Traveling throughout Arizona to its smaller towns and cities, I’ve learned to allow time to explore the downtown areas. Window shopping, browsing through antique or thrift stores, visiting local attractions and relaxing in town squares have been important activities of my Arizona getaways. My visit to Safford’s historical downtown area provides another snapshot of an Arizona small town.
Safford’s central business section is attractive and well-kept, but like most historic districts, some buildings still need a facelift. The downtown includes a well-defined Main Street, rolling out to a city and county government complex and park. Side streets include many additional businesses, offices and light industrial firms. Safford’s downtown reminds me of the “Back to the Future” movie town – “Hill Valley.” Walking down Main Street, one can envision Michael J. Fox’s character hopping on a skateboard and careening over parked cars. Even the Graham County Courthouse strikes a keen resemblance to Hill Valley’s courthouse – sans the clock. I guess classic revival or neo-classic architecture style must have been popular for government buildings constructed during the early 20th century.
I was expecting to find quaint shops and eateries lining the thoroughfare, as I often have discovered in other Arizona ‘historic downtown’ districts. I found a few, but with all the historical storefronts, I really thought there would be more. Much of the street level commercial frontage seems to be undergoing renovation. Some existing businesses were simply closed on Saturdays such as professional and medical offices or business services providers. Obviously downtown Safford doesn’t exist to the whim of tourism and clearly Safford is not attempting to be the “shopping Mecca” of Arizona. Local commerce here is more about providing goods and services for its townsfolk. Granted, on this particular blustery Saturday, clouds and winds threatened monsoon rains so I didn’t spend as much time wandering the downtown as I’d hoped.
However, a few shops did manage to capture my interest — I’m really glad I took the time to browse two women’s apparel stores: Sorella’s Elite Fashions and The Wear. I find independent, locally owned clothing retailers especially appealing. Call it nostalgia, but I like the way clothing, shoes and accessories are neatly and tastefully displayed at these shops. It makes shopping extra enjoyable. Friendly customer service is a bonus. Another recommended store is Gingerbread & Co., a gift and home accessory shop. If you’re drawn to decorative knickknacks, this place is for you. Plan to spend a while here, browsing through odds and ends: frames, signs, wreaths, bookends, you name it. Let’s put this way: if you have an empty spot on a wall, table or shelf in your house, it may be filled when you return from Gingerbread & Co.
With all this walking, visitors to Safford’s historic downtown may need a ‘little pick-me-up,’ so I can recommend A Step Back in Time Coffee Shop and Deli. This was another downtown highlight. Coffee, tea, smoothies, sandwiches, pizza and breakfast dishes make up the menu. I stopped in for a late morning latte and a chat with the barista on duty. Downtown Safford is still going through some changes; storefronts are being reconstructed and renovated, I learned. Businesses are moving to larger spaces and new shops are opening. A Christmas decoration shop was preparing its new inventory during my visit.
Safford is about a three hour drive southeast of Phoenix. The trip would make a wonderful getaway for anyone wanting a kind of “country Christmas” or “downhome” autumn weekend. You could shop for unusual gifts and holiday decorations while getting acquainted (or more familiar) with one of Arizona’s more rustic county seats. (Don’t forget to pick up a few dozen tamales at one or more of those wonderful southeast Arizona Mexican restaurants.)
There were several other interesting retailers I wanted to visit, but we just ran out of time: Pollock’s Western Wear — a well-reputed western apparel and boot outfitter, and a liquor store that appears to be located in the middle of an intersection, on a traffic island, called — appropriately enough: Triangle Liquor. Those will have to wait until next time.
More reasons to visit Safford and Graham County in October: Graham County Fair is Oct. 11-14; Cowboy Poets and Music Gathering is Oct. 26-28; and Harvest Festival is Oct. 27.
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