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Wickenburg Business, Take 2

I was extremely pleased to see Mr. Prather’s submission appear on this site. It seems that I’m not the only one who is outraged by the sudden appearance of two dollar stores and two payroll advance places in town.

But I think what bothers me most is what was voiced in a Letter to the Editor of the Wickenburg Sun last week. The letter’s author, who runs a painting business in town, was clearly upset that the town has been attracting nationwide chain businesses rather than supporting the “mom and pop” (his words) businesses that have been in town for years.

The way I see it, Wickenburg has three economies.

One economy is the “drive through” economy that the local Chamber of Commerce and some members of the Town Council are trying so hard to keep alive by supporting a “bypass” that goes right though town. The businesses that make up this economy are the ones along east Wickenburg Way (between Phoenix and the bridge) and the ones on 93 north of town: fast food joints, gas stations, and a handful of motels. By keeping the Phoenix to Vegas / Vegas to Phoenix traffic going past or near these places, there’s the hope that this particular economy will continue to thrive. That supports the town with tax revenues and minimum wage jobs, as well as the mediocre quality and service that chain establishments offer. This is what a new Dominos Pizza and Starbucks Coffee will become part of.

Another economy is the “winter visitor” economy. These are the businesses that provide goods and services for the people who spend the winter months in Wickenburg, primarily to escape cold weather where they live. Most of these people are retirees and, as such, have fixed incomes. They shop at the dollar stores, complain about fuel prices, and routinely drive down to Wal-Mart in Surprise to do the majority of their shopping. Local businesses have to survive in this economy by providing the things that aren’t worth driving to Surprise for — which really isn’t much, since the long drive doesn’t seem to bother many of these people — or by providing inexpensive or unique merchandise that these people want. Sadly, I’m a member of this group, although I do my best to shop locally and won’t shop in a Wal-Mart. This economy supports the town with sales tax revenues, but doesn’t do much to offer jobs, since the businesses tend to be too small to afford hiring much help. Some of these businesses make it obvious that they cater to this crowd by closing down during the summer months. The guest ranches — the ones still operating, that is — cater to a subset of these people. But in many cases, their guests remain on the premises for most of their stay, with occasional trips to downtown gift shops — the ones still in business, that is — or the museum. At least they don’t go to Wal-Mart.

The final economy is the local, year-round economy. These are the businesses that cater to the year-round residents, people like Maria and Jim. These people need and buy all the goods and services a person would need, year round, to live comfortably in town. Everything from groceries to clothes to hardware to pizza. They hire local builders, painters, and carpet providers to repair or redecorate their homes. They hire local plumbers, they get their hair cut with local hairdressers, they eat at local restaurants that don’t appear in every major city in the U.S. (or world). These are the businesses that keep Wickenburg alive. Let’s face it, without the year-round economy, there would be no reason to come to Wickenburg because no one would live here. These businesses, along with the three major treatment facilities that we’re fortunate enough to have in town, offer the bulk of the decent-paying jobs in town. Yet this is the economy that is least supported by the local Chamber of Commerce or town. Sadly, this is also the economy that attracts dollar stores and payroll check cashing places because there simply aren’t enough of those decent-paying jobs to go around. To make matters worse, Wickenburg’s collection of low-income housing — including older trailer parks and remote desert trailer homes south of town— attracts the “fringe element,” which I prefer not to discuss here.

What does all this mean? In my opinion, the town’s government and Chamber of Commerce is trying too hard to support the drive-through and winter visitor economies. They’re welcoming chain restaurants at the expense of non-chain establishments that have been around for years. They’re going after quantity — how many businesses can we attract? — rather than quality. That’s why we get dollar stores and check cashing places rather than quality shops that offer the goods or services everyone needs. As a result, Wickenburg attracts the year-round residents who don’t necessarily care about quality, people who prefer to shop in a dollar store rather than a quality place like Double D Western World.

The result of this, over time, will be a reduction in the average income level of Wickenburg’s year-round residents. Housing values will go down because no one who wants to live in town can afford housing at the current prices. As a result, property taxes will go down. The town will attempt to “fix” that problem by raising sales taxes (again). As a result, more people will shop down in Surprise, local sales tax revenues will also drop, and businesses will go under.

What should the town be doing?

First of all, it should be trying to attract quality employers to the town. There’s an excellent little industrial park out by the airport that is greatly underutilized. Why not get a few more businesses in there? Businesses that employ skilled labor and pay them a good wage. Businesses that attract year-round residents and pay them enough to live in town.

Next, the town should revitalize the downtown area to get more retail businesses into the storefronts on Tegner, Frontier, Yavapai, and Apache Streets and East Wickenburg Way. Seeing “Not A Retail Outlet” signs on half the storefronts in a block does not make the block attractive for people interested in browsing the downtown area. I’m not saying to kick current tenants out. I’m saying to modify current zoning to prevent future tenants from using storefronts as private office space. Surely there’s enough office space in town to accommodate all the businesses that need office space. And if not, why not? That would be a good investment for someone interested in investing in town.

Finally, the town should stop all this nonsense about putting a “bypass” through town. The current proposal is ludicrous. Not only does it introduce two “roundabouts” that will propose serious traffic hazards, but it puts a highway through the Community Center’s parking lot and cuts through an established neighborhood. Who in their right mind would want a highway in a river valley where all the exhaust fumes can gather to pollute the air? Who wants to listen to trucks zooming through town all day? And what is the real benefit of this? Just a way to keep the drive-through traffic nearby so one out of every 500 vehicles can buy a burger in McDonalds, so the burger flipper can continue to make his minimum wage?

Why aren’t more people in Wickenburg speaking up about all of this? I know Mr. Prather, Mr. Chilingerian, Maria, and I aren’t the only ones outraged by the way things are going in our town. I hear people complaining about the dollar stores, check cashing places, and roundabout proposal every day. Why don’t they speak up about it and let their thoughts be known?

Last 5 posts by John Aabbott

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