Not so long ago, popular spots on Tempe’s Mill Avenue such as Beeloes, the Gap, Have a Nice Day Cafe and Saki’s were closing in clusters.
But in the last few months, at least 16 new businesses have opened or changed their emphasis throughout the downtown Tempe district, and there are plenty of "Grand Opening" signs up along Mill itself.
What’s more, many of the storefronts are independently or locally owned, bringing back some of the alternative flavor of Mill. Cookiez, for example, is a tiny store next to Cold Stone Creamery that offers simple cookie and ice cream sandwiches — customers pick between six homemade cookies and six flavors of ice cream, and the sandwiches are made on the spot.
Manager Jesse Martin said Cookiez isn’t afraid to be a start-up independent store next to ice cream magnet Cold Stone Creamery.
"We have what they don’t have — our prices are reasonable, we have good quality products and we’re having fun," he said.
Other independent stores, such as Marvos, which features soups and sandwiches, and Swell, which sells records and urban clothes, said they chose Mill because of the high foot traffic.
Swell was in south Scottsdale for about 10 years but store owners decided they needed more passers-by, said manager Angie Thompson.
"It was only regulars that were coming in," Thompson said. "That wasn’t enough for us to survive, so we moved over here and we’ve been doing really well."
The Big Bang, featuring dueling pianos in the old Beeloes spot, has been crowded so far, said owner Meredyth Nichols.
She and her business partner looked at spots all over the Valley, but they thought Mill was the best place where people could pop in to hear the entertainment.
"There just seemed to be more action here," she said.
Overall in Tempe — where total taxable sales plummeted in the past few years, causing the city to cut its work force — things are starting to look a little better.
Retail taxable sales were up 4.2 percent so far this fiscal year, according to the November tax revenue report released Friday. If the trend continues, fiscal year 2003-04 will see the first upward tick in taxes collected since the 2000-01 fiscal year.
"We remain cautious as we continue to expect the economy to grow at a moderate pace," stated a memo sent to the City Council on Friday.
While there are only three empty storefronts along Mill downtown, some businesses are planning to close, including Lucky’s and Mazaar Bazaar, which both plan to shut down Wednesday. Mazaar Bazaar will reopen in a smaller space on Mill.
Paul Gordon, who owns Philly to the Max, which serves up Philly cheesesteaks and other Philly-inspired fare, said sales are looking the best they have since the city smoking ban started in June 2002. But he said he is waiting to see how sales continue after the rush of the holiday season and the Fiesta Bowl.
"We’ll see how we do in February," he said.