Downtown Mesa resurfaces with new businesses and restaurants

Since its founding in 1878, Mesa has had its ups and downs. Now more and more empty storefronts are starting to fill up.

MESA, Arizona — Downtown Mesa has gone through decades of change. From population booms to recession years.

Now Downtown Mesa is back as a hotspot for new businesses and entities to settle.

Looking back

To revisit the history of downtown Mesa, you need to get off at the Mesa Main Library branch. Conveniently, it’s just north of Main Street Downtown.

“These are pretty cool,” said Sarah Moorhead, browsing through plastic-wrapped postcards kept in the library’s Mesa room. “And these are quite old. Well, a little old.

Moorhead now volunteers at the library after retiring as Mesa Room Coordinator.

The hall houses the history of the town, and Moorhead itself keeps much of the history in its own brain.

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

Moorhead can tell you how the town was founded in 1878. How Main Street was just a dirt road. It would join the center of the city at MacDonald. New additions added like El Portal, an upscale hotel completed just before the Great Depression.

With a little research, she can also tell you how, at one time 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, he’d sort of fall over, I guess. And they’re off,” Moorhead said.

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

Its population has doubled or nearly doubled almost every decade since then until a slowdown in 2010.

Photos and postcards shared by Moorhead show a bustling Mesa, with brightly colored cars lining Main Street.

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

It is a change in which the family of Michel Fluhr has been at the forefront.

Fluhr now runs his father’s boutique, Pomeroy’s Mens Store.

His father, Wayne Pomeroy, was at one time the mayor of Mesa, in addition to having held other offices during his life in the city.

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

“It’s always been family businesses in downtown Mesa,” Fluhr said. “But now I see a change.”

Boom Bust

Fluhr’s family has watched the rise and fall of downtown over the years since the Pomeroy Building first stood on Main Street in 1891.

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

Fluhr believes it was the light rail that arrived in 2008, literally built in the center of Main Street, that affected the city’s pedestrian business district.

“A lot of that transition happened with this light rail,” Fluhr said. “It almost shut down downtown.”

2008 was also the year the country experienced the Great Recession, and population growth also stagnated.

“It was tough, it was hard to see,” Fluhr said. “And they were struggling to fill in the blanks.”

These empty spaces are now starting to fill up, with new restaurants, cafes, businesses and breweries.

This shift, Fluhr said, has happened over the past few years.

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

Empty spaces fill up

As you walk down Main Street in downtown Mesa, there’s construction, new places popping up in old storefronts, and more people walking on Saturday mornings than before.

One of the empty spaces vacated by Peterson’s old gas station will soon be occupied by the Pedal Haus brewery in nearby Tempe.

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

Wright said their new location will open in downtown Mesa later in 2022.

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

Arizona State University is completing construction of a new campus near Centennial Way and Pepper Place, northeast of Main Street and Center. It will house ASU’s Sidney Poitier New American Film School, programs within the Herberger Institute 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 that’s the life she sees coming back to Mesa.

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

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David H. Henry