Film About 4th Avenue Echoes Buy-Local Message Trumpeted By Mind Our Own Businesses

September 6, 2012

By Teya Vitu

Since April, the grassroots group Mind Our Own Businesses has staged near weekly “cash mobs” at small businesses along the streetcar construction zone to bring people and their money to Downtown, 4th Avenue and Main Gate Square.

Businesses, after all, are open for business, no matter the fences, dirt and construction.

“There was a huge need. We filled the gap,” said Karen Greene, MOOB’s coordinator.

“A friend of mine lives Downtown. She was going to meet a friend at a café on 4th Avenue, but then said ‘I don’t want to do down there.’ Then she saw Mind Our Own Businesses. ‘My God, I need to go there.’ It changed her mindset.”

MOOB was founded by Greene and her friends, Janet K. Miller, Kylie Walzak, Lisa Bunker and Justine Hernandez. It has had events at places like Chocolate Iguana, Sky Bar, Delectables, Revolutionary Grounds, Hydra, Perfect Pantry and Café Passé.

“It’s about bringing people and money to the stores,” said Greene, adult services librarian at the Pima County Library.

Greene decided to mix it up for Sept. 15. That day’s MOOB event is a screening at The Screening Room, 127 E. Congress St., of “The Avenue.” This is a 2011 documentary about 4th Avenue that, coincidentally, premiered at The Screening Room at the 2011 Arizona International Film Festival.

Greene saw “The Avenue” at the festival and now a year later thought it was the perfect message for Mind Our Own Businesses.

“It really brings to mind what happened on Mill Avenue in Tempe,” Greene said about the street at the edge of Arizona State University that once was lined with funky shops but was transformed into a national retailer strip. “I don’t want any of these streets (Congress, 4th, University Boulevard) to become Mill Avenue. There’s no soul there. There’s a place for chains, I get that. But these streets need to remain local for us to retain the unique characteristics of Tucson.”

The film starts at 7:30 p.m. Admission is $4 (the dollar figure purposely selected to mirror 4th Avenue). The screening is sponsored by the Downtown Tucson Partnership, the 4th Avenue Merchants Association and Main Gate Square.

Just as at any other Mind Our Own Businesses event, the objective is for attendees to spend some money Downtown.

“What we’re hoping people do is come down before the movie starts, have a cocktail, have dinner, do some shopping,” said Mia Schnaible, The Screening Room’s marketing director. “After the film, go for an ice cream or a drink.”

That’s how filmmaker Alan Williams was introduced to 4th Avenue, long before he ever contemplated making a documentary about the Avenue.

“I had some idea what 4th Avenue was. I did not realize it had such a history,” Williams said. “As a college kid, I thought it was just a great place to get a beer. Now I realize there’s something for everyone. What I’m impressed by was this connection to the community. One common cause for all of them is to survive together as a communal effort.”

Even though the documentary was filmed more than a year before Mind Our Own Businesses was established, it could well serve as the film anthem for MOOB, which it will be doing on Sept. 15 at The Screening Room.

Even Williams speaks in MOOB language when he discusses how his thinking about local business evolved in the year or so he lived with his documentary.

“What we discovered in the end is people should take a look at local businesses,” Williams said. “We are trying to get people to set the reset button.”

Williams was contacted by a producer in Phoenix wanting to assemble a series of documentaries about how gentrification affected various cities.

“What fueled it was Mill Avenue in Tempe,” Williams said. “He wanted to do something that was the antithesis. I’d never made a documentary. We had no idea what we were doing. We spent time, winning the trust of merchants.”

“The Avenue” has interviews with merchants, musicians and artists who made 4th Avenue their home plus a conversation with then-Mayor Bob Walkup.

There will be a Q&A after the film with Williams, who is involved with Organized Chaos Productions and Picture Arizona, which is trying to revitalize the independent film industry in southern Arizona.

So far, “The Avenue” has not become part of the Phoenix producer’s series. It’s only had a couple screenings beyond the Arizona International Film Festival. Williams welcomed Greene’s call.

“Karen contacted me. It’s been on a shelf for a year. Anything I can do to help an organization with a similar cause, I’m in,” Williams said.