Monday, November 28, 2016

The Downfall of Old Town Tempe's Mill Avenue


Although my parents now live halfway between Phoenix and Tucson, I did manage to spend a little time around my former college campus while attending the Festival of Lights parade, which featured my adorable niece, Ally, as a fairy princess. Tempe's Mill Avenue is kind of my Arizona equivalent of Chelsea's 8th Avenue, as both were once the major drag of a fun part of town before rising rents and gentrification turned them into a haven for chain stores. 


Mill Avenue is where my friends Greg, Yuki, Teanah, Deanna and I would ditch high school to visit, spending the day in thrift stores and record shops. (Although our lives were anything but a John Hughes film, I do recall that we may have spontaneously started to walk like Madness down the avenue once!) I've written about the demise of the boulevard of many new wave dreams before, but this time I managed to retrace my youthful steps to locate some of the former stores that once housed the Valley's coolest spots.


The Mill Avenue Shops once housed Roads to Moscow, the punk/new wave record store where my mom haggled with a mohawked clerk to procure a promotional light box for Debbie Harry's "Koo Koo" LP for a Christmas present for me in 1982. (It was my favorite gift ever!)


It was also the home to the travel agency where I bought my first tickets abroad -- a trip to London with my friend Kristen followed by attending the 1987 French Open in Paris.


524 S. Mill Ave.

This is where the original Zia Record Exchange was. My friend Greg and I would enter the store then divide and conquer -- trying to snatch up the latest 12-inch singles from Bananarama, Mari Wilson, Marilyn and the like. The store later moved south to University Avenue during the CD heyday, and has apparently since moved again to Mill and Broadway, which I've yet to visit. (Owner Brian Faber died in September.)


My sister and my nephew (AJ) entered a candy store on Mill that I immediately recognized as the original Changing Hands Bookstore -- only it seemed smaller. Sure enough, a Google search revealed that the space along with 4 One 4 pizza next door made up the superb book store -- it was the staircase inside Candy Addict that gave it away! -- where I landed a used copy of "The Joy of Gay Sex" back in 1988 with my friend Greg plus Mark, Brad and JR who were in town to surprise me for my 21st birthday. (I remember being ashamed that I was getting turned on my drawings in the manual!) 


Just north of the old Changing Hands was the home of the Old Spaghetti Factory, where my family would frequently go for empty carbs and free spumoni on special occasions.


What now is School of Rock was where Graffiti's nightclub was, which I've noted was where I was (with my friend Chantal) the night we found out Andy Warhol had died


(My sister remembers the club later being called 411 long after I'd left town.)


My friends and I went there to be new wave, NOT gay!


The famed Coffee Plantation, which was truly ahead of its time, is now a Five Guys (sigh). I used to spend hours in there studying and checking out all the hot Arizona State guys. 


My friend Debra held poetry readings there, which was the artsiest thing I'd ever seen up until that point!


The Mill Avenue location was the first.


It opened when I was in college in 1989 and closed on May 30, 2009. 


About the only thing left from my heyday -- save for a Native American bookstore that I rarely set foot in -- is the Valley Art cinema, where I saw "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" with my brother Bill and my best-friend-turned-tormenter Jim back in ninth grade, and where I fell in love with indie films. 


And last but not least, Long Wong's is long gone. In 2015, New Times remembered the venue as the former epicenter of the Tempe scene during its glory years and the nucleus of an interconnected network of musicians, clubs, and fans. An esteemed institution that hummed with live music nightly for 16 years straight, it’s where bands wanted to be seen and heard. Although the Gin Blossoms will forever be linked to the place, they weren’t the only ones that made its tiny stage their home. The list of those who were featured at Wong’s is nearly endless: The Beat Angels. Zen Lunatics. The Pistoleros. The Refreshments. Busted Hearts. Gloritone. Revenants. Trophy Husbands. Flathead. Even the late Elvis “The Cat” Delmonte, an entertainingly eccentric artist, even got stage time. Long Wong’s ultimately was a barometer of Tempe’s music scene, rising in prominence and importance as interest in its brand of rock and pop did the same. Its closure in 2004 came as a blow and surprise to many, even after the spotlight on Mill had long since faded. And though Long Wong’s was demolished to reportedly make way for future development along Mill, its plot has remained vacant ever since, serving as an occasional parking lot and a gaping reminder of what was.


(Forgot to photograph the former homes of Q N Brew, Stan's Metro Deli, Panic City! and Tower Records.) While there's no denying change is inevitable, and that people tend to view the past with rose-colored glasses, there's no denying Mill Avenue is a corporatized shell of what it used to be. 

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