Need a Hiking Map? Arizona Experience Store Carries Maps, Books Galore

August 29, 2012

By Teya Vitu

Outdoors enthusiasts, rejoice. You now have a one-stop shop Downtown for any official map, document, book and more regarding Arizona’s glorious lands at the brand new Arizona Experience Store, 416 W. Congress St., Suite 100.

Randi Bellasai and store manager Michelle Harriman in the children’s section of the store. Michelle is holding the Arizona Highways note block, which sells out as fast as she can order them.

The Arizona Experience Store is the only place in Tucson and the rest of Arizona to carry extensive materials from some 70 state, federal, Pima County and Tucson agencies.

They have joined forces with the Arizona Geological Survey to give a gift shop sensibility to government publications. The store had a soft opening in late July but wasn’t really ready to launch until Aug. 24.

Now it’s eager for business. All government employees can get a 15 percent discount, and there is free layaway for orders over $50.

The Arizona Experience Store is the revamped and rebranded version of what had simply been the Arizona Geological Survey bookstore with endless rows of shelves and map cases.

“It was very much an agency-oriented distribution center,” said Michelle Harriman, the store’s retail manager. “Now it’s become a multifaceted gift shop and research center.”

Translation: pleasant empty space dotted with islands of four-sided book shelves; hundreds of maps neatly arranged on a column; minerals for sale in glass cabinets at the cash register; a large mural in the Arizona Highways corner; better lighting (not the small spotlights enhancing the dim lighting from the wrought-iron chandeliers).

What you will no longer find inside the store are the 1,935 topographical maps from the U.S. Geological Survey that plot out Arizona in roughly 7-by-8 mile sections (7.5 minutes latitude by 7.5 minutes longitude, to be precise).

“We still carry them,” said Randi Bellasai, the store’s sales and marketing manager. “The top 200 sellers are in the store. The rest of them are downstairs.”

For those in the know, the top seller, old store or new store, remains the $10 Geologic Highway Map of Arizona that is color coded with 34 different types of rock units that make up the landscape of Arizona. A new 2012 centennial edition is the current version.

Randi Bellasai with the store’s most popular item, the geological roadmap.

The newest hot item, however, are the Arizona Highways Noteblocks.

“No matter how many I order, I sell out of them,” Harriman said.

Arizona Highways products fill an entire corner of the store.

“We’re the only retail vendor carrying all their publications in Tucson,” Harriman said.

That’s one of the big changes in the mainstream transition to the Arizona Experience Store. The store’s foundation is the government publications, but there’s plenty of private sector materials, such as a selection of Anthony’s Spices from Chandler and Tarahumara baskets from Mexico made with pine needles and yucca.

There’s even a small children’s sections with things like a volcano kit, build a dinosaur, “Archaeology for Kids,” “What So Hot About Volcanoes” and inflatable globes.

The store has also turned into a mini gem show with quite an assortment of Arizona minerals provided by B and L Minerals of Tucson, De Nature of Gilbert and Unique Minerals of Scottsdale. Rocks cost anywhere from $2 to $11,500.

The store carries a selection of gems.

“We have mineral specimens to meet any budget,” Harriman said. “We had people come in all the time: ‘Do you sell minerals? Do you sell minerals? Do you sell minerals?”

Yes, the Arizona Experience Store started selling minerals about six months ago and added higher-end minerals at the end of July.

Jewelry from Crystal Canyon Creative in Tucson is also available.

Along with all the hard copy merchandise, the store also taps into virtual resources with a public computer terminal. The desktop has icons with direct access to all 70 participating government agencies. These include the cities of Tucson, Phoenix and Marana, Tucson Park & Recreation, the Tucson Bicycle & Pedestrian Program, Bear Essential News, and all the obvious federal and state agencies involved in natural resources.

The Arizona Experience Store emerged from a request from Gov. Jan Brewer for the Arizona Geological Survey to create an Arizona Experience Web site so that people could easily customize a tour of Arizona.

The Web site also provides educational materials in the areas of mining and minerals; biotech and life sciences; sports and recreation; energy; water; ranching and agriculture. The site launched Feb. 14, the state’s 100th anniversary.

“From that point on, we knew if we remodeled the store, we should rebrand it as well,” Bellasai said. “We didn’t want to end there. The whole goal was to be a one-stop shop.”

She noted that the Arizona departments of Agriculture and Environmental Quality “didn’t have a huge footprint here. We wanted to bring in as may for-sale and free materials from as many agencies as possible.”

It ended up every major government agency somehow involved with the outdoors was eager to join Arizona Geological Survey’s mainstream retail experiment.

“The Arizona Experience Store is an innovative and entrepreneurial experiment by the State of Arizona,” said Lee Allison, director of the Arizona Geological Survey.

For now, this Downtown Tucson store is the only such comprehensive store in Arizona, but this store is serving as a prototype that will eventually get duplicated in Phoenix.

Previously, the Arizona Geological Survey offered all its publications but only limited selections of things like maps from the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management or U.S. Geological Survey. Now all the Arizona maps for those agencies are on display at the store.

To match the spirit of the gift shop, the USGS and BLM maps are mounted on three sides of a pillar and each individual map is fully visible with no need to flip through a stack of maps.

The Arizona Experience is at 416 W. Congress St., Suite 100. Where is that? Just go past the bulky state building at Congress and Granada and you’ll come upon a low-slung 1958 Spanish Colonial Revival building. Tucked behind the arches, you will find the Arizona Experience Store’s neon sign in the window.