Our latest Localist event featured a walking tour of some of the great local businesses in the downtown Gilbert area. Ever since our Small Wonders Map of Gilbert came out, we have had the pleasure of getting to know the area which features loads of home-grown businesses that are rapidly transforming the area into a walkable urban center full of fun things to do. We took a group of 12 Localists downtown to see all the great things happening there and had a great night!
We met up at the historic Gilbert Water Tower, where Tad Peelen, co-owner of Joe's Real BBQ and Joe's FarmHouse Grill, greeted the group and gave a short history of the area and it's development. Tad told the story of how the tower, established in the 1920's, had fallen into disrepair in the 1970's and 1980's. It was coated in lead paint, the land was in disrepair and it was an eyesore. The tower area was revitalized when young Boy Scout submitted the idea that the tower and the land around it be redeveloped as a vibrant public space. A few years later after three million dollars in upgrades, the Water Tower is now a public park and splash pad for people visiting the area, as well as great example of adaptive reuse of city space.
Before our tour began, it was important to note the incredible population growth Gilbert has experienced just in the past 30 years. In 1980, the population of Gilbert was just over 5,000 people. Today, there are more than 226,000 people living there with a projected growth of over 100,000 more in the next decade. Peelen, who opened his business 15 years ago, has witnessed first hand how community organizations and businesses have helped change the area into a multi-use, walkable destination that provides access to many services in a relatively small area. The businesses immediately surrounding the Water Tower Park include Hale Theater (the longest running family-run theater company in the United States), Norwood's Furniture (a 35,000 square foot family-run furniture store that features pieces made in the USA), the site for the Saturday morning Gilbert farmer's Market (featuring Made in AZ foods all year long), and a number of restaurants like Postino Winecafe, Joyride Taco House, Liberty Market, Joe's Real BBQ and Bergie's Coffee Roast House. All located in one square block of downtown Gilbert!
From the Water Tower, we walked east one block to Flashback Antiques, where we met Sherry Spitz, a long-time antique dealer who opened her business on Gilbert Road two years ago. She described how Gilbert has a small town feel to it, how the business owners watched out for each other and supported one another. In the spirit of support, Sherry mentioned another antique store down the street tat everyone should try, C & J's Antiques and Garden, who actually urged Sherry to start Flashback Antiques. She talked about how they send each other customers when someone is looking for something special that is not currently in stock. We had fun poking around the store and found everything from a working Victrola to jewelry to sports collectibles. After making a few purchases we were on our way to Art Intersection for a gallery tour.
Art Intersection is the home of a 1,600 square foot photo gallery that features state-of-the-art photography exhibits. In addition to the three gallery spaces, there are ample adjacent spaces housing photography labs, darkrooms and technology space for experienced photographers and beginners who want to learn the medium. Downstairs, Art Intersection hosts a pop-up gallery featuring rotating artists through out the year in a shared space that also hosts yoga classes and community gatherings. The photography exhibits in every gallery were incredible and more than a few in our group were pleasantly surprised to find such high quality art on display.
After touring the Art Intersection labs and the galleries, we headed to Joyride Taco House, where tasty treats awaited us. After ordering their famous Agua Frescas and snacking on the chips and salsa, we were treated to a talk on tequila production by Brent Karlicek, Beverage Director for Joyride and all of the Upward Project Restaurants. Brent enlightened us with a Tequila tasting and a poetic description on how tequila is made- we found out most tequilas take 7 to 10 years to produce! By the time Brent was finished explaining the labor of love that is tequila, we were all ready to eat and enjoyed every last bite of the tacos and burritos, served by a pleasant staff.
Another great Localist event came to close just after sundown. We loved meeting all the business owners who have collectively transformed Gilbert into an amazing destination for all. Be on the look out for another great Gilbert Localist event in the Fall of 2014 with Joe's Real BBQ and friends who are dreaming up another tasty event for the LFA Localists. Stay up to date with Localist events all year round by visiting our Localist Calendar page. Until next time!