The Cool Index

Phoenix has always been hot. But can it ever be cool?

McFarland says the common tie for all of his projects is love -- whether it's the love of coffee, fashion, bread or junk. He wants to become a better person through the projects he supports. And for anyone interested, "I'm open to doing the right thing," he says.

"You want to know the secret? I want to love more. And I'm terribly flawed at it, but I'm going to continue."

Good, because no matter how kooky he sounds, Phoenix could use a lot more of Sloane McFarland's funky, unique businesses. In a way, he and others like him could have -- are having, on the underground level -- as big an impact on Phoenix as Jerry Colangelo.

From left, Kimber Lanning, 
Wayne Rainey, Greg Esser, Beatrice Moore, 
Tony Zahn, Johnny Chu, Cindy Dach, Chris Bianco, Wendy Gruber, Silvana Salcido Esparza, Craig DeMarco, Sloane McFarland.
From left, Kimber Lanning, Wayne Rainey, Greg Esser, Beatrice Moore, Tony Zahn, Johnny Chu, Cindy Dach, Chris Bianco, Wendy Gruber, Silvana Salcido Esparza, Craig DeMarco, Sloane McFarland.

McFarland is not alone. He is part of a small group of local artists and people with artistic sensibilities who are making more than art in downtown Phoenix. They are opening businesses -- galleries, restaurants, music venues, boutiques and coffee bars -- that reflect both a creative and an entrepreneurial spirit.

That is a step toward building a creative community, according to the guru of cool living, Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life.

These are exactly the people Florida says are vital to economically sustainable communities. They're the type of people who have bought his book, but are too busy to read it.

Talking to these creative entrepreneurs about their businesses can be an almost psychedelic experience, both because of the sheer number of the projects they are working on at once and because, like McFarland, they approach business with an artist's out-of-the-box perspective. These are people who use both sides of their brains, and they cover a lot of turf.

Consider:

-- Kimber Lanning. She started Stinkweeds, an independent record store, when she was 19. Now she also owns Modified Arts, a music/art space on Roosevelt Street. And she recently founded Arizona Chain Reaction, a nonprofit group devoted to promoting independent businesses.

-- Wayne Rainey. He's a commercial and fine art photographer who opened monOrchid, a multi-use facility on Roosevelt Street that houses his own studio and gallery space, the offices of local architects and graphic designers, and the offices of Shade magazine, which he started. Rainey also owns Holga's, a 12-unit affordable-housing structure he rehabbed himself with $136,000 in grant money. He's at work on a large, low-income housing project for artists.

-- Greg Esser and Cindy Dach. He runs the public art program for the city of Phoenix. She's the marketing director for Changing Hands, the independent bookstore in Tempe. In their spare time, the husband and wife started two artist collectives, eye lounge and 515, on Roosevelt Street, and bought a third building that now houses Sixth Street Studios, which includes gallery space and artist studios. Both are artists, and Dach is a writer. She's trying to start a writers' collective, like the Writer's Grotto in San Francisco.

-- Beatrice Moore. She and her partner Tony Zahn, also an artist, have purchased 12 buildings along Grand Avenue, including the Stop 'n Look gallery, which houses occasional 24-hour displays and Moore's own Weird Garden, where she shows her paintings.

-- Chris Bianco. He went from making contraband mozzarella in his apartment to running one of the most successful restaurants in town, Pizzeria Bianco, in one of the most unlikely locations, the heart of downtown Phoenix. He and partner Susan Pool started Bar Bianco to accommodate waiting patrons, and now he's got Pane Bianco on Central.

-- Johnny Chu. He and his girlfriend, Miranda Lowe, opened Fate, a restaurant featuring Chu's unique Chinese cooking, near Central Avenue and Roosevelt. Chu displays the work of local artists, showcases local bands and -- with torches blazing -- features after-hours parties on weekends 'til 4 a.m. He has a business plan for a teahouse in downtown Phoenix.

-- Silvana Salcido Esparza. Last year she opened Barrio Café on 16th Street with her partner, Wendy Gruber. The restaurant features central Mexican cuisine and the work of local artists. Esparza teaches and leads tours to Mexico. Next month, she's purchasing the building that houses Barrio Café, and plans to buy the entire block, to expand the restaurant and open a bakery and deli.

Now that's multi-tasking. And it's all happening at once, and it's happening all over downtown Phoenix.

David Lacy, the owner of Willo Baking Company and My Florist Cafe, is set to open My Florist Market on McDowell, near Seventh Avenue.

Anthony Oliveri, who owns the strip club Rain on Central Avenue, says he will start offering burlesque shows January 1, and that AZ88, the popular Scottsdale restaurant, will soon open a Phoenix location on his block, just south of Fillmore Street. Oliveri is hoping to build a high-rise on the site featuring a four-story theater. Oliveri, who also owns several properties on Roosevelt Street, is also starting a bar in the old 307 transvestite bar called 504.

Allan Gutkin, a Stanford-educated lawyer who grew up here and came back, has two housing projects under way in downtown Phoenix -- "modernist" connected units with yards and garages with aluminum grilles and three floors that can be designed by the individual owners into live/work spaces. The developer has other projects under way, as well.

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