Square Feet

Michelle Hotchkiss, real estate agent and mid-century fiend, has square feet and a nose for great property. Each issue she brings us her pick of properties for sale. Photos by Casey Sapio/CasaPix


Where it is:  Mitman Addition subdivision, near Speedway and Craycroft

Michelle Hotchkiss. Photo by Casey Sapio

Michelle Hotchkiss. Photo by Casey Sapio

Details: Follow this link

The damage: $229,000

How many square feet? 1613
22ndstreet2 You'll love it because: This 1959 home on a corner lot is remodeled just right, I'd say. All-out new kitchen with heavy duty restoration hardware pulls and knobs, birch wood butcher block counters, soothing blue subway tile backsplash, and new bathrooms with pretty tile jobs and well appointed sinks and vanities. There's also "Vintage Maple" flooring throughout the house, giant closets, and a great open floor plan that makes the kitchen, living room and dining area one massive free-flowing space.
22ndstreet8 Here comes the but: It's a tiny bit far from all the downtown buzz. But with so much else going for it, I'd say that's easy to live with.
For more on Michelle read her Atomic Tucson Facebook page or contact Michelle Hotchkiss, a RE/MAX Catalina Foothills Realty agent, here.

Dear Tucson...

Love Letters to Tucson logo Each issue  we link up with Rachel Miller's Love Letters to Tucson blog for a letter from a Tucson inhabitant about why they love this fair city. This month: Aquil Joel Hameed of the new Axe Capoeira studio. Photos by Rachel Miller.

aquil1 "I ended up in Tucson because of a girl.  I moved for love, but not the love of Tucson. I hated Tucson. I hated Tucson because it wasn’t Phoenix, where I had a decent job, friends, and the capoeira group I’d trained and played with for five years.

"Before I moved down here I would travel down to Tucson for a weekend to visit my girlfriend, but we weren’t exploring Tucson. We’d basically just go out to eat and relax. At the time, I hadn’t come to appreciate the weather, the fact that it’s cooler here, the proximity of Mt. Lemmon, or the friendliness of the people in Tucson

"When I first moved here I would get in my car and drive for hours. I would pick a direction and just drive around. Sometimes I would drive until I ran out of road and for a long time would get turned around and get lost. But the next day I’d do it again. At the time I didn’t have a job in my field. The economy was crashing and it made things very difficult. I took a chance quitting my job, where I had been employed for over four years, and moved to Tucson.

aquil2 "It wasn’t until I was a little more established, finished college, and started working in my field (I am an information technology manager), that I began to fall for Tucson and see what Tucson had to offer. And then in a lot of amazing and inexplicable ways, things began to come together.

"I started falling in love with Tucson when I positioned myself to begin teaching capoeira and building a group here. Capoeira [a dance and martial art developed by African slaves that brought to Brazil] had been a large part of my life in Phoenix. I trained in our Scottsdale academy for five years as part of the international Grupo Axé Capoeira organization.  When I came down to Tucson I left my friends and my social connections there behind, but I found that the capoeira culture is very rich here. People in Tucson really resonate with capoeira and the arts. While there are maybe three capoeira groups in the Phoenix area, there are five or six in Tucson, which has a fraction of the population of the metropolitan Phoenix area.

aquil3 "Another thing I love about Tucson is that it seems that so many of the people here are grounded, positive, and friendly as a whole. When I started teaching capoeira in town, I’d be at the mall, in the grocery store, or even in restaurants, and people would stop me and say, ‘You’re the capoeira guy!’ I think I got a lot of exposure early on where I first started loosely teaching classes at a local LA Fitness.  And later they’d seen our group performing at Club Crawl or Tucson Meet Yourself, but people here are friendly enough to say hi and express their appreciation for the art form I’ve come to love. I didn’t experience that in quite this way until Tucson.

"This is a love letter to Tucson, but in a lot of ways, Tucson has taught me more about giving love to others, but even more importantly about receiving love and encouragement from the good people that come into my life. And it just so happens that Tucson has a lot of love to give.

"As for the girlfriend. she moved back to Phoenix. But I love Tucson and I love the life I have here, with my son, the capoeira academy, and my work."

Rachel met Aquil at the Axé Capoeira Tucson training space Studio Axé in midtown's Broadway Village where, under the beat of the berimbau, he almost convinced her to relive her childhood by attempting a handstand. This born-and-bred Phoenix boy has leaped the Gila River and now claims Tucson as the home he loves.

* Want to check out what Axé Capoeira Tucson is all about? They will be performing at the Tucson Festival of Books on March 15. Interested in learning Capoeria? Aquil and his instructors offer beginners and advanced classes as well as kids’ classes throughout the week. Axe Capoeira is at 2928 East Broadway Blvd. Tel: 520 990 1820.

Tucson Strong

With their new clothing and luggage company, these two Tucson talents want to bring denim back where it belongs: cowboy country. By Gillian Drummond. Photos by Dave Dunmyre. (Plus: see below for an exclusive chance to hang out with the boys).


Rob Easter (left) and Smith Darby of Too Strong USA. Photo by Dave Dunmyre

As a kid, Smith Darby liked to take things apart, make things, and create things. He remembers reverse-engineering a telephone. He unwittingly put it back together wrong, and when his mother tried to answer the phone she heard a dial tone through the speaking part of the handset.

Two decades later, he would do a similar  thing with a pair of secondhand Levi 501's - meticulously taking them apart, then sewing them up again. "They turned out completely wrong," he says. But it was all part of the process of finding out how jeans are made. And, thankfully for his customers-to-be, he has gotten a lot better at it since.

Smith is one part of the two-man business that calls itself Too Strong USA. Together with his friend Rob Easter, he is set on adding one more thing to Arizona's famous 'five C's' (copper, cattle, cotton, citrus and climate): denim jeans.

In a building in central Tucson that's part home, part machine shop and a tiny part store front, Rob and Smith are their own jean genies, producing jeans, shirts, aprons and luggage in denim and leather - garments that not only honor Arizona's cowboy heritage, but bellow it from the (revitalized downtown) rooftops.

Their premise is this: why not make jeans in cowboy country, the very place that made the garment famous?


Inside the Too Strong shop. Photo by Dave Dunmyre

Many kids and teens make it their job to reject a home town - flee it for a while, before returning and realizing what they missed. Not so for Rob and Smith. Smith, 30, was born in Tucson and, save for a two-year art college stint in San Diego, has lived here all his life. Rob moved here from southern California at age three. "When I became a teenager I realized how badass Arizona is," he says, admitting to frequent after-school views of the film Tombstone and sporting a tattoo of the flag of Arizona on his right arm.


Rob models a pair of Too Strong USA jeans. Photo by Dave Dunmyre

Now 25, Rob is making his name - and much of his living - as a bartender in New York and San Francisco. But he comes back to Tucson frequently, and says he would love nothing better than to bring jobs and clothes manufacturing to his hometown. (He also plans to one day open a bar  here, but that's another story).

Too Strong's plans are grand. They want to use homegrown Pima cotton to make their denim. They want to use Arizona copper to make the rivets on their jeans. They plan a factory right here. But that's some way off. First they have to get their brand off the ground, and also secure necessary financing. "We want to have people working in here," says Rob, sitting in their downtown studio. "But we're not thinking to grow too fast. We're going slowly and just learning."

In the meantime, the duo is sourcing its denim from North Carolina, and honing its first pair of men's jeans, for production in Arizona in another month or so. They've each been wearing prototypes for many months - taking note of not only how they fit, but where the pockets and rivets are situated. For Smith, the sewer of the two, there has been a lot of designing, sewing, re-sewing, consulting (with other garment companies and with manufacturers), and "looking at people's asses". Smith admits he has had more than one curious look after being caught eyeing up the stitching and the structure of people's jeans - both on a behind and a crotch.

The two came together through friends two years ago. When Rob found out Smith was making bags out of vinyl and leather, and upholstering the interiors of cars, he discussed with him his idea for an Arizona brand of jeans. Smith had not worked with denim and knew nothing about making jeans. "I  really thought, 'Oh f***, I don't know if I want the headache'," he says. But at the same time, with itchy feet about what he was going to do next, he knew he wouldn't be able to help himself from getting involved.


Photo by Dave Dunmyre

They share a love of music (both have played in garage rock bands),  good quality, simplicity of style, and things that last. And in Smith's case, there's also a penchant for sturdy pieces of machinery with moving parts. They're already fulfilling orders for aprons and luggage  from stores in the midwest to local firms (Boxhill, one of 3 Story's sponsors, is working with them on some signature items.) Work is steady enough that Smith was able to give up his auto upholstery job a few months ago.

The jeans will be priced at around $200. Part of their mission is to persuade Tucsonans that investing in a good pair of jeans is worth it. "Once you put on a good pair of jeans you don't go back to Walmart. You're like 'I'm going to wear less but wear better'," says Rob. Hence the company name, Too Strong USA. As well as sounding like Tucson, it sums up their philosophy, they say: that their products and ethics must be rock solid.


Smith at work cutting out a pattern. Photo by Dave Dunmyre

Smith, both an artist and an "oddball handyman", had flirted with sewing, making clothes for himself while he was in a garage rock band. But it was when he joined an auto upholstery shop that he caught the bug. The two guys at the helm of the business probably had 100 years of auto upholstery experience between them, says Smith. And they used a 1950s industrial sewing machine made by Japanese firm Juki. "I was really fascinated with what I could do with it, with the material they could run in it."


One of Smith's industrial sewing machines. Photo by Dave Dunmyre

So in his lunch breaks - when he wouldn't be bugging anyone or holding anyone up - he got behind the machine and sewed. Meantime, he collected scraps of vinyl from the shop floor and went home and sewed some more. He got through several regular sewing machines before buying his own industrial one (he now owns three).

He made messenger bags, which were first given to friends, and then led to sales at street festivals and Popcycle.

"The act of sitting there is so cathartic, when you really get into that zone and all of a sudden other design ideas and solutions appear in your head," says Smith.

While Smith does the sewing and tailoring, Rob is the marketer. Rob lasted just a few weeks at the University of Arizona, before deciding he could learn more actually working. He worked as a bartender at The Melting Pot and Hub in Tucson, then headed to "brew school" in Chicago, learning about mixology and hospitality. There followed stints in bars in Brooklyn and serving the likes of Jay-Z. He also bartends special events and private parties.

One thing Rob has learned from his bartending is the art of networking.  And as a result, Too Strong is operating largely on trade and barter. Rob uses his various bartending gigs as ways to make contact with people: businesses he might learn from, individuals who might invest. A high-profile band might be given some jeans to wear, for example, and they lead their friends and acquaintances to the Too Strong USA brand.


A beer or whisky is always on hand at Too Strong. Photo by Dave Dunmyre

In tandem with Too Strong, Rob is about to launch an American whiskey brand called Workhorse Rye. His is aged in lightly toasted French oak (American whiskeys are traditionally aged in charred American oak  barrels).  "It's all organic, our fermentation time is long, and it's the only one like it,"  he says. "One of them looks like red wine, and we do encourage wine glass usage." He has been sharing his whiskey with select people, much of the time at private parties.

The  similarities between the whiskey and the jeans - two well-honed products with a long maturation -  is not lost on Rob, who says he and Smith are in no rush: "We could have already started making jeans.  But that's simply not how we work. Smith and I are in the same boat. We want to do what we want to do."

They appear to enjoy that they're on the down-low. Even their digs have an air of a speakeasy; visits are by appointment only, and they don't publicize their whereabouts.

But, just as importantly, they're enjoying themselves. For anyone who visits, there's a glass of whiskey or a beer waiting, some vinyl spinning on the turntable, usually a friend or girlfriend dropping by. Oh yes, and there's this: the whiff that something big is about to happen.

* Here's an exclusive offer for you: Too Strong USA's Rob Easter wants to give a New Year's present to Tucson. So this Friday, Saturday and Sunday (Jan 10th, 11th and 12th) he's offering to hem any jean you bring to their shop, for free. Talk nicely and you may get a taste of his whiskey too... Interested? Email info@toostrongusa.com to arrange.



We get our own back on Smith for all that "ass" watching. Photo by Dave Dunmyre

Ground Floor

brought to you by  boxhill logo

Octopus Agave_Penstemon

Octopus Agave  and Penstemon

Every issue, landscape designer Darbi Davis digs deep to bring you stories for your outdoor space. This month: spreading the desert love through plant swaps. Plus, cool product picks from Boxhill.

Darbi Davis. Photo by

Darbi Davis. Photo by

Desert gardening may seem tough at times, but one of the easy things about it is that, once native plants are grown, they're easy to share. Propagation can be a cinch, and once you've done that you can spread the love in your own yard - or pass them on to others.

Many of our succulents - native and non-native – such as, cacti, aloe, and other juicy leafed gems are easily propagated through cuttings. Other plants such as some agaves produce 'pups' - little baby plants that pop up around the parent plant or on the flower stalk. And finally, the most common method of growing plants is from seed.

plantswap2 Cuttings are literally cutting a leaf or stem of the plant, placing it in soil and waiting for roots to sprout. Cuttings from some plants such as cacti need to be left to 'heal' or callus prior to rooting in soil. This means they form a harder callus-like surface first. Crassulas, Sempervivums, and Sedums are some examples of succulents that will root from leaves, and often a spectacular shade of hot pink tentacle-like roots can be seen before you even plant them in soil.

Octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana) is a good example of a desert plant that pups from a flower stalk, while Squid agave (Agave bracteosa) pups from roots.

Seeds are probably the most common method of plant propagation and can be found in a seedpod that develops after flowering. Some are easier to germinate than others, so a bit of knowledge is sometimes required. Many vegetables, wildflowers, or other plants such as salvia, penstemon, and desert mallow make seed collecting (and propagation) easy.

Once you have mastered the art of propagation, you’ll probably feel the sudden desire for more plants, or realize your over-abundance and want to share. The logical next step is the Tucson Plant Swap.

The Swap was established three short months ago by Jon Grubbs, a non-plant professional but someone with a lot of plant-nerd friends, a general love for plants, and a lust for frugality. Says Jon: “Plants are an expensive habit, and beautify the community – so why not trade?”


A meeting of the Tucson Plant Swap. Photo courtesy of Tucson Plant Swap.

Initially, the Swap was held at Jon’s house, but has since moved to a more permanent location at The Maker House in downtown Tucson. Jon refers to it as more of “a plant pot luck.” He says: "There are no rules. You don’t have to know about plants or bring plants to attend, although common courtesy is encouraged, and greed is discouraged, i.e. don’t take a lot of one plant unless there is excess, and swap knowledge too!”



The Tucson Plant Swap's next meeting is slated for mid-February or March at the Maker House. But before you go, bear in mind these basic plant swap rules:

  1. Bring your plants in a container labeled with the name of the plant and any special growing conditions.
  2. Remember last month’s column on invasive plants? If you have a lot of one plant that seems to be growing too well, make sure it is not invasive or prone to jumping the fence! You don’t want to share that kind of love. But do share your knowledge if you notice any of our local pests at the exchange.
  3. Ponder your space before you embark on the plant swap. You want to provide a happy place for those tiny treasures to thrive, so make sure you have enough room for your new adoptees.

Justicia Californica Chuparosa

Darbi's Plant of the Month: Justicia Californica Chuparosa

If you like winter bloomers, this is one to have in your yard.  Native to the Sonoran Desert, this drought-tolerant gem has brilliant orange (or yellow) tubular flowers and succulent-like stems, and the hummingbirds find them irresistible.

What's HOT for your desert yard

Boxhill brings us its product picks of the month. This issue: a gift basket and watering can to help kickstart your 2014 garden.

Et cetera

Hacking, crafting, glass-blowing... not a bad way to kick off 2014. Here's our pick of what's on in Tucson this month and beyond.

Save the date for some local love (and visit with 3 Story too!)

contentsinteriors As you know, we're all about shopping local here at 3 Story Mag. That's why we're thrilled to be collaborating with Contents Interiors on an event that celebrates local brick and mortar stores. Save the date for Saturday February 15th, when Contents and LeeIndustries.com will host a 'Local Love' event, with a presentation about 3 Story Magazine from yours truly, and refreshments.

When: Saturday February 15th, 1 pm-3 pm

Where: Contents Interiors, 3401 E. Fort Lowell Road, Tucson 85716

More info: Call 520 881 6900 or visit www.contentsinteriors.com

Hack and Craft... and get a beer too

makerhouselogo We think Tucson's Maker House is one to watch in 2014 for its unique events. Need some time to start, work on or finish a project? Then go to the Maker House’s Open Hack and Craft Night on Wednesday evenings. Hone your crafting skills and sit back with an Arizona Craft beer.

When: Every Wednesday, 6 – 8pm.

Where: Maker House, 283 N Stone Ave

Cost: Free

More Info: More information at the Maker House website  and Facebook page

DIY fiends unite


Inside Maker House. Photo courtesy of Maker House

If you love to see how things work and want to learn how to fix them first hand, then check out Maker Houses's Fix-it Friday. Watch as something is taken apart, fixed or adjusted and reassembled. This is a great learning experience for any “do-it-yourselfer.”

When: Every Friday, 6 – 10pm.

Where: Maker House, 283 N Stone Ave

Cost: Free

More Info: More information at the Maker House website and Facebook page


Game Night with a difference

Vintage video games are all the rage at the Maker House’s Retro Game Night. Come play, test your skills and watch as games are projected on the courtyard walls. The Maker House also has as an arcade and plenty of board games. Bring friends and family for a night of competition. Win or lose, it will be a night to remember.

When: Every Thursday, 6 – 10pm.

Where: Maker House, 283 N Stone Ave

Cost: Free

More info: More information at the Maker House website and Facebook page

Bringing Sundance to Tucson

If, like most of us cash-strapped mortals, you won't be schmoozing at Sundance this year, never fear, for The Loft Cinema is bringing a bit of the indie film fest to us. Join them for one night of film and dialogue. And get your tickets quick - they sell out fast!

When: Thursday January 30th, 7 pm

Where: The Loft, 3233 E. Speedway Blvd, Tucson

Cost: $15

More info: www.loftcinema.com

Together They Thrive

It's been three years since the fateful shooting outside a Tucson supermarket, which left six people dead and several, including then Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her successor, Ron Barber, injured. This month three Pima County Public Libraries will display the materials created by members of the Tucson community after the 2011 shooting. The exhibits will each hold an opening event in the beginning of January.

When: Monday, Jan 6 at Joel Valdez Main Library, reception at noon; Wednesday, Jan 8 at Nanini Library, reception and flag-raising 10am; Thursday, Jan 9 at Eckstrom-Columbus Library, reception 5:30 pm.

Where: Nanini Library 7300 N Shannon Rd; Eckstrom-Columbus Library, 4350 E. 22nd St; and Joel D. Valdez Main Library, 101 N. Stone Ave.

Cost: Free

More Info: More information can be found on Facebook and the January 8th Memorial Foundation website.


Sculpture Festival hits a big birthday


This annual festival features locally made sculptures from artists throughout the Tucson Community. BICAS is hosting the festival in celebration of its 25th anniversary. The sculptures will be showcased and on sale for any art lover. If you are a sculptor, enter a piece of your work to be sold at the festival.

When: Saturday, Feb 1, Opening Night 6-10 pm at The Art Gallery; February 2 through February 15, The Show 11am -7pm; Saturday, Feb 15, Closing Night 6-11pm at The Sculpture Resource Center

Where: The Art Gallery, 1122 N. Stone Ave.  The Sculpture Resource Center, 640 N. Stone Ave.

Cost: $25 entrance fee for sculptors to showcase their work.

More info: For more information check out their website.

Start with Art in Bisbee

bisbee after 5 If you love art, jewelry, live entertainment, food and raffles then head to the Bisbee After 5 Gallery and Shop Walk. The “Start with Art” walk incorporates twenty-five galleries and shops along Main Street in Old Bisbee that feature a variety of beautiful works of art, furniture, ornaments, pottery and so much more. Bisbee After 5 is an art walk held on the Second Saturday of every month.

When: Saturday, Jan 11, 10am – 8pm

Where: Main Street, Bisbee, AZ 85603

Cost: Free

More info: For more information see the Bisbee After 5 website or call 432-2900

Don't blow it off

It is time for a different kind of New Year's resolution… how about glass blowing? Learn a new craft and have a blast while doing it. The Sonoran Glass Studio has a Hot Shop Class, where you can learn Italian-style furnace glass blowing. Use your new skills to make vases, bowls, ornaments and more. Try something that you have always dreamed of doing or only just realized was one of your life goals.

When: Wednesday, Jan 22. Beginning Glassblowing 10am-4pm

Where: Sonoran Glass School, 633 W. 18th St.

Cost: $120

More info: For more information go to the Sonoran Glass School website or call 884-7814

Rebirth for Toxic Ranch

For the past couple of months, Toxic Ranch Records has been preparing to permanently close their doors at the end of the year. However, the record store recently announced that instead of closing, they are relocating from their 6th Street location to a storefront on East Broadway.

toxic ranch records

Toxic Ranch Record's location on E. 6th Street. Photo courtesy of Toxic Ranch Records

The record store’s landlords, deciding to expand their own business, asked Toxic Ranch to move out of their location at 424 E. 6th St, which they have occupied for the last 22 years. Their eviction meant the end of an iconic and well-known record store in Tucson. The closing months were filled with live music and in-store shows as a last send-off.

The Tucson community supported Toxic Ranch throughout its last months, attending performances and purchasing records. With the community backing and support, Toxic Ranch Records has found a new space and is relocating to 2030 E. Broadway. The record story will be reopen on January 15th.

For more information check out Toxic Ranch Records Facebook page or website.


All power to them

Some did you know's about Tucson's Steinfeld Warehouse: it's the oldest surviving industrial warehouse in the city; it's included on the National Register of Historic Places; it's an early example of Victorian Commercial architecture; the pebble foundation is made of volcanic stone from nearby 'A' Mountain.

The Steinfeld Warehouse. Photo by Craig Bellman

The Steinfeld Warehouse. Photo by Craig Bellmann

But now, after  a  number of improvements to the building, it needs new wiring and electricity. Once the team behind its remodel has raised all the money it needs - $15,000 by the end of this month - it promises one great big party.

What: 'Power Up' campaign for Steinfeld Warehouse

Where: The warehouse is at 101 West 6th Street, Tucson

How you can help: Go to  the indiegogo page  and donate. Deadline is end of January 2014.


Pleased to Meet You

With three cheese shops opening in a matter of months, Tana Fryer is becoming a local maestro in the cheese world. Here, the proprietor of Blu, A Wine & Cheese Stop, talks food and community, artisanal shoes, and why nobody should have a lactose problem. By Joan Calcagno.


Photo by Gillian Drummond

Early bird or night owl? "Early bird – totally. I’ve always been like that. I like getting up before everyone else. I like the quiet with a cup of coffee. There’s just something about the morning. That’s where my energy is.”

Favorite accessory? "It would have to be shoes or earrings. I love the creativity of a funky pair of shoes. Something handmade, artisanal. I love CYDWOQs. They’re handmade shoes from California. They’re hard to find but not ridiculously expensive. They change everything. They make jeans and a tee-shirt look totally cool.”

Favorite faux pas? "My favorites are things that [might be a faux pas but] can be carried off anyway. Like mismatched patterns or unexpected colors - color combinations that should be off but aren’t. I see these things and think ‘l would love to do that.’ But I’d look ridiculous.”


Some of Blu's samplings.

Who is your dream customer? “Anyone planning a party or who wants to try something for the first time. It’s like being on a journey with people. When I help someone … I’m introducing them to more than the cheeses. I’m introducing them to the people and the animals that produced them. It’s a very personal, intimate thing.
“I introduce them to a process and the result of a lot of love and care, and that is a lot of fun. Like with the quantrello di bufala. People haven’t often experienced water-buffalo mozzarella cheese but they can make a connection between the traditional mozzarella to something totally new and different. And it can be paired with an olive oil and vinegar to create something amazing.”

If I weren't a cheese shop owner I would... “I would figure out another way to work with food and the community. Before I got into this, I was helping nonprofits in crisis to reimagine themselves and reclaim what they are about when facing new realities. I just needed a sabbatical from that. I had done a lot of food and retail and decided to go back to the food industry. I got a job at Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread and Wine in Chicago and went to all the American cheese Society events. I read every book I could get my hands on. It was a real intensive learning process.

“My wife and I were here in 2010, moved to Chicago in 2011, and then moved back here in 2012. When I got back, I was looking for cheeses and other things I missed and was thinking of opening a cheese shop. Through [contacts] I did an event at the Fox and the dream unfolded into the reality. In four weeks I had the certifications and commercial space and the first catering job”.

blu5 If I could change one thing I would... “No one would be lactose intolerant. Some people haven’t always been and now that they are and they miss it. I see the longing. People buy for others and tell me ‘Oooh, that looks really good.’ “

* Find voluptuous cheeses and more at Blu, inside Alfonso’s Gourmet Olive Oil and Balsamics at St. Philip’s Plaza (River and Campbell) Monday to Saturday 10 am to 6 pm and Sunday 9 am to 3 pm, and coming soon inside a new Alfonso’s at Oracle and McGee. And, after a year in the making, a new kind of Blu will open at The Mercado San Agustin later this month. The Mercado location will feature a wine bar, cheese boards, charcuterie, and gourmet sandwiches, as well as a retail shop. Keep up with Blu on their website and Facebook page.

My Space

Husband-and-wife film buffs David Sherman and Rebecca Barten are owners of 'microcinema' Exploded View, combining film, music and art. Story and photos by Gillian Drummond.


David is also a filmmaker and Rebecca is an artist.

"We've been in Arizona for ten years.  We had been teaching in California, where we met, and moved to Bisbee in 2004 to raise our son. We did an underground film festival in Bisbee for three years.

"We landed in Tucson because all of three of us really were ready for some kind of a change. Our son was needing a new school and we were looking to be somewhere where we could be more socially and culturally engaged again.

IMG_3032 "Our first microcinema was in San Francisco (where we met), where we had a derelict space. It lasted three and a half years and it ended when it needed to end. Since then we've had ongoing conversations about what's going to be the next location when the microcinema happens again.

"Part of it had to do with this space on Toole Avenue becoming available. It was a reasonable rent and it wasn't on the main drag. It was close enough to be accessible but we wouldn't have to experience crowds of drunk students every weekend.

explodedview.jpg "It took about six months to remodel - building a projection loft, painting, electricity. We wrapped wood with burlap to make acoustic panels. It seats 40 people and there's artist studio space at the back.

"We exhibit local artists, and put on bands. There are a lot of funky spaces in Tucson, which are wonderful. But we wanted this to feel like it was designed for what we're doing.

"This building was owned by the Warehouse Arts Management Organization and so we felt very at home dealing with artists as administrators of the property. There's a consciousness about what we're doing. It's not just commercial real estate to them, and getting as much money as they can. We feel like we're in a city that wants to see this happen.

"Tucson is much more of an event-based city as opposed to a retail city. There's not a huge amount of street traffic in a lot of the city. So our model is around doing events which are primarily cinema-based but also [using] music and poetry. We've had local band Catfish and Weezie doing a score to Tod Browning's silent film The Unknown. We've linked up with the University of Arizona's German studies department and LGBT Institute. People are meeting other people [through our events]. We're seeing relationships developing among different artists who are going to our shows.

"We love the fact that we're being portrayed as slightly avant-garde, but we're really covering a spectrum, not just art films. Sometimes our films are historic, sometimes very contemporary, sometimes regional.

"Our programming also tries to engage different communities in Tucson. One show might be a completely different audience from another one. This is an art project, funded by ourselves, and with grants too, from people like the Tucson Pima Arts Council.

* Exploded View Microcinema puts on events twice a week at 7.30 pm. For more info, visit the cinema's website or Facebook page. Exploded View is located at 197 E Toole Ave. Tel: 520 366 1573.

Back in the saddle

Plans are afoot to turn Rex Ranch from dude ranch to artists' colony. But as the team behind the resurrection gets an extension on its deadline, the challenge is not just financial, it's architectural. By Lee Allen.


Rex Ranch in Amado, Arizona. Photo by Sarah Lee

Sometimes it takes history to make history, which is what the Save Rex Ranch group is trying to accomplish. A diverse group of volunteers is working to buy and restore the historic Southern Arizona landmark near Tubac in the hopes of turning the former dude ranch into a cultural arts center where artists, designers, scientists, and others of creative ilk could mix and mingle in a meeting of the minds.

The project to morph the structures (built in the 1880s) into artistic residences requires passion in addition to the usual - time, labor, and money. Especially money. Up for sale with no takers over the past couple of years, the original asking price of $2 million was dropped to $735,000. And that’s when Joseph Beyer stepped in.


Joseph Beyer, the man who stepped in to save Rex Ranch. Photo by Sarah Lee

"There aren't many places like this left any more and this is exactly the kind of thing I always dreamed could happen," says Joseph, who had stayed ten years ago and made frequent trips to Southern Arizona.  "Places like this were built to accommodate people --- and that's what we want to do. We are going to find a way to make this happen,” says the director of digital initiatives for Sundance Institute.

The pressure is on; as of the first week of January only $40,850 of the $735,000 had been raised, mainly through crowd funding. Last month, the bank extended the deadline from December to February 14th.

30 Rock's Jack McBrayer is one of the project advisers.

30 Rock's Jack McBrayer is one of the project advisers. Photo by Leoine

Many of Beyer’s project collaborators and advisers include leaders of the arts in Arizona and California who know the value of having a place for creative thinkers and artists to do their thing. Among the collaborators are: singer Lee Anne Savage; Peggy Johnson, executive director of Tucson's Loft Cinema; upworthy founding curator Adam Mordecai; and 30 Rock actor Jack McBrayer.

Joseph says he will work tirelessly to repurpose the historic property, and he has described its potential as "epic". “The property has a patina of being someplace special, and it’s calling for something like this to happen --- to take a historic property of this size and complexity and turn it into something dynamic and useful,” he says.

Like a desert wildfire in the dry season, this idea has taken off. The advisory board is growing with the addition of folks such as Tucson architect Corky Poster, restoration expert David Yubeta, Native American actor Jon Proudstar, and others with interest in the arts and sciences. “We have over a hundred volunteers who want to be a part of making history. And I just learned that even though the project is still in concept stage, we’ve already received 75 applications for residency,” said Beyer.

For those who need specific numbers to define worth, the 50-acre property has 13 buildings, 22 rooms and suites, 8 casitas, and amenities like fountains, gardens, and a horse stable. “The individual buildings aren’t the special part, their interrelationship is,” says Joseph.


Rex Ranch in its heyday. Photo courtesy of Save Rex Ranch

“Some of the rooms were operating as lodging just three years ago, so there’s a lot here to work with in what we’re calling an adaptive re-use architectural project. We have some great ideas to restore the casita designed by famed Tucson architect Josias Joesler, turning it into the centerpiece of the property as a whole. We want to stabilize and preserve the 100+-year-old adobe structures. It’s not our intent to change the look and feel of the property, we’d just like to bring it off the grid in a non-disruptive fashion, adding things like solar power and internet connectivity - invisible retrofits,” says Joseph.


Photo by Sarah Lee

Los Angeles architect Anthony Laney, a volunteer adviser to the project, says some rooms are likely to be used for meetings, and short overnight stays. "I know that in the short term the dream is to simply bring back the beauty and quality of the place, to restore buildings to a level where they can be occupied and fully functional," he says.

Adds Joseph: “All ideas are on the table. That’s the great joy of this project - no restrictions, no directives - it’s fluid and dynamic and designed to be that way. There is a power and a spirit to this place that just needs some spit and polish to bring out its best.”

Architects and preservationists will play a big part in bringing back what once was. “This place is in reasonably good shape, so the preservation part, the stabilization/adaptation/reuse efforts - the physical improvements -will be the easy part,” says architectural preservationist Corky Poster of Poster Frost Mirto. “We are our own history, and the more history we can make productive, the more we can bring our heritage forward. Buildings and properties get preserved when someone figures out a contemporary use for historic sites and structures. Until someone figures out a viable rationale in today’s world, things won’t get rehabilitated (much like the 54,000-square-feet of old adobe buildings in Camp Naco that no one can figure out a use for),” he says.


Photo by Sarah Lee

Corky, currently working on a well-thought-out restoration plan for Pima County’s 5,000-acre Canoa Ranch property, says properties need to rise to their potential. “With Rex Ranch, heritage and spirit are already built into it --- it’s already there, and that’s good because you can’t create that aura.”

Adobe restorer David Yubeta is an experienced mud man who says the hand-formed earthen brick buildings on the ranch “are acting like adobe should when no eyes are on it and it suffers from neglect. We all deteriorate with age, but there aren’t a lot of things I’d worry about yet. When plaster falls off, it just looks bad, but it can be replaced. I haven’t seen anything there that was so badly lost that it made my heart sad.”


Photo by Sarah Lee

Fellow advisory board member Jon Proudstar is a Native American artist, filmmaker, and researcher who says: “Historically, Southern Arizona has been the hub of some incredible things, everything from Geronimo and Pancho Villa to Doc Holliday and Dillinger. Throughout our history, there have been seminal moments that didn’t just happen by accident. Tucson is full of brilliant human beings, mind-expanding individuals, and we’ve needed something like this to be their focal point.”

“There’s no intent to take a historic property and turn it into a modern architectural destination,” says Joseph Beyer. “We want this to be more than an art and design colony. We want creative people to come here with their creativity. There are so many things to consider, like adding an interactive sculpture exhibit to display ideas and works or a small plot to experiment with structural forms, materials, and ideas. We’re so damned excited about the variety of things that could happen here.”

Meantime, Joseph says he is hoping to negotiate a lower price.  "To date, over $40,000 has arrived in small donations.  An anonymous donor in Tucson gave us $15,000 to pay for all needed inspections and for the first time in over two years, the electricity is back on.  Although we need to raise enough to buy the place, we're going to win here with.  We wouldn't be doing this if we thought we'd fail," he says.

* For more information on the campaign to Save Rex Ranch - including how to volunteer and donate - visit the group's website or Facebook page.


Photo by Sarah Lee

Cutting edge

Vinyl records are big... yeah, we know. But how about x-ray, picnic plate and chocolate ones? We meet a Tucson newcomer who is making it his business to cut records with a difference. By Gillian Drummond.

Photo by Of Us Giants

Photo by Of Us Giants

There are certain things you just never expect to do. Like looking at a single made out of a picnic plate. Or listening to a record made out of chocolate.

But then the world of Mike Dixon and his record label, PIAPTK Recordings, and side business LatheCuts.com, is unexpected. It's also trippy and fantastical and fun.

Mike, a lifetime record lover, will cut records out of almost anything. He's cut them on X-rays and mirrors, strips of wood laminate flooring, even plastic picnic plates. He's made them see-through. He's put sprinkles of gold dust inside them for extra novelty. Most of the time, though, he sticks to squares of plexiglass (not only are square-shaped singles more of a  novelty, they're less costly for Mike). His customers? Bands who want records in very small numbers, and who don't necessarily want to make money. They're more interested in a document of their work, a souvenir of sorts. "They're people that want their music on vinyl," says Mike.


Mike Dixon at work. Photo by Whitney Ford-Terry

(And, for the record, the chocolate one only lasted one play. It trashed the needle, the record itself broke, and Mike and his pal ate it. But it was fun while it lasted, and ended up as a video on YouTube.)

In a messy room in his University area house, one where machinery shares space with packing materials, debris, and a poster of Kris Kristofferson, Mike works three lathe machines. Music is uploaded to his iPod, which is then fed into a computer that feeds into a cutter head. The sound vibrations, or electrical energy, send signals to the stylus of the cutter head and as it vibrates it cuts grooves into the record surface, moving in concentric circles towards its center.


Inside Mike's home studio. Photo by Mike Dixon

Lathe cutting records is nothing new; it's how all master cuts of records are made. What's different about Mike's company is that, instead of sending the 'master lacquer' copy to be pressed in a plant, he cuts each individual record himself.

It's laborious, lasting as long as the record lasts. But it's a process that has propelled Mike to the forefront of lathe cutting records. His might be a tiny satellite of the music industry, but this is a guy who is making his mark. Not only has he issued hundreds of records, he's developed different strands to his business. There is the record cutting business, through LatheCuts.com; a record label, PIAPTK & Soild Gold Recordings; and a mobile record cutting business, MobileVinylRecorders.com, which last year he took to the Coachella and Pitchfork music festivals.


One of Mike's records featured gold dust sealed into a see-through disc. Photo by Mike Dixon

Late last year, actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt got wind of Mike's work and asked him to cut records at a party the actor is throwing at this month's Sundance Film Festival, to launch a TV show version of HitRecord, Gordon-Levitt's collaborative film and music production project. Mike and Kris Dorr, his partner in MobileVinylRecorders.com, will cut 500 records ahead of time, and another 50 or 60 at the party itself.

This year will see  him at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. There is also talk of a possible party at the Grammys.

Mike Dixon's love of vinyl, and his penchant for country-influenced music, began in his childhood. Growing up in Texas, he would go through his parents' record collection. His dad listened to The Doors, and on the radio in his truck there was always a country music channel playing. To this day, hearing Glen Campbell, C. W. McCall and the soundtrack to Every Which Way But Loose puts Mike back in that truck and rewinds his life two and a half decades.

Then came junior high and punk rock, high school and college, and playing drums in various bands. While he was at college (he has a degree in marketing) one of those bands wanted to put their music out on vinyl. 'You had to order so many, like 300 or 400 copies," says Mike. He discovered a guy in New Zealand, Peter King, who had been doing limited run vinyl - as low as 20 records - since the 1980s.


Mike taking his mobile cutting business on the road. Photo by Caleb Condit

Mike worked with Peter King, whose credits include The Beastie Boys and Pavement. After he graduated college, Mike realized he could do a similar thing in the USA.  He still holds King in high esteem ("The guy's a genius. He's the pioneer of this type of record.")  but with years of production now under his belt, and continuous improvements, Mike believes he may be catching up. "The  better the results I got, the more I wanted better results," he explains of his quest for a better quality.

Recently, for example, he stumbled on the idea of using lighter fluid to soften the record's plastic. Lighter fluid is less messy than the turtle wax Mike had been using, and it extends a needle's life. He used to get just 10 to 15 records from one needle (bought from an experimental hobbyist in Tennessee). Now he gets 50 to 60.


A picnic plate record. Photo courtesy of Mike Dixon

"A lot of bands want their records on vinyl but can't sell hundreds of records," reasons Mike. "These are hand-made. They're  unique, rare, there are maybe only 30 of these made." In addition to novelty records, he produces high-impact packaging, using silk screening and letter pressing.

Says Tucson musician Andrew Collberg: "In a world where music releases have become pretty dull and sterile, Mike does quite the opposite. He puts out albums with the goal of making it hard for people to listen to music; cutting records to picnic plates, X-rays, odd shapes, or anything that could work. I think this forces people to give a shit, because it's gone form being just a music project into being something completely different, an art project."

Today, apart from the requisite turntable in his home office, Mike has a record turntable at close hand in the living room of his home. "I like the physical interaction that you have," he says of handling vinyl. "And I'm really into the visual stuff [that accompanies the record]. You have to go over here and open this thing up. There's the nostalgia, and the pop and crackle, and the warmth of the sound." Added to that is the pleasure of putting out quirky products; an album he issued by Tucson band Golden BooTs, on blue/black vinyl, comes with a warning: "This record has peculiar qualities". Side A has double grooves that run parallel to each other, and Side B plays from the inside out.

Ryen Eggleston, one half of Golden BooTs, describes Mike as "very driven and creative". He adds: "He offered some great ideas up to us for vinyl and we just went with it."


Photo courtesy of Mike Dixon

For his PIAPTK record label (it stands for People In A Position To Know Vinyl), he prefers to lathe cut only singles, because lathe cutting albums would take up way too much time. Albums are sent to a pressing plant. The bands are obscure, their descriptions amusing: "freak folk", "hush folk",  "psych pop" and lounge pop.  He has also issued, as lathe-cut singles, what he calls The Trust Series; customers don't know what's on the record, they just trust in Mike's taste in music.

lathecuts3 Mike not only has alt-country band Golden BooTs on his label, he manages them too. He met the band while they were on tour, playing in Olympia, Washington, where Mike and his wife Beth lived at the time. They met again a year or so later, and the next day Mike recorded them live to his 1930's wire recorder, a predecessor to reel-to-reel tape machines, which records sound onto hair-thin stainless steel wire. The recordings were later released on a 7" single with three other artists.

The friendship grew, and the band members - Ryen Eggleston and Dimitri Manos - persuaded Mike and Beth to move to Tucson last summer. He resigned his job teaching business in high school and resolved to make his living cutting and selling records.

So far, so good. Lathe Cuts has stopped taking orders; that's how busy he is. And after next week's Sundance gig, we're betting Mike and his love of vinyl spreads even further.