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Building Tucson Businesses: Small business hub helps revitalize a neighborhood
Building Tucson Businesses

Building Tucson Businesses: Small business hub helps revitalize a neighborhood

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A revival of properties and values in Tucson’s Iron Horse neighborhood continues to improve and contribute to the growth and experience of living in the Old Pueblo.

Situated directly between downtown Tucson and the University of Arizona campus, the neighborhood has an amazing sense of community and tradition. Iron Horse provides an urban feel, and locals can walk just about anywhere they need to go within the neighborhood.

Last year, I told you about John Orcutt and his revival of The Station, a student housing complex located in The Iron Horse neighborhood. Orcutt’s upgrade of that property makes it one of the more desirable residences for UA students.

Todd Rothrock and his wife Chello Chavez are another Iron Horse revival story. They own a commercial complex located at Third Avenue and Ninth Street. What makes this property interesting is the mix of tenants and the way they contribute to the neighborhood.

Matt Mann is a perfect example. Coming out of New England, Mann brings to Tucson an interesting blend of artisan and businessman. The artist side of his personality manifests itself in creative and custom tile designs and woodwork. The business side of Mann is in the marketing, design and branding arenas, focused on delivering large agency services to the smaller business community, at a reasonable price.

Imagery counts in branding. Mann works to help his clients stand out in an image-centric world. His artisan talents help build winning campaigns for his business clients. The Nike Swoosh, Apple’s apple — the image immediately imprints the product and the company. This is the level of distinctiveness that Mann strives to deliver to his clients.

Mann’s clients illustrate how he is giving back to Tucson. They are small businesses, many in the neighborhood, where marketing is often the third of seven or eight hats the owner puts on, when needed. Mann partners with these folks, taking the marketing hat off of the owner’s head. He is a figurative partner, not a contractor. Mann selects his clients as much as they select him.

Ben Olmstead is another example of a tenant who mixes artistry and business, and gives back to Tucson and the Iron Horse neighborhood. Olmstead is an artist and sculptor. He does both public and private engagements. Some of his work can be found in Reid Park, and with collaborator Simon Donovan, at eight of the 23 stops on the Sun Link streetcar route.

Olmstead shares the workshop behind Mann’s studio with Jason Gallo. Gallo is a local architect who specializes in hand-crafted designs, giving his clients a very customized, one-off feel for each project.

John Christian is a specialist in custom designed and laser cut metal works. After 33 years at Raytheon, Christian now applies his support engineering expertise in much more artistic directions. The artist in him lays out the innovative designs; the engineer in him measures and programs the CNC laser machine; the businessman in him sells the work, either custom order or off the shelf.

Todd and Chris Road are Iron Horse Fabricators. They are metal fabricators and artistic designers. Their unique and innovative approach can be applied to furniture, sculptures, metal design fixtures and whatever material design concepts clients can imagine.

Chello Chavez does mosaic artwork. She has both retail and a workshop facility housed in the building. She makes custom pieces in her shop, and if you become motivated, Chavez also teaches classes about six times per year.

Fronting the building, right on the corner of Third Avenue and Ninth Street, will be the third location for Presta Coffee Roasters. Founded right here in Tucson in 2014, owner Curtis Zimmerman is rapidly growing Presta into one of the boutique coffee house destinations in town.

Collectively, the tenants contribute to the community feel of the neighborhood. Located one block from Fourth Avenue, they regularly host the Fourth Avenue Merchants Association meetings and Iron Horse neighborhood meetings. On semiregular Friday or Saturday evenings Todd and Chris Road clear their shop floor and host neighborhood parties with food, beverages and bands.

All of the tenants here are small businesses helping each other grow. There are no starving artists here. Rather, these are businesses that are expanding. That expansion fuels the Iron Horse neighborhood, other small businesses throughout Tucson, and the Tucson economy.

Ken Cook is the co-founder of How to Who, a program on how to build strong relationships and how to build business through those relationships. Learn more at

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