PHOENIX — The Miracle Mile on McDowell Road was the most desirable area to eat, shop and walk near downtown Phoenix back in the 1940s and 1950s.
“The Miracle Mile started right around 16th Street and McDowell, from 14th to 18th. This is the place where people went to eat to be seen to shop, from the 1940s to 1957. This was the premier shopping district of Phoenix,” said Michael Kelly.
Kelly is the commercial corridor coordinator for the McDowell Miracle Mile Revitalization Project.
But Kelly says a lot has changed since the 1950s. Businesses in this corridor say they need community support to keep it afloat and revitalize what once was the favorite destination for Phoenicians.
“As Phoenix expanded, you had the new shopping malls [that] opened and so, this became farther away from where people were living and so stores started to leave,” said Kelly.
According to Kelly, in the late 1980s, Miracle Mile lost the parking spaces in front of the stores pushing business owners away. The speed limit also increased over time making it dangerous for pedestrians trying to cross the street.
“This used to be a walkable pedestrian-friendly area, you had less lanes, you had wider sidewalks.”
He says the recession in 2008 led to even more vacancies. But this didn’t deter some business owners who strongly believe in Miracle Mile’s potential.
“I would just ride my bike around as a kid, and just, again, seeing how beautiful the streets were and how beautiful the strip mall is and yet it was completely vacant. I just could not comprehend why businesses weren't running to open here,” said Alejandro Larios, the co-founder of La Bohemia coffee shop on Miracle Mile.
Larios and his business partner are part of the 50% of Latinos owning a business on Miracle Mile. There are 80 businesses along the strip mall, many of which are owned by millennials.
“What you have here is a lot of authenticity, people that have been working really hard to, you know, build their dreams,” expressed Larios.
Speaking about authenticity, Larios says their coffee comes from all over the world, but they really try to embrace their Mexican culture by adding authentic flavors to their coffee menu while adding a twist with their espresso machine and foamed milk.
“Our most popular drink is the Café de Olla latte. It's a double espresso and a choice of milk and syrup that we make that really tastes like a traditional Café de Olla, it has cinnamon, piloncillo, citrus.”
But he says people really need to try their latest drink, “It's a Mexican vanilla bean latte that we call nieve de vainilla which is vanilla ice cream latte.”
As you walk on Miracle Mile, you will find a variety of businesses, from barbershops, coffee shops, furniture stores to restaurants.
“You can experience flavors from El Salvador, or different regions of Mexico, it’s a place where neighbors and community members can come to relax, as well as support our local small businesses,” added Kelly.
And support comes in many ways as Kelly encourages people to take care of the area as they try to bring more visitors and businesses to Miracle Mile.
“We're not anti-graffiti, we're not anti-art, but we just don't want people to hurt small businesses. If you tag a window with etching that costs at least $400 to fix. These are micro-businesses,” stated Kelly.
He says they have plenty of space for those looking to express their art.
“We have a couple of prime locations that have murals, we're looking for more muralists.”
There’s no doubt Miracle Mile has many options to offer, whether it is trying the Mexican vanilla latte, tacos, pupusas, buying a new book, getting a haircut or buying a piece of art.
“It's our culture, it's our flavors, everyone is welcomed,” said Larios.
Kelly hopes the city can soon help to add pedestrian crosswalks or a bridge to make it easier for visitors to walk around. He says the city has done an evaluation of McDowell Road, and in two weeks they'll find out their recommendations to make it a slower street as well as the possibility to amend the walkable urban code.