Mark Krider moved to Tombstone and opened his western apparel store in February on the north side of the city’s main transportation drag, Fremont Street.
He said that, so far, “it’s been kid of slow” at his shop, Bandit & Belle, 302 E. Fremont St.
That’s not to say he’s pessimistic. While many in town see Fremont Street as a barrier between the tourist-heavy Allen Street and the rest of town, Krider said he’s hoping for a near-$1 million transportation project to bring tourism north of Fremont Street.
Arizona Route 80 becomes Fremont Street through Tombstone.
Narrowing the street to provide room for lighting, wooden boardwalks and awnings will give the highway more of the old west feel, said Steve Troncale, city councilman and city project manager for the improvement.
“Right now, we don’t really have any attractions on Fremont Street,” Troncale said. “A lot is at stake on this project.”
The project, which was awarded in 2007 and tabbed to break ground in June 2012, will narrow the street from 68 feet from each curb to 52 feet.
Delays have been caused by meeting the Arizona State Historical Preservation Office’s guidelines for the historical district. The death of two British pedestrians struck by a car in 2009 on Fremont Street also stalled the progression. Now, the city is working in a joint agreement with the Arizona Department of Transportation to both improve tourism and make the highway safe, Troncale said.
But because of the economic uncertainty of the federal government – the Federal Highway Administration is funding 95 percent of the project – Troncale is worried that the improvements might be scrapped.
“Everybody’s broke,” he said. “Right now, things look kind of grim. Just from the tone of what’s coming out of Washington and Phoenix, I think just about every program on the table is at risk.”
Kidder added, “I don’t know if this is going to happen. It’s one of those things that we just keep our fingers crossed and hope they don’t cut the funding for the project.”
Business owners definitely hope for the project to progress as planned. Some businesses on the north side of the highway have struggled to survive.
Bonnie Darlington, owner of Frontier Floral and Finery at 20 N. 4th St., said Fremont Street does split the town.
“The difference simply is because it is a highway,” she said. “When they come here as tourists, they want to see the sights. None of that happens down here. I get very few tourists down here.”
Despite the problems, Darlington said she is getting by. She sells flowers, hats, hat pins and 1880s-styled jewelry to locals. The little tourist business she does receive comes with providing flowers for weddings.
“They like to rent the costumes and dress up and look like Wyatt Earp and carry a shotgun,” she said. “But they’re all small weddings.”
Darlington said she is in her ninth year of business in the building, and like everyone else, she has been hurt by the recession. And she said a noticeable difference occurred in her business when surrounding businesses closed.
The Lamplight Room Restaurant, at the northeast corner of Fourth Street and Safford Street, closed in January 2010, Darlington said. The empty building lies next to the closed-down Tombstone Boarding House, whose billboard sign on the opposite side of Fremont Street will soon become an advertisement for Darlington’s shop.
And the Tombstone Sandwich Shoppe, owned by Maryann Cupaiuolo, which was formerly on the southwest corner of the intersection, moved to Helldorado Town after only a year in business.
“She would recommend that they come here,” Darlington said. “Now of course I don’t have that.”
At its new location, the Sandwich Shoppe is within a block’s walk from Allen Street.
Marissa Horninger, Cupaiuolo’s daughter and employee of the restaurant, said getting customers into the new location is much easier.
“Our lease was up, and we needed a better location where we thought we could do a little more business because nobody wanted to cross the highway to come eat,” she said.
However, that’s not to say businesses are shying away from building on the north side of Fremont. Krider said he likes his new location even if the the proposed Fremont Street improvements don’t happen, noting that a large parking lot on the northwest corner of Fremont Street and Fourth Street puts tourists on that side of the road anyway.
Darlington said she also likes her location because her parking lot is not filled with tourists’ vehicles. She added that delivering and transporting delicate flowers would be much harder with the heavy traffic around Allen Street.
“Yes, it has its drawbacks, but yes, it has its positive sides,” she said.
Still, Darlington wishes for more businesses to develop north of the highway.
“You better believe it,” she said. “I do wish it would happen.”
Another version of this story appeared in the Tombstone Epitaph.