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North Fourth Avenue has seen a lot of Tucson's history
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North Fourth Avenue has seen a lot of Tucson's history

The windows at Bison Witches, 326 N. Fourth Ave., boast several small beer and drink signs, lighting up the sidewalks and part of the city’s neon culture. Many establishments have come and gone through North Fourth Avenue.

Stroll along North Fourth Avenue and you’ll find yourself popping into restaurants, bars, gift shops and art galleries.

The avenue’s business district, which runs roughly from East Ninth Street to East University Boulevard, has long been considered one of the city’s primary entertainment hubs.

But many of the buildings that line North Fourth have housed a wide range of businesses going back to the early part of the 20th century.

From the late 1960s to the mid-1970s, around the time that the Fourth Avenue Winter Street Fair was getting started, the area was earning a reputation as being the center of Tucson’s counter-culture movement, according to Phyllis Woods, a local jewelry artist. Woods owned a shop called Grasshopper on North Fourth at the time and served as the president of the Fourth Avenue Merchants Association.

“It was a very vibrant place,” said Woods, who now works out of an artist space downtown. “We had some really interesting, small stores run by individuals who had a lot of creative spark. There were panhandlers and hippies dressed in full hippie attire. It was an active street.”

As some of the avenue’s buildings come down to make way for mixed-used apartments and student housing — part of the continuing evolution of North Fourth, we look back at the history behind some of the structures still standing.

The Book Stop – 214 N. Fourth Ave.

The Book Stop moved to 214 N. Fourth Ave. from North Campbell Avenue, near Grant Road, in 2007. It had been on Campbell for 40 years up to that point.

Before the Book Stop, the location was home to the Drawing Studio. The space was also part of the Western Drapery Service for 28 years and for one year was the home of Smaug’s Mountain, a Hobbit-inspired coffee house, owned by a J.R.R. Tolkien fan.

Two different laundry companies used the space — U-Do Laundry was there for more than 20 years.

One of the first businesses at the address was Arizona Frozen Products Co., makers of the Alaska Suckers, a frozen fruit or ice cream concoction on a stick.

Tucson Thrift Shop/The Other Side – 319/321 N. Fourth Ave.

These two properties, selling vintage clothing, accessories and costumes toward the south end of North Fourth Avenue, have had many lives between them.

Over the decades, the building that houses the Tucson Thrift Shop has been an upholstery company (1923), a hardware store (1930-32), and a rummage shop for the Arizona Children’s Home (1958-1965).

One of the earliest incarnations of The Other Side property was the Chaffin-Owen Furniture Company in the early 1930s, whose slogan read “From the cheapest that’s good to the best that’s made.”

The space served as several bars through the 1970s, and ’80s, with names like Tumbleweeds Tavern, the Backstage Tavern and the Sugar Mountain Lodge, which was open for roughly two years, and hosted the occasional amateur boxing match for charity.

Bison Witches – 326 N. Fourth Ave.

Bison Witches, the popular sandwich shop that has been a staple of North Fourth Avenue cuisine since 1995, is located in a building with a long history.

In the 1920s, it served as a radio shop, but before that was the Washer Wilson Store, which sold “the finest in electric appliances.”

In 1923, Washer Wilson gave away “big fat turkeys” for every washing machine picked up before Thanksgiving and a pound of candy with any vacuum cleaner or sewing machine purchase. It relocated to 221 E. Congress in 1924.

The space at 326 N. Fourth was also home to a cigar shop, several laundry services and a jewelry gallery in the 1980s.

& Gallery – 419 N. Fourth Ave.

& Gallery occupies the space at 419 N. Fourth Ave., along with the graphic design agency Eat Sleep Work, Tucson.

Before & Gallery, Mabel’s on Fourth, a kitchen boutique, and How Sweet It Was, a vintage clothing shop, made its home at this address.

From 1968 through 1985, and possibly as early as 1965, the location was home to printers and publishers. Carpets, furniture and musical instruments were sold at the space for many years after the Northside Billiard Hall moved out in 1938.

One of the first companies to call the space home was the Piggly Wiggly #2; #1 was at 119 E. Congress St. from 1922 to 1927.

In February 1927, Piggly Wiggly #2 closed its doors for a couple of days and reopened across the street at 424 N. Fourth Ave., where the Surly Wench Pub is now.

Reporters Gerald M. Gay and Johanna Eubank contributed to this story.

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