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June 28, 2021

And now a few words about The Churchill, Phoenix, Arizona

But enough about us. Have you heard of The Churchill, Phoenix, Arizona?

You know those conversations you have sometimes; the ones you get stuck in before you realize you’re getting stuck? Maybe you’re at a party or in a hallway at work or school or on the phone, or god forbid on a plane, and you start to realize that not only haven’t you said anything in forever, but the person you’re talking to hasn’t spoken a single sentence that doesn’t have “me” or “I.”

 

We don’t want to be that person. So if all goes right for the next few minutes, this post isn’t going to be about State Forty Eight. It’s only going to be about The Churchill, Phoenix, Arizona.

 

It shouldn’t be hard for us to stick to that topic, because The Churchill — officially, The Churchill Phoenix (or The Churchill PHX) — is quite a remarkable place.

 

We gave you a few sentences about The Churchill in this space a few weeks ago when we were telling you where you can buy our Arizona merchandise in person. (We have one of our two SFE-branded retail outlets at The Churchill. The other is our headquarters in Chandler.)

 

If you’ve never experienced The Churchill, it’s going to be hard for us to get across to you what it’s like. By the dictionary definition it’s a mall, but only as far as it’s “…a retail complex containing a variety of stores and often restaurants and other business establishments housed in a series of connected or adjacent buildings or in a single large building.”

 

That doesn’t do it justice. Neither will this: If you’ve ever been to Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia, that’s sort of the same idea. Of course, the RTM is older (1893) and much, much bigger — a downtown Philly block and a half. And at peak hours it can be pretty near chaos. But it’s stayed true to its origins as “a public market.” It’s a real community center.

 

Which is what The Churchill Phoenix is, but in a different, friendlier, less chaotic way. And also you don’t have to go to the Mid-Atlantics to get there.

There are nearly 100 merchants in the Reading Terminal Market. The Churchill has 10. They could accommodate more, particularly if they packed them in like in the RTM, but they don’t. Because the merchants — like SFE — aren’t the focal point of The Churchill. We love being there, of course, but the place isn’t about us. And it isn’t about our wonderful neighbor retailers. Businesses like ours aren’t the center.

 

So what’s at the center of The Churchill, Phoenix Arizona?

A space. A big courtyard.

 

Now maybe because we used the word “mall” up there you’re thinking “food court.” And yes, there are tables and seating, and several of our Churchill neighboring businesses are in the food and beverage sector. So you can pick up something really tasty and interesting and carry it to a spot in the courtyard to enjoy.

 

But unlike a food court, where getting something to eat and finding the least sticky table to sit at is the only reason you go in that space before going back to shopping (and you probably wish there were other alternatives), the central courtyard is really the reason why The Churchill Phoenix exists. The Churchill is the courtyard. Or maybe it’s better to say the courtyard is The Churchill. Because that’s where the good gets done. And you can’t say that about a food court.

 

Here’s how The Churchill Phoenix website puts it:

 

At the heart of The Churchill is a 9,000 square foot courtyard intended for dining, drinking, socializing and learning. The space will be activated with curated speakers, art classes, fitness classes, sports viewing and pop-up artist galleries.

 

And now you’re seeing why “mall” isn’t really the right word, and why finding the right word is hard.

 

As long as we’re at it, here are four more words that make it hard: What mall have you ever visited that dedicates itself to “community, creativity, collaboration and connection”? There’s an entire page of The Churchill website dedicated to “social impact,” with up-to-date figures for:

 

  • Hours served
  • Funds donated
  • Arizona local businesses supported
  • Job opportunities created

 

And you can bet that most of the strategies for doing those good deeds were worked out around tables in that central courtyard.

 

When The Churchill opened in 2018, Hartley Rodie, one of the two founders, told The Arizona Republic that one of the primary ideas was, “… to provide something that would benefit other people.”

 

Yeah. This is a unique place.

The Churchill Phoenix is finding a purpose by repurposing

One other thing that makes The Churchill unique is its construction. And we almost decided not to bring this up because it’s too hard to explain, so if you have difficulty picturing this, do a Google image search for The Churchill, Phoenix, Arizona to see what we mean.

 

The Churchill is recycled.

 

It’s made from repurposed shipping containers; 20 of them, surrounding that big courtyard. And if that sounds like some kind of cold, bleak, industrial-looking conglomeration out of “Blade Runner” or something, well, it’s not. The AZRep called the look “interesting and different.” And Hartley said he and his co-founder, Kell Duncan, were excited to use something that would be “sitting around gathering dust” if they didn’t give it a new purpose. “You feel the love and effort that people put into it,” he told the Republic. “It’s got soul when you come here.”

 

And it does. It really does. That’s why we love having one of our homes there. It’s not about retail. It’s not about food. It’s about taking two communities — the community of local businesses and the community of shoppers-diners-collaborators-difference-makers — and providing a place where they can form another, shared community. Like they say on their site, “The Churchill Phoenix is a locally focused, community-driven gathering place.”

 

You should gather there yourself and see. It’s pretty special. Next time you’re in downtown Phoenix, go to the Roosevelt arts district and find 901 North First Street at Garfield. And please stop in and tell us hi.