Business Owners Say Historic Avondale Is A Unique And Promising Neighborhood

Published: Friday, November 28, 2014 - 2:05pm
Updated: Friday, November 28, 2014 - 2:17pm
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(Mark Brodie/ KJZZ News)
Colleen Schorr is optimistic business will pick up along Western Ave. in Historic Avondale.

The engraving machine is working hard at Keepsake Trophy and Engraving in Avondale. The shop is on Western Avenue, in an area now known as Historic Avondale. Colleen Schorr owns it.

"It’s just a quaint, pretty little street and I loved it when I first saw it," Schorr said. "I didn’t want to have my business in a strip mall, I wanted something that made it look different, plus, I wanted to own it and be responsible for it."

Schorr’s been in the space since 2006. The street is mostly made up of older, smaller buildings that house small independent businesses, among them a laundromat, a bridal store, a few restaurants and a gun store.

Historic Avondale basically runs between Van Buren and Lower Buckeye and Dysart and Central. Schorr said you won’t see a lot of chains in the area.

"They’d prefer to have a lot of foot traffic," she said. "But the positive things are the rents are cheaper, we are a nice, tight-knit neighborhood, we all know what’s going on, we know when somebody’s on vacation, we know if somebody in the family died."

Schorr is also the Director of the Historic Avondale Merchants Association, which has been up and running for a couple of years. The name of the area itself isn’t that old either. Consultant Ernesto Fonseca worked on a vision plan for the neighborhood and then went to work for the city for a few years.

"Historic Avondale was formerly known as Old Town Avondale," he said. "And that was one of the first things that I proposed to change, primarily because I think it was important to start re-branding and giving a different perspective to what ‘old’ meant instead of ‘historic.’"

Fonseca said “historic” more accurately represents the area than “Old Town.” His former boss, Avondale Assistant City Manager Gina Ramos Montes agrees. She used to be the city’s Neighborhood and Family Services Director and said the rebranding is a piece of the overall revitalization plan. But, she said, the city also improved streetscapes, added a police substation and library and helped renovate the façades on some businesses, among other projects.

The city has also been recruiting small businesses to Historic Avondale, but Ramos Montes said officials are looking for a specific kind of business.

"You’re not gonna find your typical vanilla shell type of office or commercial space," she said. "There are a lot of unique buildings, almost all of them are much older and so it takes someone that can see the potential."

Ramos Montes said the tax revenue businesses in Historic Avondale generate is important to the city, but more than that is the idea that Avondale’s original town site is thriving. Ernesto Fonseca said it wasn’t always that way.

"One of the things that I told city council when I presented to them as an employee back then was that one of our biggest problems is that no one knows us," Fonseca said. "I mean, we have a little jewel right here that we have no way to showcase it. So, we need to develop tools to bring people here, and it’s going to be painful, it’s going to be a long-stretch road, but we’re going to make it happen."

Fonseca said part of that is emphasizing the area’s Artwalk, on the second Saturday of each month. He and others say it’s a way to bring people to Historic Avondale and show them the area exists. And, that’s a key point. Colleen Schorr says the goal has to be to make the area a destination.

"Unfortunately, with our neighborhood the way it is at the moment, we can’t count on our neighborhood to really support our businesses, so we really need people to come in from outside and come here," Schorr said.

Just down the street from Schorr’s shop is Creative Cupcakes, more than one person pointed to it as an example of trying to make Historic Avondale a destination. Owner Leah Cartwright said she’s been there for four years and that business is really good. She said she liked the old feel of the space with the exposed beams, she also liked the rent. 

"I know it seems like a small street and it’s out of the way or whatever, but there are things to get down here that maybe you can’t get somewhere else with small-owned businesses," Cartwright said.

Cartwright said her customers come from all over the Valley. Avondale’s Gina Ramos Montes says that’s the point – to create buzz. And, she’s not concerned about other cities’ historic downtowns.

"I don’t think we necessarily have to compete, because we’re a pretty big metropolitan area and there are a lot of people looking for interesting and unique places to go," Ramos Montes said.

Back at Keepsake Trophy and Engraving, Colleen Schorr said business has been pretty good. She estimates about a quarter of the street is vacant, but she’s optimistic things will get better. 

"This little town, this little strip especially, is going to be very valuable," Schorr said. "If we can get the right person to come down here, they’d say, ‘This is where I need to put something, because no matter where I go, people will follow me.’ That’s who we’re looking for." 

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