To fight the notion that downtown Mesa is a dead place, the owners of Evermore Nevermore fought back by populating their alternative shop with the living dead.
They hosted a zombie walk.
Celebrated Christmas with a zombie Santa.
And there was an event with zombie Bob Ross, the late PBS painter known for his "happy little trees."
Other non-traditional stores loved Evermore Nevermore's spunk, and a wave of new shops began changing the image of a downtown known mostly for antique stores.
But the pioneering business didn't generate enough business for itself, and will close Dec. 9.
While it failed, artists and other businesses credit the shop with changing downtown's image and say it will have a lasting legacy. It inspired businesses that include the Monsterland haunted house and movie museum, Gotham City Comics & Coffee, The Royale cinema, hackerspace HeatSync Labs and Lulubell Toy Bodega.
Royale owner Andrea Beesley-Brown said Evermore Nevermore set downtown in a new direction.
"They were a huge part of us coming down here," said Beesley-Brown, better known as the Midnite Movie Mamacita. "I really think that it revitalized it. There is new blood down here."
She believes non-traditional businesses can still succeed downtown, but she said more work is needed to promote businesses.
Artist David Albans of Scottsdale said the store displayed art from the steampunk genre, robots and zombie-themed works that traditional galleries frown on. He was devastated by its closing.
"It's like watching the start of the 60s and then it stops," Albans said.
Keith Decesare said the store was the first to display his digitally-created paintings. It offered items no other shop did, he said, and spurred some other stores to offer similar items.
"They've been very good to the nerd nation," Decesare said.
Owners Bob and Debbie Leeper founded the store in 2009 with her daughter, Amanda Tucker. The store was one of the few downtown businesses to stay open past 5 p.m., and it finally got some of the newer stores to follow its lead. Bob Leeper said people were so used to stores having limited hours that he posted six "open" signs in the front window after seeing people peer in the window as if the store were closed.
"It was so dead for so long down here, and we're still fighting that," he said.
He also fought the occasional accusation he was satanic. He said the store avoided things too gruesome, and that he wouldn't allow any drug references or religious imagery.
"That's not what we're about. We're a fun shop. Everything we do is tongue-in-cheek," Leeper said. "We've tried to remain as edgy as possible and still remain a family shop."
Leeper said he hopes to sell art from some of the 160 mostly local artists whose items filled his store. He also wants to remain involved in Second Fridays.
Leeper said he was amazed how passionate customers were. But he said he and his wife couldn't keep going after being unprofitable while they both worked other full-time jobs to pay the bills.
"It's so personal. It's not like we're shutting down a Verizon Wireless," Leeper said. "After announcing we're shutting down, we literally had people coming here in tears."
• Contact writer: (480) 898-6548 or firstname.lastname@example.org