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A New Commentary Each Wednesday          July 30, 2014

 Why people don't go "downtown" anymore

...And not just in Tucson, Arizona.

    Herein, whether your hometown is Albuquerque, New Mexico, Zirconia, North Carolina, or any place in between, some sort of clue as to why we don't go downtown anymore may be hidden in this nostalgic peroration.

    There is no Ace Hardware in my downtown. I manage to visit "the place," for some sort of hardware at least once a week and occasionally more often. There is no Wal-Mart, Home Depot or Lowes, or anything resembling them, in downtown, Tucson.

    For many generations, Ronstadt's (Yes, that family: Linda's great grandparents), had the most fabulous hardware store in my downtown. One could choose from a half dozen barbed wire designs and a full range of stovepipe components in several dimensions.

    Current hardware chains have a panoply of screws, nuts and bolts for minor projects. Ronstadt's had those as well, but it also carried huge bolts. I mean great big ones, two inches and more in diameter and several feet long, all in sturdy wooden boxes, stocked to the ceiling. Bolts large enough, if one needed to erect a water tower or the head frame to an underground copper mine. Ronstadt's Hardware is long since gone from downtown Tucson, a city bus station erected in its place, also named after the pioneer family. 

    There is no CVS or Walgreen pharmacy in my downtown, although one, complete with a lunch room, once occupied the most visited Tucson corner in downtown for decades. I do believe that city codes have been passed in many communities that demand that at least one Walgreens must occupy every square mile of our city and environs - outside of downtown. 

    The old family-owned pharmacy, where the male pharmacist offered a specialized service to other males; where its soda fountain was a meeting place for generations, no longer exists in my downtown.

    For decades, next door to our downtown Walgreen Drug Store was a Woolworth's five and dime. Both had lunch counters. Woolworths had an extensive record store, where a hometown talent, Johnny Barker, would audition the latest hit for you. Around the corner was Kresge's, the parent company of K-Mart and it carried everything!

    No, there's no Supermarket in downtown Tucson. No Fry's no Kroger, no Safeway. There's no shoe repair shop, and certainly not a shoe-shining establishment with chairs extending out on the sidewalk. At one time in Tucson, one had to take a number and wait your turn, but many customers (always male of course) made it part of their daily routine. I have to believe that the army of young lawyers who occupy our vast governmental complex downtown must shine their shoes at home or do it in their offices. What a waste of talent. 

    I wonder how the City Council would respond if one of the Big Box retailers applied to build one anywhere near the downtown area.

    I can remember that downtown Tucson supported two multi-chair barber shops, as well as the basement of a major downtown hotel. Many men got a daily shave with a straight razor that always needed sharpening on a strop, done by a tonsorial specialist who doubled as a sports guru. The ceremony began with delicious hot lather and a face-scalding towel and ended with an generous application of bay rum and more then generous dousing of a powerfully perfumed, roseate liquid that was sloshed and rubbed into one's scalp till it ran down one's neck. Tucson also boasted a barber's college on the north end of the business district, where one could get a buzz cut for a bargain - if one didn't mind an occasional bad hair month.

    Speaking of males, I know of no place that exists downtown, where one can purchase a pair of pants or a suit, let alone expect it to be tailored.

    Instead, Tucson is awaiting the advent of its first sanctioned pot shop with a variety of bongs and hookahs. Some place, somewhere downtown today, someone must specialize in face piercings and spiked hair in every shade of the color spectrum. Their unique talent is on display in many of the downtown hangouts for aging hippies most every night.

    Something makes me wonder if Tucson has a downtown bank. Do you know of one? Once upon a time there were three banks and two saving and loan firms within two blocks of the downtown area. Maybe I'll go down and take a ride on the new "modern" streetcar and find out.

-Phil Richardson, Observer and Storyteller

*"Water Dream," an Amazon eBook novel in which al-Qaeda operatives smuggle an atomic bomb into the USA. http://www.al-qaedajihad.com

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