NYC transplant lends roots, connections to downtown

fourth annual Pie Social (Annika Cline/DD)
Cindy Dach co-founded the Roosevelt Row Community Development Corporation after realizing that downtown lacked a formal community development voice. (Annika Cline/DD)

Some might call Cindy Dach “the Pie Social lady.” Others might think of her as a co-founder of Roosevelt Row Community Development Corporation. Tempe residents may know her as the co-owner of Changing Hands Bookstore, while downtown Phoenix residents may associate her with the Eye Lounge art gallery, which she owns with her husband, Greg Esser.

This pie-loving, art-selling, event-planning, story-writing Phoenician can be tough to keep up with. On Saturday, Dach was running her favorite event of the year – Pie Social, an annual community gathering of pie tasting in the Ro2 lot pop-up park on Roosevelt and Second streets. Dach said 700 people stopped by the fourth annual get-together, a jump from 400 last year and about 100 in its inaugural year, in 2010.

This is a far cry from the Roosevelt Row that greeted Dach and Esser when they moved to Phoenix in 1995. Esser said even when they opened Eye Lounge in 2000, events like First Friday existed but were still pretty quiet.

“When we had our first exhibit at Eye Lounge, we were thrilled to bring 100 people into downtown after dark,” Esser said.

Dach and Esser lived in Denver, Colo. before the move south, where Dach received her master’s degree in creative writing. For someone who grew up and worked in New York City, the Phoenix of the mid-90s was a shock for Dach; in fact, it almost scared her away.

“When we first arrived, Greg and I wouldn’t even renew our car registration for two years because we didn’t think we were staying that long, so we’d only do the one year renewal,” Dach said. But the memory now makes her laugh, because the exact opposite happened.

Dach said since there wasn’t much to do downtown, she and Esser decided to create something to do.

A few years after opening Eye Lounge, they bought and renovated a house on Sixth and Garfield streets, just a block away from the art gallery. This was Sixth Street Studios at the time, but the building now houses The Roose Parlour and Spa, 1Spot Gallery and The Drive-Thru Gallery. Dach opened her own boutique in 2005 directly next to Eye Lounge within the same building space, called Made art boutique. She and Esser then co-founded the Roosevelt Row CDC with other members of the niche arts community in 2007.

Roosevelt Row CDC advocates for the arts and small businesses in the area. Meghan Olesen, who was born and raised in Phoenix, came on board as the organization’s event manager about one year ago. She said anyone meeting Cindy for the first time should know she is dedicated to the Roosevelt Row area.

“It’s unusual to find someone non-native who is this passionate about the city,” Olesen said.

Dorina Bustamante, downtown community developer and innovator of the Ro2 lot, said she has been impressed by Dach ever since she met her about a decade ago.

“She’s extremely strong, very intuitive and the kind of lady that just doesn’t mess around,” Bustamante said. “I was a little bit intimidated by her the first time I met her because I thought, ‘Wow, she really knows her stuff.’”

Bustamante said Dach is “not afraid to go to City Hall and tell them what our wish list is,” because she knows about the policy side of organizing events in public spaces. Dach even advised Bustamante on the activation of the Ro2 lot. Bustamante described Dach as a bridge between different types of people, because Dach herself wears many different hats.

“She has created a harmony within the community between businesses and artists, and residents and patrons,” Bustamante said.

Dach ascribes part of her involvement to her personality, and said her family members tell her she has always been like this. She was an involved student in school, whether in sports or yearbook. But Phoenix is the first place where Dach truly became involved in the community.

“I grew up in New York, and there wasn’t a lot to fix. It was somewhat perfect,” Dach said. However, the city was expensive; Dach said today Phoenix provides a good balance between affordability and availability of events.

Although very different from New York, downtown Phoenix provided Dach with an opportunity to create the kind of community she wanted to live in – a walkable, interactive one.

“You find out what’s important to you and you build your life around that,” Dach said. “Walking in a community has become so important to me and I’ve been able to build a life here.”

But, Dach said, you should “be careful what you wish for.”

Dach is now happy on the rare night that she gets to stay in. Esser agrees, but said they are proud of how far downtown Phoenix has come. Ten years ago, he said, there wasn’t even a nightlife to stay home from.

Dach no longer has plans to leave Phoenix any time soon, and she has more big projects coming up. Changing Hands Bookstore will open a second location in Phoenix in early 2014, which will include a beer and wine bar. Then perhaps Dach can tackle a different kind of project she has always wanted to do – learn how to draw.

Contact the reporter at ascline1@asu.edu

Correction: Nov. 20, 2013

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Sixth Street Studios became the GROWop Building. It now houses The Roose Parlour and Spa, 1Spot Gallery and The Drive-Thru Gallery. Dach and Esser also repaired the current GROWop building, located on the same street.