Note: This blog is an installment of the LISC Phoenix monthly series, “Communities on the Line.”
The area near the Park-n-Ride lot at 19th Avenue and Camelback Road is one of the most ethnically rich, culturally diverse parts of Phoenix. It has been for decades, largely because of a large concentration of immigrants, including refugees who are part of resettlement programs.
It is one thing to find shelter. It is another thing for refugees and immigrants far removed from the life and culture they knew to earn a living that affords the coveted American dream.
But that, too, is happening in neighborhoods near the Park-n-Ride at the Valley Metro light-rail stop at 19th Avenue and Camelback Road. Organizations like the International Rescue Committee and Local First Arizona support a growing microenterprise business community among Phoenix immigrants and refugees. Many of the small businesses in the area — restaurants, a deli, barber shops, a clothing store — are owned by refugees who became U.S. citizens.
See for yourself what’s happening in the neighborhood. On May 6, the third World Bazaar and Phoenix Community Market at the Park-n-Ride lot will offer food, crafts and entertainment that reflect the cultures hidden in plain view in Phoenix. The free, family-friendly event is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Sara Scoville-Weaver, formerly Phoenix IRC microenterprise program coordinator, is a founding coordinator of the bazaar, but she said the idea came for the immigrant community. Open markets are a familiar sight in native their lands; not so much in Phoenix.
A bazaar, merchants like May Abraham told organizers, would be a helpful way to introduce their wares to the larger Phoenix community.
Abraham and her husband, Eric, own Best Farmers Market, which has been in business at the same west Phoenix location since 1999. The Iraqi immigrants found success stocking a grocery with locally grown produce of particularly interest to the area’s immigrant and refugee populations.
But May Abraham said the key to expanding their business is attracting non-immigrants to the store. The first world bazaar a year ago offered a hint of growth possibilities, she said.
“It was surprising to me how many people came and how many people didn’t know that we had these things,” Abraham said.
The first bazaar where she sold Arizona honey, her homemade salsa and guacamole and explained the markets deal on grilling carne asada on site brought a new batch of regulars.
Scoville-Weaver said the bazaar is all about the vendors. Donations and the support of organizations like LISC Phoenix help cover the costs of staging the event, including food vendor permits, generators and tables. Vendors keep all proceeds. In some cases, vendors earn their first $1 from a bazaar sale.
But the bazaar also serves other purposes. It’s a community development tool, a way to activate a part of a corridor that needs some help. It brings people on to the streets of 19th Avenue and Camelback Road, Scoville-Weaver said.
“Let’s face it, most people do not walk around there,” Scoville-Weaver said. “We know that by having more people on the streets we have a decrease in crime in the area. We know that by increasing access to businesses and getting businesses out on the street, it creates a sense of community. I mean all the stuff the LISC loves is what we want for that corner.”
Another frank assessment of the bazaar is that it’s a very public reminder of the neighborhoods’ roots and unique promise during the inevitable redevelopment along the light-rail line. The bazaar could be a precursor to a permanent ethnic market.
“We would like people to come (to 19th and Camelback) like people go to San Francisco’s Chinatown,” Scoville-Weaver said. “We want people to recognize that there are incredible businesses and incredible communities living there, and we don’t want a just whole streetscape filled with high-rise luxury apartments. There’s diversity there, there’s people, there’s culture, there’s community, there’s people who have had businesses there for 20 years. And we want people to recognize that by losing that we lose a part of our city …
“Development is going to go there, but we want it to be the right kind of development that doesn’t exclude what’s been created there. I think it would be a great loss to the city and a lot of people don’t know about it.”