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Reviving downtown Phoenix through art

[Source: Michael Tulipan, New York Times] — BOARDED-UP buildings and empty lots in the shadow of office towers hardly seemed a promising foundation for an arts district in rapidly growing Phoenix.  But once-neglected and dangerous Roosevelt Row, on the north side of downtown, turned out to be an irresistible lure for artists looking for cheap spaces in which to live and work.  Galleries, restaurants and a farmers’ market soon followed.

Today, Roosevelt Row is the city’s cutting-edge art destination, full of galleries like Perihelion Arts (610 East Roosevelt Street, No. 137; 602-334-6299) and Eye Lounge (419 East Roosevelt Street; 602-430-1490), which showcase contemporary, often challenging art and performances.  The area is also a popular draw during Phoenix’s monthly First Fridays art walk (

Just as vital to the area’s resurgence is the Downtown Phoenix Public Market (721 North Central Avenue;, founded five years ago by Community Food Connections, a local nonprofit with an ambitious agenda.  “The goals of the market were to increase access to healthy food and create a vibrant gathering space in the heart of the city,” said Cindy Gentry, the organization’s executive director.  Today, the market (open 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays and 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays) has over 65 vendors offering local produce, jewelry, herbal remedies and treats like delicious lemon strawberry basil sorbet ($2) from Crave Artisan Ice Cream, a local purveyor.

Last October, the market expanded to include Urban Grocery and Wine Bar (14 East Pierce Street; 602-254-1799), downtown Phoenix’s first grocery store in nearly three decades.  The grocery sells products from many market vendors and features an outpost of Royal Coffee Bar, as well as a wine bar serving Arizona labels (starting at $7 a glass).

For the fashion-minded, Spoken Boutique (610 East Roosevelt Street, No. 148) stocks trendy denim labels like William Rast and Bishop of Seventh, Wet Cement T-shirts and flirty dresses.  Local artists and residents drop into two-year-old Conspire (901 North Fifth Street; 602-237-5446), a laid-back boutique and coffee shop with offerings as diverse as handmade paper, quirky clothing and vegan doughnuts.

The area’s transformation was perhaps best encapsulated by Michael Carbajal, a former boxing champion and local celebrity who grew up on the hardscrabble streets of Roosevelt Row and is now a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame. On a recent night’s visit to the bar at the year-old Asian tapas hot spot Sens (705 North First Street, No. 120; 602-340-9777; Mr. Carbajal spoke about the changes in the neighborhood. “It was rough,” he said, before dropping a shot of sake into his beer and gesturing to the sleek surroundings. “I like it better now. I can come here.”

Viewpoint: Downtown Phoenix now has the real deal

[Source: Arizona Republic editorial board] — A hallmark of a flourishing, mature metropolis is when it begins spawning institutions reflecting local culture.  A glitzy mall is great, but a funky, thriving Mill Avenue in Tempe is something unique the locals can cherish. It is fun, busy and ours.

The same is true of a central “farmers market” dedicated to local produce. Virtually all major urban centers have a market featuring locally grown produce, baked goods, meats and dairy products.  Until recently, all Phoenix could muster was a part-time farmers market where local producers huddled against the elements in tents. Now, it has the real deal.

The Phoenix Public Market Urban Grocery and Wine Bar opened last week with fragrant, organic Arizona-grown produce in abundance.  It offers a charming, multiroom environment at 14 E. Pierce St., the first permanent market to open its doors in the central city in 30 years.

The market is the realization of a long-time dream of Director Cindy Gentry and the board of the Community Food Connections, the non-profit group that raised $530,000 to make it happen.  Their persistence and determination is admirable.  And, if the enormous crowds from Saturday are any indication, they are prescient, as well.  Metro Phoenix desperately needed a market like this, and it is gratifying to see it come to pass.

The co-op-like Phoenix Public Market, which operates in front of the permanent market along North Central Avenue near Fillmore, will continue as before on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Meanwhile, the permanent store will be open Tuesdays through Saturdays.  The market has been a long time coming.  With luck and quality local products, it will be there for a long time to come.

New downtown Phoenix grocery market off and running


Phoenix Public Market now open for business (Photo: KTAR)

[Source: Sadie Jo Smokey, Arizona Republic] — The wait is over.  The first grocery store to open in downtown Phoenix in nearly 30 years is celebrating with sales, raffles, a silent auction and $45-per-person happy hour 5:30-7:30 p.m. today with Arizona wines and beer and light appetizers by Valley chefs.  The Phoenix Public Market Urban Grocery and Wine Bar opened at 14 E. Pierce St. this week to busy lunch crowds, curious downtown employees, Arizona State students, and neighborhood residents.

Laurie Wistuver of El Mirage walked over on her lunch break.  She picked up a package of pasta for dinner.  “It reminds me of a co-op from when I lived in Oregon,” Wistuver said.  “Higher-quality products that are fresh, organic.  I like the breads and stuff. It’s a nice atmosphere.”

Shoppers craving locally grown or made-in-Arizona goods, from organic vegetables to wines and cheeses, no longer have to wait for the weekly farmers market to get their fill of lumpy squash, pungent bouquets of basil, bags of ugly tomatoes, a dozen free-range eggs or a loaf of rustic, multigrain artisan bread.  The urban grocery will provide all that, supports say.  Cindy Gentry, Community Food Connections director, said the grocery store is the next step for a movement that supports local farms and Arizona growers and producers that use fresh, seasonal ingredients and sustainable practices.  “I want this to be a real place where you can do your grocery shopping,” Gentry said.  [Note: Read the full article at New downtown Phoenix grocery market off and running.]

Farmers markets in metro Phoenix keep cool


Steve Weiss presents Cindy Gentry of Community Food Connections a contribution of some "cool cash" on behalf of the Downtown Voices Coalition.

[Source: Diana Balazs, Arizona Republic] — Valley farmers markets have come up with cool ways to keep their ventures open during the long hot summer.  They start early, drape shade cloth over aisles, and [some] set up misting systems…

The 4-year-old downtown Phoenix Public Market run by Community Food Connections operates throughout the year, rain or shine, said Cindy Gentry, Community Food Connections director.  The market is open from 4 to 8 p.m.  Wednesdays and 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays at the southeastern corner of Central Avenue and McKinley Street.  “We have produce year-round.  Our goal is to increase access to healthy foods and to keep farmers on the land,” Gentry said.

She said customers do not mind the heat and enjoy buying locally produced goods.  “There is a sense of community and creativity and openness.  I always feel like what we’re trying to do is set the table and invite people in,” she said.

Shade cloths cover the aisles, and portable coolers are used to offset the heat.  “We figure out ways.  Some of them aren’t the most graceful or the most beautiful.  We like to say our produce is always fresh, but maybe our farmer’s aren’t,” Gentry joked.  For a list of farmers markets throughout the Valley, click here.   [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Downtown Phoenix Public Market touts its success

According to this promotional video, the Downtown Phoenix Public Market is growing in a whole new direction, with plans for a six-day-a-week market shop in a vintage downtown building.

After nearly 30 years, downtown Phoenix gets a grocery

[Source: Jahna Berry, Arizona Republic] — After nearly 30 years without a grocery store, downtown Phoenix will get one as early as June.  The non-profit that runs a popular weekend farmers market has secured $305,000 to open a 4,000-square-foot shop at 14 E. Pierce St., the group will announce today.  The store will be open five days a week and will sell produce, dairy, eggs, prepared foods, wine and beer, said Cindy Gentry, executive director of Community Food Connections.  The biweekly Downtown Phoenix Pubic Market will remain open.

A key loan came from the non-profit Phoenix Industrial Development Authority.  The farmers market group needs an additional $170,000 for startup expenses, but the authority’s $250,000 will allow renovations to start. “In these difficult times, the efforts of the Public Market and the outlet it creates for small business is needed more than ever,” Don Keuth, the Phoenix authority’s president.  The last grocery store to serve Phoenix’s downtown core, the area south of Interstate 10, closed in 1981.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Arizona, Phoenix face shortage of locally grown food

[Source: Jessica Stephenson, Special for The Republic] — Farmers markets are budding all over Arizona, but there are not enough farmers to meet the needs of all of the Arizonans hungry for local, organic food. The craze for organic and local food has brought about 21 farmers markets into the Valley, but Dee Logan, senior coordinator for Arizona Community Farmers Markets, says the demand for farmers greatly outweighs the actual number of direct-market farmers — those who sell produce directly to the buyer. Logan said the markets that customers want across the Valley cannot be created until Arizona has more direct-market farmers. “We need to grow farmers, and we need to grow growers before we expand too much more,” Logan said.

Cindy Gentry, executive director of Community Food Connections, a non-profit group trying to alleviate hunger and develop food sufficiency for low-income households, says she gets five calls a day from people requesting more farmers markets. However, the work required of direct-market farmers is too great to meet the demand. Several factors prevent the development of more direct-market farmers, such as the effort required to produce organic food that customers seek, Gentry said. Zoning laws make it difficult for commercial and residential land to be converted back to farmland. Also, market farmers sell directly to the public, and this requires more marketing expertise, which conventional farmers may lack. [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Downtown Phoenix Public Market: Seasonal produce from local growers. Specialty foods, including breads, pastries, pasta, free-range eggs, salsa, and more. Details: 4-8 p.m. Wednesdays; 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays. 721 N. Central Ave. website.

Downtown Phoenix ripe for a more stable farmers market (Republic editorial)

View of the downtown farmers market (Westward Ho in the background)[Source: Arizona Republic, June 24, 2008] — The nationwide salmonella scare seems to be ebbing.  At last, consumers can feel good again about buying tomatoes.  Or not quite so nervous, at least. Of course, buying tomatoes — or any produce, for that matter — doesn’t have to be a nerve-racking experience. Phoenix-area families never needed fear salmonella.  Not if they buy local.

Among all of America’s great cities, Phoenix is nearly unique in that it does not have a well-established and stable farmers market.  A market in downtown Phoenix is struggling to take root — it has a growing base of both producers and customers — but tents erected on fiercely hot blacktop will get a nascent farmers market only so far.  “We don’t have much of anything but the sheer will to do this,” said Cindy Gentry, executive director of Community Food Connections, a non-profit organization operating the Downtown Phoenix Public Market at North Central Avenue and McKinley Street on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

By “this,” she means a building. With food-preparation service and cool areas indoors where neither customers nor arugula will wilt in the summer heat.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]