Craft store owner and property revitalist breathes life into lower Grand Avenue

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Store owner Beatrice Moore stands in the doorway of Kooky Krafts Shop. Moore has lived in, purchased and renovated buildings on lower Grand Avenue for more than 20 years. (Photo courtesy of Lauren Jordan)

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“I remember the first time I ever saw Beatrice,” said longtime friend, Bob Adams. “I think she was carrying an umbrella, and she was wearing this vintage clothing with dark glasses and dark hair.”

His eyes squinted behind his spectacles as he reminisced about the woman he saw on the street nearly 25 years ago. She was walking her dog outside of her live-in art studio, the converted La Amapola Bar in the warehouse district of downtown Phoenix.

“She looked like a movie starlet,” he said, chuckling. “And I just thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I have got to know that person.'”

With her bohemian-style, orange dress flowing behind her, the same suspected “movie starlet” approached the door of her shop on the corner of Grand Avenue and Roosevelt Street. The stenciled sign above her head read “Kooky Krafts Shop” in colorful, blocked letters.

If Grand Avenue were a street on the Monopoly board, Beatrice Moore would be its owner. But instead of identical, characterless little red and green plastic houses lining the roadway, each unique structure has an interesting story to tell, just like the woman behind their preservation.

When Moore first moved to the Valley in 1986 with her life partner and fellow artist, Tony Zahn, she looked at the run-down, sometimes condemned buildings as a canvas.

“There were buildings that were kind of languishing that nobody seemed to care about very much,” she said. “I wanted to preserve the interesting architecture and the history of this neighborhood.”

In stark contrast with some of the adjacent dilapidated buildings, her quirky, colorful street corner store is just one of eight self-renovated spaces along lower Grand Avenue owned by Moore and her partner.

The duo started buying property on the street upon realizing the nature of the city’s planning tactics, which they believed to be culturally destructive. Today, they rent these spaces to 22 different tenants who utilize the buildings for art studios or small businesses.

“I never came to this neighborhood wanting to make an imprint, or create an arts district here,” she said.

Her most recent project, refurbishing an old pie factory into a space for art exhibits and public gatherings, proved successful when the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Bragg’s Pie Factory proved to be an extremely costly endeavor that included making expensive repairs to meet current building codes and disabled persons accessibility requirements that virtually bankrupted the couple.

“It was kind of the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Moore remarked.

Moore said she is tired of seeing the city transform from a walkable, more small-scale metropolitan area to “mega blocks with lots of concrete.”

When the city made plans to construct the Sun’s basketball arena in 1991, Moore and Zahn were forced to relocate from their small artist enclave in the warehouse district, despite her last-ditch efforts to “hijack” the mayor and planning committee for a guided tour of the neighborhood.

“We were introduced to the politics pretty early on, and it’s been an uphill battle since,” Moore said. “This city has some really archaic laws and regulations that hurt small businesses a lot.”

Moore is hopeful that Mayor Stanton will bring a new mentality to city planning.

During a panel on the ASU Downtown campus, Stanton addressed Moore’s concerns.

“This is a living, breathing neighborhood,” he said in reference to downtown. “My strategy relative to economic development is more to service the existing businesses and good things will happen.”

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A native of Dallas, Texas, Moore and her family moved to Mexico City when her father, then vice president of the Dixie Wax Paper Company, was relocated for work.

When her parents separated, she moved back to Texas with her mother and two sisters, but she would make many trips south of the border, usually hitchhiking for months at a time with her dog.

“Back then it just seemed a lot safer,” Moore said, acknowledging her naivete.

Moore learned how to speak Spanish and garnered an appreciation for Hispanic art and folklore throughout her travels.

“A lot of people thought I was Mexican while I was there,” she said. Moore had a dark complexion as a result of extended hours in the sun. “I was staying on the beach and wearing the same clothes that would get stained with campfire smoke.”

During one of her later jaunts, Moore contracted Hepatitis. It was misdiagnosed until a doctor in a small village recognized her rapidly worsening symptoms, including yellow eyes.

Unable to bring her dog on a bus back to the States, Moore hitchhiked all the way to San Diego from Baja California.

“I just wanted to get home,” she said. She stayed at a halfway house until her mom sent funds for her return to Dallas.

“My time in Mexico definitely influenced my art,” she said. “It’s very colorful, and there’s a lot of ritualistic celebrations down there where they use a lot of masks.”

Moore moved to Moscow, Idaho, in her mid-twenties, where she learned to “give back to the land.” Raising goats and sheep, she used wool and natural dyes to make fiber art.

While in Idaho, she fell in love.

Moore met Zahn at a themed party thrown by one of his professors at the University of Idaho. Zahn was pale, sporting a dyed black Mohawk and a black woman’s slip.

“I thought, ‘Oh, he’s gay, he’s safe,’” Moore said, snickering while detailing Zahn’s attempt to dance with her at the party. But after subsequent requests for dates, she realized he wasn’t.

Never married, the couple has been together for 30 years. Moore and Zahn said they do not believe in the concept of marriage.

“We both think if you have a commitment to someone, you either work it out or you don’t,” she said matter-of-factly. “I am kind of a rebel. The institution doesn’t mean anything to me, personally.”

The pair spent two years traveling across Europe, staying in Germany and Spain for extended periods of time before settling down in Phoenix.

***

The skyscrapers downtown glistened in the setting sun as Moore unlocked the door of her shop. Cars zipped through the six-way intersection behind her in rush hour traffic.

Grand Avenue used to be a busy downtown throughway. When the street was bypassed by the construction of Interstate 10, the overall livelihood drastically changed. Industrial businesses sprung up and small shops, boutiques and restaurants were forced to close due to a lack of traffic.

“I remember when Grand Avenue was the place to be,” said Josh Collins, between gulps from his pitcher of Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Collins has been coming to the Bikini Lounge, an iconic dive bar that occupies a space owned by Moore, since he moved to the neighborhood 20 years ago.

“She’s an old hippie,” he joked with a raucous throaty laugh.

Collins stroked his long, white beard staring at the nearly empty drink in his hand. “But she is the leader of restoration and I respect her very much for that,” he said.

Inside her craft store, Moore rearranged a plush stuffed frog to keep watch over the shop from the front of the room. The frog was perched in an abandoned shopping cart alongside an armada of teddy bears.

She waltzed through the aisles of her fantasy land. Her purple socks and sandals shuffled through the handmade creations delicately placed on shelves, strewn about in baskets and draped from the ceiling. The entire store was a blend of vibrant color.

Moore said the street has a history of prostitution, crack houses, public intoxication and car theft. She said she has witnessed gang shootings and once had a stray bullet end up in her kitchen.

“I am so thankful neither of us were in there when it happened,” she said. “It is part of being in a neighborhood like this, but it takes a toll on you, it really does.”

Despite the daily challenges, Moore stands strong.

“She definitely is not meek,” Adams said recounting an instance where Moore accosted a drug dealer, unarmed, telling him to get out.

“Her commitment to Grand isn’t just an artistic commitment, it’s a social commitment,” he said. “She is really trying to establish a livable neighborhood, not just for herself, but for all of the people around her.”

Adams said Moore saw the arts as important not just for their visual appeal, but for their ability to change a community.

“She made Grand happen,” he said. “She is under the radar, but in many ways responsible for the arts district.”

Adams and Moore have worked together on several artistic endeavors throughout the years. A few of Adams’ pieces are featured in Moore’s craft store. He somewhat abashedly took responsibility for the display of erotic dolls in the back corner under an “adult content” sign.

“I have always found dolls fascinating,” Adams said. “Maybe it’s sort of a God complex, but I liked the idea that you can build this thing with different doll parts.”

Moore started a Stop n’ Look window art gallery, where she would offer artists stipends for displaying their work on a streetside window. One of her favorites, she said, was a mutant piñata display she worked on with Adams, which has since turned into an annual competition of off-the-wall, handcrafted paper-mache piñatas.

“Selling or not selling does not determine what she makes,” Adams said. “She is gonna make what she loves and won’t be shaped by what someone says the social norms are.”

While Moore has already been successful, her work isn’t over yet.

“The problem with some of these projects is that you do it, and then people expect you to keep doing it,” she said, shrugging. “I started it because it was fun, but then it becomes this expectation.”

This undying expectation and constant battling with the city have become quite taxing for just one individual.

“I am tired,” Moore said. “I’m at the age where I could start some big hoopla project, but I don’t want to. It takes a lot of time and it takes a lot of energy to do these things.”

Moore hopes to find an incumbent changemaker with a track record of success to take over some of her efforts.

“If I had my druthers, I’d just be in my studio,” Moore said. “I want to just putter around and I just want to make things.”

Adams professed his sincere gratitude for the work his friend has done.

“What I love about Beatrice is that she is frustrated, she is tired, but she is not jaded,” Adams said. “She manages to maintain an idealism of what can be done. That’s really her strength, that she doesn’t let herself stop believing that she can change something.”

Contact the reporter at jsfrakes@asu.edu