Sunday, October 25th, 2009
Well, I’m standing on a hilltop in Winslow Arizona…
No, I didn’t get the lyrics messed up. Yes, Winslow Arizona is all about The Eagles’ song “Take it Easy” that put the name “Winslow” on our collective mental maps for life, whether we like The Eagles or not (being a Maritimer, I have no say in the matter)… but I’m talking about some other guy in Winslow, up on the hill in the west end of town. This little hill apparently used to be known as “Gomez Hill” (named after the Gomez family in the area) – but soon it’s going to be “Leroy’s Hill”, if Leroy Edwards has anything to say about it.
I had stopped to photograph this beat-up RESTAURANT sign on this big tower when Leroy, the owner of the property, pulled up and said, “this side’s even better” (meaning, of course: that side was even worse). We got talking and I found out that this was a man with a plan.
Leroy bought this old restaurant property when it was really falling apart – just a shell. He’s been working on it for awhile now, and his plan is to create a Route 66 destination here. He’s actually bought a bunch of lots next to it, too – and a large tract of land behind the restaurant as well. His vision is substantial: a biker bar/restaurant with an outdoor beer garden (which is already plotted out and poured), but also places in the back where people can park overnight with showers, etc. Then there’s the gift shop, bagged lunches, kids’ activities (maybe a radio-controlled car track)… sky’s the limit with this guy. He showed me around the inside and it’s clear he’s been busy. He also has his “Steel Sled Shop” business, and he’s building his (gorgeous) custom motorcycles inside the space while he’s been planning and renovating – all this while working as a conductor for the BNSF railroad. He should be retiring in a few years, and then he’ll do nothing but focus on this new business.
Something that he told me struck me as very cool. Leroy said that at one point, he had really hit a wall in his plans, and was looking at having to throw in the towel – until another Winslow Route 66 business owner told him about this municipal code that that made everything fall into place for him. Turns out there is some code called the Route 66 Overlay – or something to that effect – that allows people to live in their commercial property while they are renovating it, if it lies along a certain proximity to Route 66. This was apparently key for Leroy, and he now lives in his space while he works on it, which allows him to afford his endeavor. If it weren’t for that code, he says, he wouldn’t be able to follow this dream.
I was so impressed to hear this. I seriously know nothing about building and municipal codes – but it seems to me that someone (or some people) in Winslow had some real vision and smarts to make it easier for entrepreneurs to create new businesses along the Route 66 corridor. Most towns simply dried up when the interstate bypassed Route 66. Winslow is no different: in spite of the Eagles’ song fame and the Route-66-must-stop Standing on the Corner Park, there are a lot of empty businesses in this place. But more people are returning to follow the storied path of Route 66 – and the more these towns can do to help create successful new businesses on the Route, the more revitalization the towns will see. I was quite encouraged by what Leroy told me. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear of other towns with similar revitalization-friendly codes in place; this is just the first I’ve heard of it. If you know of others, share ‘em up!
And I have to say: judging by his work ethic and enthusiasm for his dream, I won’t be at all surprised in a few years to see Leroy standing on a hilltop in Winslow Arizona, with such a fine sight to see…
p.s. I suspect the people in Winslow are about as sick of hearing “Take it Easy” as we are of hearing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” back home (“…born and raised in SOUTH DETROIT…” as we all like to shout in unison).
p.p.s. Contrary to how I’ve been portrayed in the US media (wow did it feel cool to type that), I was not born and raised in south Detroit – I was born and raised in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada. I have been working in Detroit for the past ten years and living across the border in Windsor, Ontario. A few of my friends chirped at me about coming across as American in the stories about this project, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to affirm my Canadianism. True north strong and free! Vive le Canada! Etc.!