Signs of a recovery on Tempe's Mill Avenue - East Valley Tribune: Tempe

Signs of a recovery on Tempe's Mill Avenue

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Posted: Sunday, March 6, 2011 10:00 am | Updated: 11:05 am, Tue Sep 20, 2011.

What once looked like a ghost town is now slowly but surely seeing a revival.

Mill Avenue was hit hard by the recession, but new businesses like The Fixx, a small coffee shop, are popping up.

Decorated with local artwork for sale and heavy with the scent of coffee, the new business, which had its grand opening on Jan. 29, is tucked behind the Jack in the Box on Seventh Street.

Robbie Pfeffer, manager of The Fixx, saw the fall of Mill Avenue, but is also behind its revival. Pfeffer worked at Three Roots Coffee House before it went out of business. Coffee Plantation and Mill’s End Cafe, both on Mill Avenue as well, also suffered the same fate.

“(Mill) became a corporate hot spot with bars, which is fine, but that’s not the kind of crowd I run with,” Pfeffer said.

He met with the couple that owned the property, which used to house an Internet café, and discussed the possibility of opening a coffee shop, which resulted in The Fixx.

“People had faith in the idea. Business is getting better every day,” he said.

Fortunately for Pfeffer and other business owners on Mill, the economy is on the upswing as evidenced by the new stores that have been opening. According to figures put together by Tempe Downtown Community Inc., the Mill Avenue District has almost full recovered.

In March 2007, before the recession, 128 businesses were housed in the area. Four years later, after the worst of the downturn has passed, 125 businesses are operating.

Shopping outlets took the biggest hit — 40 were open before the recession, but that number has since dwindled to 29, which includes two stores that recently opened.

Service businesses have increased, though. March 2007 saw 14 operating, but that number has since increased to 20 in March 2011.

It’s a good time to be a small-business owner on Mill Avenue as well: Independent businesses outnumber corporate businesses almost 3 to 1. There are 92 independent and 33 corporate businesses.

Canteen, a new tequila bar that opened last October, is seeing the same things the statistics are showing.

“All the businesses in this area and around are flourishing,” general manager Daniel Saady said.

In fact, Saady said they would be expanding their hours to include lunchtime. This means more jobs, which is always welcome news, especially when unemployment is still hovering around 9 percent.

Jobs on Mill Avenue seem to be plentiful though. 30,000 people are currently working in the Mill Avenue District, which includes Tempe Town Lake.

Saady also said that cooperation is a must on Mill Avenue. “I have just noticed on Mill Avenue a sense of community. The business leaders on Mill Avenue work better together than alone. It amplifies business,” he said.

The community events have thrived — these are a result of everyone contributing something.

The events the City of Tempe put on over the past year, many of which take place at Tempe Beach Park or around the downtown area, drew 851,960 in 2010. This is a 300,000-person increase from 2007 when only 551,150 attended these special events.

This recovery is also brings a diversity in demographics.

Mill Avenue used to have a reputation as a place that ASU students would frequent on weekends, but with the opening of different businesses like Canteen and The Fixx, there is new life in Mill’s core crowd.

Canteen tends to draw an older crowd than bars that cater to ASU students.

“We do our best to remind the community that there is a good reason to come back to Mill. There are a lot of young professionals in the area who are looking for a place to fit in,” Saady said.

The Fixx brings in a much different demographic. Its regulars tend to be more artsy, and Pfeffer, who runs the art magazine Tempe Starving Artist, is perfectly fine with that.

“I believe there’s a good amount of people who are interested in art and music. They need a place that is exclusively for art,” he said.

The Fixx puts on free concerts every Saturday night and is looking to add several more events to the coffee shop’s calendar. Among events Pfeffer is considering are an open-mic night and a jazz night.

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