franchise, known for its buffalo wings, opened out of optimism.

"We figured to get in early, because we’re really hoping Buckeye is going to take off and grow. We wanted to get our foot in the door before anyone else got here," Weltsch said.

But not everyone’s business has been fortunate to see an increase in customers. Palermo’s Pizza has been in business in the Watson Center eight years, well before the boom. The suites next to the pizzeria sit empty, but the Jack-In-The-Box drive thru is bustling.

"When we first opened we were the only ones here. But now it expanded and a lot of businesses opened up and it actually went down," said Vincent Palmi, who runs Palmero's.

Much of the area still needs to be developed, and construction is almost a constant as new houses and shops start to appear on farmland. The newer stores and restaurants east of the Watson Center like Native New Yorker are the most affected by the building.

“We had a real slow period here because of the construction where we lost all of our parking," Weltsch said.

The construction has been vital for the city, however. Housing reports from ASU’s W.P. Carey School Of Business show 218 new homes were sold in Buckeye in the first quarter of this year. By 2020, when the next U.S. Census is taken, the population of Buckeye is expected to grow to more than 400,000.

This story is part of collaboration between the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University and KJZZ.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article has been modified to reflect the Verrado development is not working to become its own town. KJZZ editors could not independently confirm the information. Representatives from the city of Buckeye, the Buckeye Valley Chamber of Commerce and Verrado say there is no effort to create a separate town. Also, the photo caption has been modified to reflect the storefront pictured is scheduled to become part of the city's library expansion.

Updated 6/3/2014 at 9:10 a.m.