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. 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, where my mom haggled with a punk rocker to procure a promotional light box for Debbie Harry's "Koo Koo" LP for a Christmas present for me in 1982. 

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. (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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