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From bust to boom: Downtown Mesa reenergized with new businesses, restaurants and more

Since its founding in 1878, Mesa has seen booms and busts. Now, more once-empty storefronts are starting to fill up.

MESA, Ariz. — Downtown Mesa has gone through decades of changes. From booms in population to years of recession.

Now, Downtown Mesa is back as a hot spot for new businesses and entities to make their home.  

Looking back

To look back at Downtown Mesa’s history, you have to go downstairs to Mesa’s Main Library branch. Conveniently, it’s just north of Main Street Downtown.

“These are pretty cool,” Sarah Moorhead said, going through postcards wrapped in plastic, preserved in the library’s Mesa Room. “And these are pretty old. Well, sort of old.”

Moorhead is now a volunteer with the library after she retired as the Mesa Room Coordinator.

The room houses history of the City, and Moorhead herself, keeps much of the history in her own brain.

“I’ve always loved history,” Moorhead said.

Moorhead can tell you how the city was founded in 1878. How Main Street used to be just a dirt road. It would meet the center of the city at MacDonald. The new additions added like El Portal, an upscale hotel finished right before The Great Depression.

With a bit of research she can tell you too, how at one point in Mesa’s history, bars weren’t allowed to have stools. That’s when workers were building the Roosevelt Dam

“So somebody got really drunk, they would kind of fall over, I guess. And out they go,” Moorhead said.

But since its founding by Mormons in the late 1800s, Mesa has grown dramatically.

Its population doubled or almost doubled nearly every decade since then until slowing in 2010.

The photos and postcards Moorhead shares show a bustling Mesa, complete with vibrant colored cars lining Main Street.

“You know, there’s always change,” Moorhead said.

It’s a change that Michel Fluhr’s family has had a front-row seat to.

Fluhr runs her father’s shop, Pomeroy’s Mens Store, now.

Her father, Wayne Pomeroy, was at one time the Mayor of Mesa, in addition to serving in other capacities over his life in the city.

Pomeroy’s great-grandfather was also one of Mesa’s founders.

“It’s always kind of been mom-and-pop businesses in Downtown Mesa,” Fluhr said. “But now I’m seeing a shift.”

Bust to boom

Fluhr’s family has watched the Downtown boom and bust over the years since the Pomeroy’s building first stood on Main Street in 1891.

“Downtown Mesa, it kind of went through a time where things were so quiet, and it made us all a little nervous,” Fluhr said.

Fluhr believes it was the light rail that came to Mesa in 2008 and was later built down the center of Main Street, that affected the city’s walkable business area.

“A lot of that transition happened with that light rail,” Fluhr said. “It almost stopped Downtown.”

It was also in 2008 that the country experienced The Great Recession, and population growth stalled too.

“It was hard, it was hard to see,” Fluhr said. “And they were having a hard time filling the empty spaces.”

Those empty spaces are now starting to fill up, with new restaurants, coffee shops, businesses, and breweries.

That change, Fluhr said has come in the last few years.

“I do think Mayor Giles, he loves our city. And I do think he saw that we needed to build up Downtown Mesa. I do think he's a big part of it,” Fluhr said.

Empty spaces filling up 

Walking down Main Street in Downtown Mesa now, there’s construction, new places popping into old storefronts, and more people walking on a Saturday morning than before.

One of the empty spaces vacated by the once-staple of Peterson’s Gas Station is soon to be filled by Pedal Haus Brewery from neighboring Tempe.

“We think Mesa is a really cool historic Downtown that’s about to pop,” Julian Wright, CEO and Founder of Pedal Haus Brewery said.

Wright said their new location will be opening up in the City of Mesa’s center later in 2022.

“Downtown Mesa used to be pretty vibrant, and I think it’s coming back,” Wright said. “Especially with the addition of the ASU film school.”

Arizona State University is finishing up a new campus near Centennial Way and Pepper Place, northeast of Main Street and Center. It’ll house ASU’s Sidney Poitier New American Film School, programs within the Herberger Insititute for Design and the Arts, and the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

Between ASU’s additions, new businesses, restaurants and older additions like the Mesa Arts Center, Fluhr said it’s life she’s seeing coming back to Mesa.

“I think all of that now has brought this new energy that we maybe didn't have in the past. We kind of lost that. But it's coming back,” Fluhr said.

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