Featured Story:The Curve

By Amy Pantea
@amytook
3 posts

The Curve

A “blink and you might miss it” Phoenix hotspot, the Melrose District is developing a stronger brand—and becoming a more vibrant community.

Running along Seventh Avenue between Indian School and Camelback, Melrose is a business district filled with unique thrift and antique spots, coffee shops, nightlife, and eateries. The focus on re-branding and beautification holds a new precedent for the Melrose District.

SAMA, the Seventh Avenue Merchants Association, has played a vital role in the process. “It’s been a transition over the years from what the purpose has been,” said Teresa Stickler, president of SAMA. “We are coming around a turn and are starting to re-energize. We are in the process of updating our vision for the street, and redoing our strategic plan.”

Originally, “the area had been blighted, there was a lot of prostitution and a lot of vacancies,” Stickler said.

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The main reason SAMA was originally founded was to help rid the area of these things in order to promote more business growth, Stickler said.

Melrose has since been cleaned up and leaders plan to switch gears towards nurturing a community that is more family-friendly, all-inclusive, and diverse.

We are coming around a turn and are starting to re-energize.

Stickler was enthusiastic for what the changes will bring to the community, especially to business owners like herself. Some of the changes include city development, social media focus, and the return of the M7 Street Fair.

November 2013 marked the beginning of the new wave of changes, with the installment of the Melrose Gateway Arch on the southern Melrose entrance. The arch, featuring “the curve,” aims to give neighboring residents and business owners a strong sense of ownership and pride. “We are the only street in Phoenix that really has the curve – that’s part of our branding,” Stickler said.

With the success of the arch installment, plans to build a second arch on the north end of Melrose, between Campbell and Camelback, have already begun. Additional upgrades to the Melrose District will be launched within the next few months, including 46 new light-post banners to line Seventh Avenue and a new website launch, Stickler said.

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One of the greatest changes Melrose will be making is the return of the M7 Street Fair. After a one year hiatus, the annual street fair will be returning better than ever. The 2015 event is scheduled for March 7.

The street fair is host to vendors who sell handcrafted or resale items, as well as food, live music, and a classic car show. The local business owners that line the street also partake in the event, as do the neighboring communities.

“It’s very representative of what’s on the street and all the merchants stay open and do something special, like an extension of the premises and have something up front… it is their biggest day of the entire year,” said Pam Pawlowski, chair of the Woodlea-Melrose Neighborhood Association.

It’s not a political agenda, it’s always just about this area.

The street fair wasn’t always so huge, however, with its early years consisted of only a handful of tables, neighbors selling hot dogs, and only 10 to 15 cars being shown, Pawlowski said.

“All of a sudden, one year we went from 5,000 to 20,000 people,” Pawlowski said of the fair’s discovery by a wider audience.

When the 2014 street fair switched its day from Saturday to Sunday, numerous vendors and car showmen refused to participate. The day switch, combined with diverted resources and a lack of sponsorship funds caused SAMA to reconsider hosting the event.

“Rather than [doing] something mediocre or that could even be seen as a failure because people will remember that forever, it’s better to cancel,” Pawlowski said. “And it’s the best thing we could have ever, ever done… Ever since we cancelled we’ve had more people on board, more people interested. We have a lot more iron in the fire as far as sponsorship this year than any other year.”

There are several long-term goals planned for the future of the street fair, such as extending the road closure and having a developed canalscape—both measures to make the street fair easier to access and to encourage attendees to come on foot or mass transit rather than cars.

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“We wouldn’t know what to do now if we didn’t have the end in mind. We always try to keep the ultimate in mind and say, ‘When do we hope to hit that?’” Pawlowski said.

Pawlowski also acknowledged that without the city partnership in helping the Melrose District, the street fair would have not been possible in the beginning years. “The strength of the Street Fair and Seventh Avenue Merchants Association is the collective representation in strong partnership with the city…it’s not a political agenda, it’s always just about this area.”

Pawlowski said, “The partnership is unusual, and it’s unusually strong. It’s really the foundation.’’

For me, the Melrose District is home. We want it to be thriving.

Monique Sandoval is one of the newer business owners in the Melrose District, and also a recent addition to the SAMA Board of Directors. Sandoval’s audience is primarily online, and she hopes to help SAMA incorporate the use of social platforms to extend the Melrose District’s online presence.

“Social media, especially having a hashtag and having strong visuals associated with it, shows how cool Melrose is will draw people in,” Sandoval said. “All the business owners can connect and create hashtags and start developing more of an online presence that will be good for Melrose.”

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City Development projects and strategy are also crucial areas of focus for the Melrose District. Focusing on sustainability and walkability, the beautification of the canal running through Melrose is a current and long-term focus, said Pawlowski.

She said Reinvent PHX, a collaborative partnership between several local and state organizations intended to revitalize urban Phoenix into a sustainable city, has been working with the community towards achieving beautification goals.

Whereas it still may be difficult to define exactly what the Melrose District truly is, many of the business owners responded similarly. “For me I just call it Melrose,” said Stickler. “It’s my home, I live in the neighborhood, I started my business here, it’s been my life… For me, it’s just home. We want it to be thriving.”

Amy Pantea

Amy is a journalism and public relations student at the Cronkite School of Journalism at ASU.

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