By Joan Fudala
For over 50 years, the U.S. Small Business Administration has celebrated Small Business Week in May (this year, May 5 to May 11).
Scottsdale, however, has celebrated and supported its small businesses continuously since the 1890s. As we take a moment to salute new and long-time entrepreneurs, Scottsdale is also bidding a fond farewell to one of its most treasured small businesses, Saba’s Department Stores.
From SkySong, to downtown Scottsdale, the Scottsdale Airpark and the Pinnacle Peak and East Shea areas, Scottsdale thrives as a result of thousands of business owners and their entrepreneurial spirit.
Consider these historic small business highlights:
Although J.L. Davis was the first to open a free-standing small business here—the General Store on the southwest corner of what is now Brown Avenue and Main Street in 1897—the town’s founder/namesake Winfield Scott could be considered Scottsdale’s first entrepreneur. The Baptist minister and retired U.S. Army chaplain “re-careered” as a farmer, co-founded the area’s citrus industry (W.J. Murphy was the other citrus entrepreneur) and marketed the new town of Scottsdale as an ideal agricultural center. He ran ads in The Arizona Republican newspaper in the 1890s offering orange trees for sale, and penned articles for Arizona — the State Magazine highlighting the variety of food crops he had grown and sold on his property.
Sarah Coldwell Thomas became the first female business owner in Scottsdale when she took over the General Store from her boss Davis, circa 1902. She set a pattern for countless women-owned and -operated businesses throughout Scottsdale—including pioneer businesses such as Graves Guest Ranch, the water company, Lottie Sidell’s cottages, Mildred Barthalow’s Adobe House guest ranch, the Kiami Lodge (Muriel Oxenhandler) and many more.
From the 1890s through World War II, Scottsdale’s primary small businesses were farms, ranches or agricultural-related enterprises. In addition to the owner’s family, they often employed laborers, a zanjero (irrigation water manager), and seasonal ranch hands (cowboys) for cattle and sheep drives. These are likely the folks who provided inspiration for entrepreneur Malcolm White to create the post-war slogan, “The West’s Most Western Town.”
During Scottsdale’s first six decades of settlement, most small businesses located in the “Historic H,” an “H-shaped” area with Marshall Way to the west, Brown Avenue to the East and connected by Main Street. Only Main Street was paved until after World War II.
Scottsdale’s earliest entrepreneurs lived here, worked here, sent their children to Scottsdale schools, and helped built the farming and ranching community that Scottsdale became during its first six decades and through World War II. They branded their small businesses with their family name, thus making a connection with their neighbors and customers. Among those family-run small businesses were Cavalliere’s Blacksmith Shop, Brown’s General Store, the McComb Brothers general merchandise store, Kubelsky’s Boston Store, Mahoney’s store, Johnny Rose’s Pool Hall (and barber), Chew’s grocery, Harris & Tamm store, Hamer’s Café, Byers’ grocery, Kimsey’s Scottsdale Service Station, Lawson’s Drug Store and Hawkins Fountain Lunch.
What are often referred to today as “lone-eagle” businesses (one-person, often offering professional or skilled services) also thrived in Scottsdale’s early years. Phoenix business directories between 1909 and 1920 list E.O. Brown and Francis Frazier as real estate agents, T.H. Caldwell as a carpenter, John McDuffee and James Stout and Edward Hochstetler as operators of stages (buses) to Phoenix, Mrs. W.P. (Helen) Smith as a music teacher, Mrs. Hans Weaver as a bakery operator, Marjorie as an artist, Hans Weaver as a sanitorium operator, Mrs. Mary Donaldson as a laundress.
In the 1920s, entrepreneurs E.O. Brown, Charles Miller and William Kimsey teamed to start several businesses: the Farmers State Bank on Main Street, Scottsdale, the Scottsdale Ginning Company (cotton gin on Second Street) and Scottsdale Light and Power Company. Herron & Walker opened a combination billiards hall and barber shop on Main Street. Mahoney & Young opened a general merchandise store on Brown Avenue.
New products (like cars) and technology (such as evaporative coolers) brought new small business opportunities to Scottsdale in the 1920s and 1930s. Thomas Caldwell advertised himself as an automobile painter, Mort Kimsey operated Scottsdale Service Company (garage and gas station) and Walter Smith opened an auto dealership. The Hawkins opened the Palace of Sweets, serving ice cream now possible with electricity and refrigeration.
As the population grew, professional service businesses expanded. Directories of the 1920s listed Dr. Edwards as a dentist in Scottsdale, M. Manuel as a barber, B.L. Vanderhoof as a taxidermist, Ethel Allbritten as a seamstress, Fred Beauchamp as a well digger, Jessie Benton Evans as an artist, Kirk W. Holmes as a physician, Dick Long as an insurance agent, George Longworth as a shoe repairer, George Thomas as a plumber and several men as real estate agents.
Before the advent of year-round tourism amenities (post 1950s), Scottsdale’s population had a few small businesses that provided leisure activities. During the 1930s there were three pool halls in the small downtown area, operated by Tomas Corral, Frank Love and Guy Roberts. Merchants were the backbone of the Scottsdale Blues men’s baseball team.
Early entrepreneurs set a precedent for serving their community as well as their customers. During World War I, business owners such as Charles Miller, E.O. Brown and William Kimsey and their wives led Liberty Bond Drives. During the Great Depression, grocers often extended credit to their customers who were struggling to make ends meet. Grocer Earl Shipp promoted giving blood during the Korean War. Many gave teens their first job experience.
After World War II, many would-be entrepreneurs saw potential for operating a small business in Scottsdale. Most were legitimate and honest concerns; however, articles in the Scottsdale Progress say that the newly formed Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce would try to make sure that “gyp artists” were discouraged from operating in the town. Until Scottsdale officially incorporated as a town in June 1951, the Scottsdale Chamber—comprised of merchants, guest ranch operators, artists, professionals and other small business owners—voluntarily organized and funded events, advertising and infrastructure to serve the growing community.
Scottsdale continues to welcome small business activity today, building on the foundations established nearly 120 years ago. We lovingly preserve the historic properties of some of our business pioneers (pre-World War II), such as Cavalliere’s Blacksmith Shop, Farmer’s State Bank (now the Rusty Spur), Johnny Rose’s Pool Hall (now Mexican Imports) and Saba’s Department Store (which opened as Sterling Drug Store in 1921).
Scottsdale small businesses—past, present and future—we thank you for contributions to our economy and quality of life.