Downtown Love Puts Tucson on the Map

March 4, 2015

Downtown Tucson. Photo by Dylan Martin.

Downtown Tucson. Photo by Dylan Martin.

By Cristina Manos

There’s a new trend in Downtown that is gaining momentum and catching on throughout our community. It’s all about locals helping locals, community-engagement and community-kindness. There’s not another Downtown in the United States of America like Downtown Tucson. Last month, this was acknowledged by Scarlett Johansson during the Oscars when she stated to the press, “I love Downtown Tucson!”

There’s a reason why Downtown Tucson has become so very cool. It’s because over 70 new businesses have opened Downtown in the last two years, and the businesses are owned mostly by locals who understand the importance of community and collaboration. The ideology cultivates the feeling of loving kindness throughout our Downtown and inspires the concept of paying it forward.

In almost every establishment Downtown you can find collaboration. In covering Downtown businesses, I find that the business owners are often on site and working in their own establishments. This ensures connection with the community. Yet, there’s a different kind of connection to be recognized – the connection between local business owners. I’ve never been in a place where everyone helps everyone else out so much.

It’s not possible to name every circumstance in which this kind of collaboration happens, but there are a few examples that paint a picture of what it’s like to own a business in Downtown Tucson.

The Makers

The plaza at Maker House will still be available for weddings and events.

The plaza at Maker House will still be available for weddings and events.

I’ll start at the end. Maker House, 243 N. Stone, has been a major collaborator in the Downtown scene for the last two years. They are set to close next month because, unfortunately for all of us, Maker House can’t make it last. Maker House was a place where cultural-collision and community cooperation were supported by a staff that was able to put together over 40 events per week, ranging from yoga classes to Tucson Comic Con meetings and other random events. It’s been a place where nerds feel welcome and has been thought of as the “Starship Enterprise” for groups that need a home.

Maker House also featured local products like Yellow Brick Coffee, and local craft beers by Barrio Brewing, Thunder Canyon Brewery, Borderlands Brewing Company, and Dragoon Brewing Company. The jukebox is free and plays only local bands. Shirts by Downtown’s Feds by Threads may be on display this month before Maker House closes in April. Local artists will still be featured in the salon and locally made food and pastries will still be served until the doors close on April 11. Stop by and give them a farewell hug and bring one of your favorite pictures taken at Maker House to add to the community collage.

Sharing Business Plans

Dago Martinez, 33 (left) and Amjaad Jhan, 39, plan to open the Street Taco & Beer Co. by the end of September.

Dago Martinez and Amjaad Jhan, owners of Street Taco and Beer Co., were inspired and guided by Rebecca and Scott Safford, owners of Tap & Bottle.

In most places people aren’t going to help out the competition let alone help start up the competition. Downtown is different. Some of the best stories are those of first time business owners who were guided and encouraged by existing business owners. One such story exists within Street Taco & Beer Co., 58 W. Congress, a very new and successful restaurant. The owners attribute their success to the inspiration and encouragement that came from good friends, the Saffords, who own Tap & Bottle, 403 N. 6th Ave.

Sharing Local Brew

Street Taco & Beer Co., like many Downtown restaurants, sells local brew from four Tucson breweries. In addition to Maker House and Street Taco & Beer Co., other venues that sell or plan to sell local handcrafted beer include Good Oak Bar (316 E. Congress St.), Hotel Congress (311 E. Congress St.), Proper (300 E. Congress St.), Independent Distillery (30 S. Arizona Ave.) and Tap & Bottle.

Sharing Food

Chef Janos with chilies grown in collaboration with Children's Museum Tucson.

Chef Janos with chilies grown in collaboration with Children’s Museum Tucson.

Food is another item that is shared across Downtown.

  • First mention will go to Feds by Threads, 345 E. Congress St., which donates 12 emergency meals per sale to food banks such as the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona. They have donated more than 270,000 food boxes and counting.
  • Chef Janos from Downtown Kitchen & Cocktails, 135 S. 6th Ave., collaborates with the Children’s Museum Tucson, 200 S. 6th Ave. to grow herbs and veggies for his meals.
  • Seis Kitchen & Catering, 130 S. Avenida del Convento, features tortas made by La Estrella Bakery, 5266 S. 12th Ave., and supports & sells Isabella’s Ice Cream.
  • Gio Taco, 350 E. Congress St., features handmade flour tortillas from Alejandro’s Bakery, 5330 S. 12th Ave.
  • La Cocina, 201 N. Court, provides food and beverages for The Presidio, 196 N. Court, for programs and events that support cultural education.
  • The arrival of Johnny Gibson’s Market, 11 S. 6th Ave., in April will provide the Downtown community will access to locally made items including food, brew, wine and coffee. Look for local companies like Tucson Tamale Company, 2545 E. Broadway Blvd., Santa Cruz Chili & Spice Co., 1868 E. Frontage Rd., and Isabella’s Ice Cream to name a few.

Sharing Space

  • Jessica Baylon features jewelry and accessories by local artists. Handmade jewelry by Sophie Gelb is currently available.

    Jessica Baylon features jewelry and accessories by local artists. Handmade jewelry by Sophie Gelb is currently available.

    Sinfonia CEO Fletcher McCusker, founder of The Hive, has done more for the community than we have space to mention. He is currently donating space to nonprofit Downtown Radio so that founders can fill Downtown with it’s own brand of radio.

  • Salon Salon, 410 E. Toole., provides space for meetings, workshops, seminars and collaboration. Salon Salon also sells local handcrafted jewelry by founders of Mast, 100 S. Avenida del Convento, Ste 120. Salon Salon’s owner, Jessica Baylon sums it up perfectly with this statement about the Downtown community:

“These are some of the most beautiful, interesting, ‘get it’ people in our world. They’re more soulful and more aware of what’s important in this crazy world. For me, being part of the Downtown community is huge.”

  • Shared office spaces like those provided at Connect Coworking (33 S. 5th Ave.), The Hive (1 E. Toole Ave.), and CoLab Workspace (17 E. Pennington St.) help entrepreneurs and freelancers on a daily basis.

Sharing Art

A Danny Martin piece inspired by Dillinger Days was displayed in the lobby at Hotel Congress.

So many of our Downtown businesses share and promote local artists. Giving space to local artists is an idea that has been well accepted and supported by Downtown. Here are some of the venues Downtown that display art by locals:

  • The lobby at Hotel Congress
  • Mast
  • Nook
  • Downtown Tucson Partnership
  • The Maker House
  • R Bar
  • Borderlands Brewing Company

Community kindness and collaboration are the essential ingredients to what makes Downtown so lovable by locals, visitors and celebrities alike!