Phoenix's Sunnyslope Neighborhood in Danger of Losing its Quirky Character

This might be a story about the beginning of the end of Sunnyslope as we know it. Call it the Dumbing Down of Mayberry, or How We Lost Another Round to the Big Box Guys. Call it progress, or community evolution, or stop reading now before I get to the part where the urbanists begin mewling about gentrification.

Actually, what's happened is the opposite of gentrification: Walmart has come to Sunnyslope. It's the new anchor at a large-ish outdoor strip mall, and its 24-hour service has brought with it a fully lighted parking lot and almost 100 new jobs for locals. But not everyone in this quirky community — a wide spot on Phoenix's west side that has managed to maintain a real small-town presence in what used to be the heart of our city — is thrilled.

I'd have guessed that Sunnyslope, home to broad-minded liberals and in need of an economic boost, would have embraced the diversity and big bucks brought by this middle-class mega-store, plunked down in a former Food City site at First Street and Dunlap. I was mistaken.

Sunnyslope, circa 1960: The former site of Bayless groceries is now home to Walmart.
Sunnyslope, circa 1960: The former site of Bayless groceries is now home to Walmart.

"Why would you go to the bakery and the pharmacy and the local grocer and the pet store," Slope resident Mike Sender asked me last week, "if you could go to one place and get all them errands done in one place?"

Why, indeed. Sender, who will refer to Walmart only as "Small Fart" during my very long telephone conversation with him, is among those Slopians who believe that a prole department store will signal the end of the ma-and-pa businesses that give Sunnyslope its small-town character.

My friend Christine Plante disagrees. Plante is a Slope resident and the former neighborhood relations manager for J.C. Lincoln Health Network, the large local business that props up Sunnyslope financially. I call Chrissy whenever talk turns to her oddball neighborhood.

"I won't personally shop at Walmart for my own, mostly political reasons," she admits to me, referring no doubt to the company's infamous low wages and affiliations with various conservative organizations. "But I don't agree that having one here is an entirely bad thing. I think it will give people the chance to discover those little local Sunnyslope businesses that are near or adjacent to Walmart. So you're a Walmart shopper, and you come down to the new store and on your way there you notice Grinder's Coffee, or Karl's Bakery, or some other locally owned business you didn't know was there."

Plante, who petitioned hard for a Trader Joe's market to take over the space vacated by a Food City store in 2011, wants to think of Walmart as a beacon. But it could just as easily stand as a warning that Sunnyslope is about to lose the small-town quirkiness that is a big part of its appeal.

It's not hard to draw a line from a big-box store in Sunnyslope to the gentrification of this still-grungy community and its gorgeous mountain views and neatly centralized location, both great reasons to gentrify.

"The little cafes and cute hardware stores are also very appealing." my pal Taz Loomans, who fled Phoenix for Portland last year, reminds me. "Eventually, though, those small local businesses get eaten up by the chain stores that turn up in gentrified areas."

An architect turned writer who made her name boostering sustainable building practices, Loomans finds herself battling similar bigger-is-better ideologies in her new home city. "Like Phoenix, Portland is also getting very gentrified," she says, "and therefore the creative types are getting priced out of neighborhoods."

The result might well be a more homogenized, less weird neighborhood — one that will eventually look like any neighborhood in any town — and Phoenix, newly rediscovered by national developers who are bringing their own out-of-town imprint to our city, can't afford to lose any more character.

Loomans, living in Chandler for the summer while she helps care for her elderly father, says she's hopeful that Sunnyslope will stop at Walmart. But staying at her father's house in the far East Valley has got her spooked.

"I'm worried that convenience will win out over character," she says. "I'm afraid I'll come back to Phoenix next year and it will look like the suburbs of Chandler. And that would break my heart."

 
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81 comments
Anthony May
Anthony May

I graduated from that school. It has a unique culture, lots of school pride, tradition, and personnel that cares for its students. Yes it has some bad surrounding it but in every place has bad in it. This will not detour the way the of SUNNYSLOPE

Sara Jane Elisabeth
Sara Jane Elisabeth

I thought it's personality was meth now. And by now I mean for the last 10 years.

Linda Buscaglia
Linda Buscaglia

I have lived here all my life. It's a shame that Sunnyslope has turned into a homeless meth addict haven. It has never been the best part of town, but right now it is one of the worst!

Matthew Waterman
Matthew Waterman

I get what you mean about those nice homes, but the yucky part of the area has definitely overtaken them.

Christy Tolliver Maskil
Christy Tolliver Maskil

25 years ago we called it Scummyslope or Slummyslope where there was lots of SlopeDope being sold. Revisited 2 years ago and only saw one group of weirdos at a Circle K on our way up 7th Street to The Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs vacation. As long as the residents take the upper hand, I see it as peoples' neighborhood, who go to work and shop and prefer to live there and enjoy that part of the Valley.

bakphx1
bakphx1

The nearest Walmart is to that area is 19th Ave and Bell Road.  Scariest gang of Walmart shoppers I've ever seen.  Most faces look haggard from lots of alcohol and meth. The article begins with this may be the end of Sunnyslope.  Goodbye, shithole. The author mentions getting his intel over the phone.  Having read Mr. Pela's articles with regularity, I highly doubt he's had a reason to go there in 10 years or more.  Or otherwise the headline would have been "Meth heads, drug dealers and gang bangers can now walk their shopping carts full of goodies (paid for or not ) back home!"

Daniel Gross
Daniel Gross

Spunnyslope. Trendy? Hipsters? Westside? The writer needs to put the meth pipe DOWN!!

Adrieanne Morey
Adrieanne Morey

The people who live there and don't do dope need to get city officials together get the dope heads out of the area! It could be an awesome town but no one takes ownership of their neighborhoods...they keep their heads down.they need to demand the dope houses/apartments are torn down!! Evict the tweekers and reclaim that town....btw I lived there four years, had my car stolen confronted the guy who stole..had my house robbed, found the kids who robbed me...I miss my neighbor hood and neighbors but I was the only one who called the cops..they only came out of their houses after..I like sunny slope I hope it can make a comeback.

lawsoncindi
lawsoncindi

I dont like Walmart....but I agree that hopefully it will bring some much needed jobs for all the druggies in the area...maybe they can get a job at walmart  and buy there own drugs instead of selling off the food stamps we pay for to get them...

Harmony Huskinson
Harmony Huskinson

I think that no matter what, a community will find a way to thrive, if not through brick and mortar businesses than through other means like meet-up groups or home gatherings.

David Quijano
David Quijano

Sunnyslope is northern to cactus. And 19h ave to the mountains to the east. It's a huge area. There is no distinct feel. Northern And 16th st is a lot different than hatcher and 19th ave. It's actually mostly nice other than the north west section. This Wal-Mart is the least of the concerns. Bulldoze everything north of the canal and west of central. Then put in a resort and everything will be great.

Rodney Alling
Rodney Alling

There's an area of Phoenix with character? Huh, learn something new everyday.

Kurt Kreiger
Kurt Kreiger

sunnyslope has a personality? usually I see it as just a place to leave. quickly.

Charlotte Risch Shaff
Charlotte Risch Shaff

We live just south of Sunnyslope and my kids go to school/daycare next to John C Lincoln. I adore the area. I don't think a Walmart marketplace (not the big one like at Christown) is gonna kill Sunnyslope. I'm not a fan of all the meth heads in the area, but I love the views, the homes and the little shops, like Karl's and would love to see more come in. I think Walmart will entice small biz to recognize the area as thriving again as a place to eat/shop. Get that area on Dunlap/7th Ave going too.

Regina Douglas
Regina Douglas

What r they gonna lose some of meth addicted tweekers..

Jeff Guymon
Jeff Guymon

Most of you don't know much about Sunnyslope or Phoenix in general lol. Hell I'm willing to bet that most of you are valley implants from Cali or from the Midwest somewhere. Sunny slope has some real cool areas and I highly doubt that a Walmart is going to change the diversity or mentality of a neighborhood lol. Get a life already.

Leah Greer
Leah Greer

Um...what character, slums and drugs?

Jeff Kee
Jeff Kee

The general attitude in Phoenix is' who cares, tear is down.' There little historical anything here.

Cree P Don
Cree P Don

It's quirky meth infested personality? How about just level the entire area

Jeff Turille
Jeff Turille

I used to *POP* live in Sunnysl-*popPopPOP*--ope. Hang on let me go to a different room, these gunshots are making it hard to type.

C Thomas Warmuth
C Thomas Warmuth

I just bought a house in the Slope. The Slope is perfectly outfitted for the zombie apocalypse. Butted up against some hills it already has its own zombies riding bicycle trains packed with found objects....the walking dead will have something to chase while I fortify my home for armageddon. I'll prolly cruise over to Wallyworld for their End of Days sale. What's the big deal?

Kevin Ross
Kevin Ross

Your kidding right?? Then where will the hookers go?

Kenneth Molfetta
Kenneth Molfetta

I live on the edge of the slope at Dunlap and 15th ave. I also don't like the idea of the store being a walmart (even the smaller version), however I have already noticed an increase in people of all walks of life frequenting that center more. I only shop at Walmart when completely necessary and do run around from store to store to purchase goods that fit my lifestyle and I think most younger people will continue to do the same. We want to go places for the experience, health, and ethical/moral practices that make our society a better place.

doug415
doug415

The new generation of Slopers will kill it.  They will steal it blind and throw the trash in the parking lot!  Good luck WallyWorld! 

Bryan Jorgenson Wallis Hardie
Bryan Jorgenson Wallis Hardie

Too many walmarts, another one is going in at metro center too, I mean can't there be any other stores around here? Target even? And hopefully they don't end up like the one at christown that place is awful.

Nick Burruel
Nick Burruel

Clearly your audience knows very little about Sunnyslope and the history there. It is very diverse town. On one side of the canal is the hood and on the other side are million dollar homes and an art culture unlike any other community in Phx.

Laura Ory
Laura Ory

Well considering the spot where Walmart is going has been empty for years, I don't think it's going to impact the personality much. There are still great spots in Sunnyslope: Paquime Street Food of Mexico, Karl's Bakery, Timo and North Mountain Brewery, to name a few!

bakphx1
bakphx1

If Walmart's pharmacy sells meth, the local dealers can't compete. I don't know who in the area they will trust to handle cash.

bakphx1
bakphx1

They'll work the parking lot!

 
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