Monday, November 28, 2016

The Heyday 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 chipped away at their identities.  

Mill Avenue is where my friends Greg, Yuki, Tina, 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.

414 S. Mill Ave.

The Mill Avenue Shops was once the home of 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 1983 

 (It was my favorite gift ever!)

and I snagged my Killer Pussy "Teenage Enema Nurses In Bondage" EP.

Back in the day


I still have my extensive collection of pins and badges!

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.

420 S. Mill Ave.

I'm pretty sure this Starbucks is where the original Zia Record Exchange was. (Clearly the building was demolished and rebuilt from the ground up.) My friend Greg and I would enter the store then divide and conquer -- trying to snatch up the latest import 12-inch singles from Bananarama, Mari Wilson, Kim Wilde, New Order, Depeche Mode, Marilyn and the like. 

 (There used to be a Lotions and Potions next door and, believe it or not, it seems to still be in the building, albeit slightly north! I'm told the store has bounced around over the years, but is proudly the oldest on Mill Avenue having opened in 1969!)

The original Zia location at 420 S. Mill Ave.

The store later moved south to 105 W. University Drive during the CD heyday, and has apparently since moved again to Mill and Broadway, which I've yet to visit. (Founder Brad Singer died in 1998. Later owner Brian Faber died in September.)

414 S. Mill Ave.

My sister and my nephew (AJ) entered a candy store on Mill that I immediately recognized as the 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 bookstore -- 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 Changing Hands was the home of the Spaghetti Factory, where my family would frequently go for empty carbs and free spumoni on special occasions.

414 S. Mill Ave.

The Spaghetti Company back in the day. When I got older I discovered there was a music venue upstairs called Edcels Attic.

411 S. Mill Ave., Suite 201

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

Me outside Graffiti's in mid-1980s

411 S. Mill Ave., Suite 102

(It was later called Club Bongo and my sister says she thinks it -- or the space next door -- was known as 411 Club long after I'd left town.)

My friends and I went to Graffiti's because we were new wave, NOT gay!

John McCain's congressional office is seen in the building on the left of Graffiti's, circa 1985. To the right was Van D√∂ekker's restaurant, which later became the fire-prone Stan's Metro Deli.

680 S. Mill Ave.

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. 

509 S. Mill Ave.

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. 

The Valley Art in 1983

701 S. Mill Ave.

And sadly, even 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.

Fun fact: Before it was Long Wong's, 701 S. Mill Ave. was home to the Salad Bar, an earthy chain of "health" restaurants. (It seemed to be riding the wave of Annie Hall's move to Los Angeles!) 

Of course there was also a roller skate shop in the building! 

Although I count my employment at the AMC Fiesta Village as my first job, technically I washed dishes for a few weeks at the Salad Bar location in Mesa, where much to my sheltered surprise the staff all did drugs and invited me to go dancing at Hotbods Desert Dance Palace (aka Hotbods), which I later learned was the Valley's answer to Studio 54! (I stupidly declined, in horror, but in my defense I was 16 or 17.) 

721 S. Mill Ave.

On the upside: The Jack-in-the-Box where my friend Mary and I were known in the 1980s to seek 99-cent tacos at all hours of the night is still alive and well! 

9 E. 5th St.

Forgot to photograph the former homes of Panic City!, Q & Brew, Stan's Metro Deli and Tower Records.

While it's true that people tend to view the past through rose-colored glasses, there's no denying that Mill Avenue isn't quite what it used to be -- which for me was like a real-life version of the Fisher-Price Village I got for Christmas in 1973. 

RIP: Panic City founder Tom Frank died in 2021. Read his obituary HERE.

UPDATE in 2023:

Here are some photos of a few more Tempe favorites from the past: 

310 S. Mill Ave.

I can't remember her name, but I owe my life to the woman at Rumors Hair Salon who finally rid me of my "new wave" hair at the end of 1987! She worked primarily in the salon's North Scottsdale studio, so I would drive up there if I needed a cut and her Tempe appointments were already booked for the one day a week she was by ASU. (I got my first hot boyfriend shortly thereafter LOL!)

618 S. Mill Ave.

This is the Q & Brew I knew and loved. Although this location is ancient history, apparently there's a new one at  3400 S. Mill Ave. #348

607 S. Mill Ave.

Here are the Tempe Daily News (1887-2009) and Pennysaver in better days(!) 

821 S. Mill Ave.

The original Tower Records (and later Video) on the southeast corner of Mill and University where my brother Terence bought Blondie's "Dreaming" single back in 1979! (The store later moved across the parking lot, but it was the first one where I spent hours upon hours of my youth sorting through the stacks and studying the Top 40 singles, which they stocked and arranged each week.) 

411 S. Mill Ave., Suite 103

Stan's Metro Deli in the pre-fire Petersen Building 

414 S. Mill Ave.

My beloved Changing Hands Bookstore. Apparently before my time it had been located at 9 E. 5th St. -- which I knew as Panic City -- and these days can be found at 6428 S McClintock Drive.

Roads to Moscow fliers. The store was in the Mill Avenue Shops from Sept. 1, 1978 until April 30, 1984

Owner Steve McColgan behind the counter at Roads to Moscow

Marlene Healey at Chaos, which was inside the store

608 S. Mill Ave.

And then Roads to Moscow relocated to a bigger space on Mill south of 6th Street, from May 1, 1984 until Sept. 1, 1987. At its peak, Roads also had stores in Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tucson.

404 S. Mill Ave.

We would go to Balboa Cafe when we were feeling fancy

This is also where the Hayden Square Amphitheater was, which hosted live shows. I'm told that the likes of They Might Be Giants, Pixies, Soul Asylum, Pretenders and Garbage appeared there after I moved to Los Angeles! 

401 S. Mill Ave.

... or the Paradise Bar & Grill 

640 S. Mill Ave.

One of the first attempts at "going corporate" came around 1987-89, with Z Gallerie moving in. Although it was a chain, my friends and I loved the place, dreaming of furnishing our apartments with the store's over-the-top chaise lounges and framed artwork! 

I believe they moved into a bigger showroom (740 S. Mill Ave.) after I moved to Los Angeles, and stayed in business for a number of years. (As for 2023 it's a Mellow Mushroom pizzeria.) 

22 W. University Drive


1250 E. Apache Blvd.

Stinkweeds Records, which opened in 1987 

430 N. Scottsdale Road

The Devil House, where I saw X in 1983

1037 S. Rural Rd.

Before there was EeGee's, there was Snow!

227 W. University Drive

Buffalo Exchange, where I got some of my best mod "looks"(!) 

514 S. Mill Ave.

And no visit to Downtown Tempe would be complete without a visit to its most famous headshop, Happy Trails (for You) -- later shortened to Trails -- which always had the best rock posters and T-shirts! 

(Photos that aren't taken by me are courtesy of the Tempe History Museum.)

More info HERE.

Turns out Nicholas Holthaus and Chris Valentine released a documentary about this very subject in 2008, "Mill Avenue Inc.," which already seems kind of quaint now that even a misguided attempt at corporatization has largely gone bust (The Gap, Ruby Tuesday, Barnes & Noble, Hooters, Pizzeria Uno, Bath & Body Works and Chili's have all come and gone.). Still worth a watch, though, for its great footage and interviews, including Gayle Shanks (owner of Changing Hands Bookstore), Kimber Lanning (owner of Stinkweeds Records) and Megan Irwin (reporter for the Phoenix New Times).


AB said...

I was at Graffiti's on Mill every weekend. Would show up for after-hours and close the bar down. I remember the windows would rattle when there was heavy synth or bass like New Order's Your Silent Face or Book Of Love's Boy. I was outside of the club the night Bono showed up. I believe it was when they were filming Rattle and Hum in December at Sun Devil stadium But it could have been in April when they had two nights at ASU Activity Center.

I Met my first 2 hookups there. David a man 13 years older than me who I thought was my first boyfriend but later found out that he'd never considered us together. To him I was one of many in a pattern of barely legal fuckbuds. Then there was the stunning Brian with long chin length hair and new wave clothes who took my back to his place at a brick apartment complex on University. He was the first guy I ever attempted to give head to. Apparently I wasn't that good because he never spoke to me again after that night. Thankfully (to the delight of others and myself) my skills were much improved after him. Back then the only corporate place on Mill was the Jack in the Box. Those were some great times.

Valley Boy said...

You Grew Up In The 80s In Phoenix If You...

1.When Rundels Market (Sold alcohol to underage-rs) was on the corner of Mill and University
2. Roads to Moscow (The original punk store) was on Mill Ave.
3. Trails was called Happy Trails and was also on Mill Ave.
4. When Pete's Fish and Chips was on Mill Ave, and had only 10 stools to sit on and was a 50's diner.
5. Punk show venues The Metro, Prisms, The Mason Jar, Party Gardens, The Silver Dollar Club, and Random VFW halls.

Tempe in a Teapot said...

Zia was next to Lotions & Potions current location. Also, saw X at the Devil House.