Failed Dreams: A Look Back at Defunct Businesses of Phoenix, Arizona

Jan 1, 2009

Defunct Businesses of Phoenix, ArizonaPreviously, I wrote about businesses in Phoenix that have fallen on hard times or are currently going out of business. Today, I'd like to revisit some of Arizona's former businesses that have gone under in their own time.

While not all of these businesses were Arizona based, many of them were well established here and were a familiar sight for locals. See how many of these names ring a bell:

ABCO Desert Market
Spin-off division of Alpha Beta Co. supermarkets started in 1986
Shortened name to ABCO, then ABCO Desert Market
Chain grew to 56 stores by 2000, sold off to other companies by 2001
Known for prominent desert decor and variety of Southwestern foods

America West Airlines

Founded in 1981, grew to 133 aircraft by 2006
Purchased and renamed US Airways in 2007
Hometown commercial airline


Grew to 59 branches in AZ by 1993 when purchased by Norwest Bank
Norwest Bank merged with Wells Fargo in 1998
Was the 4th largest banking company in Arizona in 1988


Founded in 1984, Had 5 Arizona locations
Closed 126 stores in 2007
Big box computer and electronics retailer


Grew to 4 Phoenix area stores by 2005
Owners Chuck and April Umbarger retired and closed all 4 stores in 2005
Locally admired craft and hobby supply store

Dimension Cable LogoDimension Cable
Was the valley's largest cable provider from the 1970's to the 1990's
Was the largest cable system in the country by 1991
Parent company Times Mirror merged with Cox Communications in 1994
Provided cable television services to Phoenix area

Drug Emporium

Founded in 1977, grew to 235 stores nationwide by 1994
Closed 9 AZ locations in 1998 due to Chapter 11 bankruptcy
First major chain of "deep discount" drug stores


Founded in 1989, expanded to 300 locations in 30 states by 1997
Closed all 8 Arizona restaurants in September 2008
Fast-casual Italian dining was initially an explosive franchise

First Interstate Bank of Arizona

Founded in 1877 in Prescott
Grew to 158 branches in 13 states by 1995
Purchased by Wells Fargo in 1996
Was Arizona's oldest bank


Established in 1973, had 7 Arizona locations (9 total)
Stores sold to JW Robinson's, later renamed Robinson's-May, later renamed Macy's
Phoenix-based department store chain founded by Senator Goldwater's grandfather

Incredible Universe

Founded in 1992, had 1 Arizona location in Tempe
Sold to Fry's Electronics in 1996
Themed electronics retailer operated a massive 185,000 sq ft store

Krispy Kreme

 Founded in 1937, grew to 310 stores by 2006 (including 8 in AZ)
All 8 AZ stores closed abruptly due to bankruptcy in 2006
Famous for hot glazed donuts, one AZ store reopened in 2008

Miller's Outpost

Founded in 1947 as Miller's Surplus, later renamed to Miller's Outpost
Renamed to Anchor Blue in 2000, now have 17 AZ stores
Famous for small stores, stylish clothes, and low prices

Phoenix Gazette

Newspaper started in 1881
The biggest rival to the Arizona Republic for decades
Merged with the Republic in 1995, stopped altogether in 1997


Started in 1950 by William Zimmerman as Freight Outlet, changed to Pic-N-Save in 1960
Came to Arizona in mid-1970s, grew to 87 stores by 1983
Became MacFrugal's in 1992, renamed Big! Lots in 2001
Sold discount and closeout goods for other manufacturers

Pistol Pete's Pizza

Founded in Phoenix in 1981, grew to 30 locations by 1995
Acquired by hometown rival Peter Piper Pizza in 1995
Featured a large dining room with games and animatronic entertainment show for kids

Price Club

Founded in 1976 by Sol Price, grew to 35 stores by 1987 including 4 in AZ
Purchased by Costco in 1993
One of the original membership-based warehouse stores

Service Merchandise

Founded in 1934 by Harry Zimmerman, grew to 300 stores in 33 states
Opened Glendale and Mesa showrooms in 1984; filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1999
Catalog-based retail outlet that sold jewelry and electronics in large showrooms

Smith's Food and Drug

Purchased 28 Smitty's Supermarkets in 1996 from Los Angeles-based Yucapia
Smith's merged with Fred Meyer in 1997, Arizona stores rebranded Fry's or Fry's Marketplace
Fred Meyer acquired by Kroger in 1999

Smitty's Big Town/Marketplace

Founded in 1964 by Clyde Smith
Grew to 18 Arizona locations, 28 total by 1999
Purchased by Smith's in 1996
Grocery store that also sold a wide variety of non-grocery products

Thrifty Drug

Founded in 1919, renamed Thrifty in 1935, grew to 238 stores by 1964
Bought by Pacific Lighting in 1986, sold again to Leonard Green and Partners in 1992
All 18 Arizona stores sold or closed by 1993
Chain of discount drug stores with soda fountains, still produces Thrifty Ice Cream

Tip Top Nursery

9 Arizona stores sold by parent company Sunbelt Nursery in 1998
Purchased by and rebranded as Summer Winds Nursery
Chain of valley plant nurseries with expert staff

Valley National Bank

Founded in the 1930s by Walter and Carl Bimson
Acquired by Bank One in 1994; Bank One became Chase Bank in 1995
Arizona chain of banks known for the unique architecture of their branches

Vans Skatepark

The 37,000 sq ft indoor park opened at Metrocenter Mall in 2001
Became Phoenix Skatepark in 2003, was in business until at least 2005
Space sold to Sport Chalet in 2006 which opened in 2007

Western Savings and Loan

Founded in Arizona in 1929
Seized by federal regulators in 1989 for racketeering
Was once the largest Savings and Loan institutions in Arizona, among top 100 nationwide

Wild Oats

Founded in 1987, grew to 110 stores in 24 states by 2007
Purchased by competitor Whole Foods in 2007 which now has 7 Arizona stores
Major chain of organic grocery stores

Yellow Front Stores

Founded in the 1950s by Jake Henager, grew to 165 stores
Filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in February 1990
Chain of Arizona-based discount/surplus stores with locations all over the Southwest

Of course there are countless other businesses which I have missed, so feel free to leave a comment and remind me! Also, if you have any memories (good or bad) about these stores, take a moment to share your experience with us! Posting comments is easy and can be done anonymously. Thanks for reading the North Phoenix Blog!


Anonymous said...

There was LaBelle's which became Best, the parent company. And Lionel Play World. I don't remember when either went out of business. Also, Goldwaters wasn't started in 1973. More like 1873! Interesting article.

Anonymous said...

Being in local radio I believe I recorded the very first AMERICA WEST AIRLINES radio commercial about 1982-83....also, my ex-wife worked for AMERICA WEST in the reservations department for about 3 years. I also doing the voice-over for several COMP-USA computer store tv commercials.

Anonymous said...

I worked at Lionel Playworld in Mesa in the late 80's. Then the space was purchased by Officemax. Now the whole complex is a big, empty eyesore. And don't forget Federated.

Mike Charles said...

One I didn't see on this list is United Bank, the competitor to Valley Nstional Bank. I believe that CitiBank bought them out.

Anonymous said...

what about Montgomery wards or wards, or as my family called it, monkey wards. I remember u could get tvs, blankets and all kinds of home furnishings there.

Saxrasta said...

I guess everyone forgot about "Gemco". Membership department store. Cost one dollar to join in 1977. Their Tempe location is now Target on Baseline just east of McClintock

The List! said...

Who remembers Farrell's Ice Cream Parlor? I loved that place as a kid and had birthday parties there! How about the "Alley" inside Metro Center???

Anonymous said...

Absolutely! I will never forget the Farrell's giant drum and the huge ice cream sundae they put sparklers on! Does anyone remember an "Arizona Territory" themed restaurant in AZ Mills Mall (Baseline/Priest) when they first opened in 1997? What was the exact name of the restaurant?

bigg3469 said...

How about The Arizona Bank with their unique Kachina dancer on their logo?

Bob M said...

I had a Mr. Submarine franchise. One of 13 in the valley. Of hundreds in U.S. and Canada. Only one left here now. In the 70's and early 80's people crossed town to get one. We often had lines out the door.

Tod Robins said...

How about Woolworth's or later Woolco? I remember seeing this painted on the bricks of a downtown building being renovated maybe off Adams or Monroe.

Anonymous said...

how about PharMor?
Was part of a national chain.
had at least one store at Metrocenter.
Building taken over by BestBuy.
Was discount pharmacy/general goods store.
Went bankrupt, executives prosecuted/convicted.

Anonymous said...

Tastee Freeze! And damn Peter piper for destroying the glory that was Pistol Petes. Only place better was Disney land!

Abby Kamins said...

what about fedmart and liquer barn and sproutz rietz i have no idea how to spell that one. tg and y . kitchies ice cream

Anonymous said...

dont forget about these; grants, t g and y, fedmart, kitchies ice cream , liquer barn, sproutz rietz. not sure how to spell that one.mervyns,sunset sports, univercity theaters, the lakes theaters. some of these are very old school. came here in 1972

Chrislov3 Bigniggy said...

I worked at fedmart gas on 36 st and thomas befor that it was globe ,LEGEND CITY ring a bell ,my first real job was a busboy at bill johnsons ,let's eat on e. van buren,O:-)

Anonymous said...

My dad bought me a solar powered calculator at LaBelle's when I started high school in 1980. I still have it, and it still works after all these years.

Tom Dove said...

Clyde Smith sold Smittys to A Canadian company I believe Stein birds who was a flour milling company that sure about that but it was a Canadian company

Ron said...

Who remembers u-totem convenience stores or totem Dept. Stores, or how about the rusty nail steak house don't forget Ben franklins .or O'Malley's, angels. Good ole days !

Anonymous said...

Fed co, before, fed mart, grants dept.ent store, bojo's subs, the original miracle mile deli, café casino , flaky jakes, the incredible food court at town and country sooo yummy

Anonymous said...

Ohohoh. I forgot, shakeys pizza

Anonymous said...

Great Western Bank

Doug Dillard said...

A.J. Bayless Markets "Your Home Town Grocer" and their discount stores EZ Save and Big Bear.

Unknown said...

Yes, the alley! I remember the license plate shop there! Also, when McDonalds was in the top floor corner and had a scary metal music type clothing store to the right. I was too young at the time to go there.

Kenneth Howard said...

In reference to Kroger /Smiths/Fred Meyer; a few yrs after purchasing all 3, they decided to have frys occupy Arizona, Smith’s occupy Nevada,Utah,New Mexico,and Kingman ,Bullhead city,Lake Havasu,Ft.Mohave,AZ and Fred Meyer in the Paciific Northwest. And Ralph’s and food for less in Southern California, Food for less in Nevada has beeen rebranded as Smith’s , there used to be 2 discount food stores in Albuquerque that Smiths owned and operated,unknown if there still open, King scooper,City market in Colorado.

Anonymous said...

I remember Utotem on 59th Ave & Indian School in the 70s.

Anonymous said...

Revco at Westown shopping plaza & Zodys on 43rd & Peoria. There was also Diamonds & Joskes at Metro Center and so many others I've forgotten.

Anonymous said...

The store behind McDonalds was called "Whatever" or "Whatevers" Loved Metrocenter when I was a kid

Unknown said...

Remember Hi-Val Gas stations? Known for selling discount cigarettes and soda pop They were actually Mobil Oil who was competing with their own dealer owned franchise gas stationns.

Anonymous said...

I started with America West and went through the merger with US Air to become US Airways. And even though the name is not America West, Doug Parker has tried to keep the history even now that we’re American and it is so great to see the 2 old America West tails still flying proudly! Just to think our little hometown airline could take over 2 major carriers is to Doug Parker’s credit. Even though corporate had to move to Texas, business reasons. I am proud to have been part of America West and will always be flying high. Plus now o can fly all over the world and not just US. Mexico. I actually just got back from Europe and saw that tail on my travels’

Anonymous said...

I too worked at Playworld, then Toys R Us. I also loved Bobby McGees in that Mesa center. Wish they would do something with that corner, it makes the area look terrible and been there to long.

Snack Machines said...

I remember Fedmart, Handyman. Super X, Home Base, The Bear Cover, Service Merchandise, Tasty Freeze, Bill Johnsons Big Apple, Arthur Treachers and Kenny Rogers Roasters.


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