Z Gallerie Closing Leaves King-Sized Vacancy on Tempe's Mill Avenue

The Z Gallerie stores on Mill Avenue in Tempe and at Scottsdale's Fashion Square Mall closed over the weekend after huge sales that saw quality home furnishings going for 75 percent off.

While the mall still has big-name anchors like Nieman-Marcus and Dillard's, the funky furniture store was itself an anchor location for Mill Avenue. And it's doubtful the 16,000-square-foot store -- which was reportedly the largest retailer in downtown Tempe when it opened in 1997 -- will be replaced anytime soon.

"It's unfortunate to see them go," says Casaundra Brown, spokeswoman for the Downtown Tempe Community.

On the plus side, she says, it was a heck of a sale on Friday and Saturday for shoppers -- including Brown.

"I waited in line for an hour," she says.

Begun as a lowly California poster shop in 1979 by three siblings, according to a 2000 Los Angeles Times article, the national chain grew into one of the country's largest furniture outlets. Like many retailers, Z Gallerie has been struggling lately and last month announced it was closing its 25 worst-performing stores. Three Arizona stores will be left open, says Z Gallerie's Web site.

Z Gallerie attracted both students and area residents to Mill Avenue, so its closing is likely to impact other downtown Tempe stores by sheer reduction in visitors. With the opening of the Tempe Marketplace shopping center, Mill Avenue faces challenges even without the recession (or is it a depression?) shaking things up.

Brown says the company that owns the property vacated by Z Gallerie, Valley developing heavyweight DMB, will work closely with city boosters to try to fill the space. Though DMB has been seeking to place more independent businesses on Mill, corporate anchors like Z Gallerie are "essential to helping the downtown," she says.

She wouldn't estimate how many months might go by before a new retailer opens in the space. Plenty of entrepreneurs are interested in the high-foot-traffic location near the corner of University and Mill avenues, but -- as most know -- it's tough for people to obtain loans for business ventures because of the credit crisis, Brown says.

Given the resistance to corporate culture on Mill Avenue, some folks might even be happy to see the chain store fold up. It all depends what's coming next...

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.