It’s with great sadness that I’m removing two articles from wickenburg-az.com today.
The March Hare
The March Hare was one of my favorite restaurants in town. Located in a small house on West Wickenburg Way, it was the perfect place for a “girls lunch,” with lots of lace and doilies and pictures of animals on the walls. The two owners worked together to prepare and serve meals. And while lunch was always good — a selection of fresh quiche every day, as well as soups and a great chicken salad sandwich on croissant — dinner, served just one night a week, was even better.
I think what made the March Hare’s food so good was the fact that it was all home made with the best ingredients — much of it organic, purchased in the Phoenix area to ensure quality and freshness. (I never saw a Sysco truck backed up to their service entrance!) The owners cared about their customers and it really showed.
The March Hare closed for the summer, as many Wickenburg businesses do. But it never reopened its doors. I don’t know why — it’s none of my business so I didn’t ask. It’s my hope that the owners find a new place to open shop and continue to serve quality food to the folks who now miss them.
Robson’s Mining World
Robson’s, which is located in nearby Aguila, AZ, was a great place to spend a quiet day in the desert, browsing acres of antique mining and farming equipment, hiking into the hills to view one of Arizona’s largest saguaro cacti and ancient petroglyphs, and having a good lunch of shepherd pie or chili or even a burger, finished off with a slice of home made pie. Each year, Robson’s would offer free admission for its Anniversary celebration, which attracted visitors from all over Arizona. I often participated by offering helicopter rides at this fun annual event.
Robson’s also closed its doors for the summer season, as it did every year. But like the March Hare, it did not reopen. There’s been an ownership change and a management change and things there are in flux. While scheduled events such as weddings are likely to go on as scheduled, Robson’s is closed to the public until further notice.
The Bigger We Get, the Smaller We Get
As the population of our town continues to grow, it’s odd — at least to me — that the available services seem to be shrinking. I can recall writing about a number of Wickenburg businesses for this site and then, a year or two later, removing the articles about them. While some new businesses have sprung up, they’re not the quality businesses that we seem to be losing.
I blame this on three things:
- The town’s half-year population. How can a quality business expect to stay in business when half the population disappears every summer? Some businesses — such as March Hare, Robson’s, Charlie’s Steak House, Buckshot Babes — the list goes on and on — actually close their doors in the summer months to save on payroll and utilities during the dead time of year. How can I blame them? I’ve already made the decision to close down my own Wickenburg-based business every summer and seek work elsewhere when the snowbirds go back to their “real” homes in the Midwest and Northwest.
- The townspeople’s willingness to travel to Surprise, Glendale, and Peoria for goods and services. How many times have you heard someone complain about the gas prices, food prices, and medical services here in Wickenburg? Too many. The ones who have time on their hands — mostly retirees who are here only half the year — think nothing of making multiple trips each week down Grand Avenue to buy groceries, clothes, gas, and other commodities 40 miles away from Wickenburg. So even when these people are in town, they’re not shopping here, supporting the businesses that make this town a town. Did these people ever stop to consider that if the existing businesses got more regular business, they’d be able to lower prices and provide more quality good and services? (It’s called the economies of scale, a very basic economic theory.)
- The Town and Chamber of Commerce’s failure to attract enough good businesses and good employers. Let’s face it: there are very few high-paying jobs here in Wickenburg. This is something that cannot be denied. My husband drives down to Tempe every day to go to work. A friend of mine told me just yesterday that she’s moving down to Phoenix because she doesn’t want to be a checker in Safeway (the town’s third largest private employer). While I’m sure the town will argue that it has a low unemployment rate, that’s easy to accomplish when less than 50% of the year-round population aged 16 or over are in the workforce. And, for the record, 11.5% of Wickenburg’s residents live below the poverty level. (Where am I getting this information? From the U.S. Census bureau, which took its census in May 2000, after most snowbirds had gone home.) Rather than working hard to build a year-round economic base, the Town and Chamber continue to promote Wickenburg as “the west’s most western town” — while allowing developers to replace horse property with higher density housing — and attempt to attract more retirees by getting placement on “best places to retire” lists.
The Town, Chamber of Commerce, and local newspaper work together to sugar-coat everything about Wickenburg with the goal of pumping up population and property tax revenues. They ignore the basic needs of residents — good jobs and local businesses to provide goods and services. The only goal is to get the tax revenue up. They do this by imposing unreasonably high taxes on restaurants, bars, and hotels — we have the second highest BB&B tax in the state! — by building as many homes as the local Realtors can sell, and by annexing all surrounding lands, often against the will of the homeowners being annexed.
At this rate, before long, Wickenburg will be nothing more than a bedroom suburb of Phoenix, with heavy traffic going in and out of town during rush hour and throughout the day, filling the Hassayampa River Valley with the same smog that blankets Phoenix. Whatever was special about Wickenburg will no longer be special. New residents — including the snowbirds — will care less and less about the town since they spend so little time there. The downtown will become nothing more than a haven for real estate agents and mortgage brokers.
That’s a bleak future. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Only if we work together to support local businesses and attract quality employers can Wickenburg — and its businesses — thrive.