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We check in with 'Weekly' advertisers and story subjects from our first issues

The initial issue of the Tucson Weekly featured a front-page profile of Gary Gisselman, the artistic director of the Arizona Theatre Company.

On Feb. 22, 1984, ATC was presenting The Taming of the Shrew at the Little Theatre of the Tucson Convention Center (today called the Leo Rich Theatre). Tickets cost between $9 and $13.

"Ideally," the story said of Gisselman, "he would like to see ATC have its own building." That dream would later come true when the company moved a few blocks away into the renovated Temple of Music and Art.

Shortly after the Weekly's premiere, Gisselman announced he would soon leave Tucson. He is currently directing Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance for the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. Tickets cost between $29 and $60.

Meanwhile, on the other end of town, The Gaslight Theatre in 1984 was performing on Tanque Verde Road, staging The Sword of Zorro, or From Z to Shining Z, when it was featured in an early Weekly article.

Since 1990, the Gaslight has been located on Broadway Boulevard and is now presenting The Ballad of Two-Gun McGraw, or Just Horsin' Around.

"We're still producing good, clean fun at a family theater," observed Tony Terry Jr., who founded the company more than three decades ago. "We're a good bridge between TV and theater. We're a good first start to introduce people to the theater for those who haven't gone before."

Although the Weekly was generally 20 pages or less during its first year of existence, it had a loyal band of advertisers from the beginning--mostly locally owned stores, restaurants and bars that wanted more customers.

Surprisingly, many of these advertisers are still in business, although they may have undergone management or location changes since 1984.

Bentley's House of Coffee and Tea opened on Speedway Boulevard just a few weeks before the Weekly's first issue hit the streets on Feb. 22, 1984. The coffeehouse immediately began running ads in the new publication. Its owners said they did so "because we know that quality customers are quality readers."

With full-page advertisements, Audio Express on Broadway Boulevard was one of the largest Weekly supporters in 1984. Now with two Tucson locations, the business remains a major advertiser.

Other early advertisers who are still in business include downtown's Old Town Artisans, the Asian Trade Oriental Rug Company on North Campbell Avenue, Janos and the Cushing Street Bar and Restaurant south of the Tucson Convention Center.

Another early advertiser was Austin's, which moved from one Broadway Boulevard location to another several years ago. Despite the relocation, the restaurant still serves the same delicious ice cream that it did in 1984.

A quarter-century ago, KXCI regularly ran its community-affairs programming schedule as an ad in the Weekly. Today, the radio station is still on the air at 91.3 FM, offering a variety of community-affairs programs, along with an eclectic array of music.

Frank's on Pima Street announced in a 1984 Weekly ad that it had the "best breakfast and lunch in town." Now a sign outside the restaurant humorously proclaims: "Elegant Dining Elsewhere."

While the ambiance at Frank's might not have changed much since the '80s, it has undergone one major transformation: After 5 p.m., the restaurant now becomes Francisco's, which serves Michoacan-style Mexican food.

A planned transformation was the subject of the Weekly's March 21, 1984, issue. It looked at the Center for Creative Photography and its fundraising drive. Then located in a former bank building outside the UA's Main Gate, the Center was trying to raise $4 million to construct a new home on campus.

Jim Enyeart was director of the center at that time and classified the organization's philosophy as "research, appreciation and preservation."

Commenting on the changes that have occurred at the center over the last 25 years, Enyeart noted a few weeks ago: "The center seems to be very much on track as a maturing institution."

After serving as the center's director for a dozen years, and seeing the new $5.2 million building on campus completed in February 1989, Enyeart then became director of the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Moving Images in Rochester, N.Y. Seven years later, he went to the College of Santa Fe in New Mexico to help develop its Marion Center for Photographic Arts. Now retired, Enyeart last visited Tucson in August. He came to the Center of Creative Photography for an exhibit, which he labeled as "extraordinary." "Extravaganza" was the term used by a Weekly headline in the summer of 1984 to describe a dance performance by a group under the direction of Barbea Williams. Presented at the Elks Lodge in downtown's barrio, the show was entitled Something Old, Something New, Nothing Borrowed, Nothing Blue, and included break-dancing.

Twenty-five years later, Williams continues to teach dancers at the UA and in public schools. She also has her own studio on North Main Avenue in the former Dunbar School.

"Persistence, and knowing there's a need for what I have to represent, is what sustains me," Williams said recently when asked what has kept her going for so many years. Then, reminiscing about some of the young dancers she's seen grow into successful adults, Williams added: "I've planted seeds, and they've sprouted and grown around me."

While many of the people profiled in the initial year of the Weekly--and some of the businesses that advertised in the publication--are still around, many have sadly faded from view. These include retail names which were once famous in town.

Among these is Goodbooks, a used bookstore on Fourth Avenue which was a Tucson tradition. Long gone, the space once occupied by the shop is now home to a restaurant.

A few blocks away, the homey Helen Street Café in 1984 offered delicious meals at very affordable prices. Its building currently serves as the administrative office of Buffalo Exchange.

Not surprisingly, the locations of a couple of former Weekly advertisers have become parking lots. That was the fate of Jeff's Classical Record Shoppe on Speedway, as well as Character's nightclub on Grant Road.

Other spaces once occupied by former advertisers are still used by retailers. The Broadway Village site of Susan's Easter Shop is now part of the Clues Unlimited mystery bookstore, while Closetscapes on Fourth Avenue today is a tattoo parlor. Cornucopia, a store on Sixth Street that in 1984 sold products to encourage its customers "toward a better life," is currently an insurance/investment agency.

At the same time, several of the buildings which housed early Weekly advertisers now sit vacant. These include both Birkenstock and F&S Bed and Bath Shoppe on Campbell Avenue. Tovi's Tavern in 1984 occupied a space on Stone Avenue just south of Grant Road, and that building is also vacant.

Another empty space is the former Voila nightclub. Located on Tanque Verde Road where it meets Pima Street, Voila was a major advertiser in the Weekly, and brought the band War to Tucson in April 1984. The building was last used by Ice, a club which promoted itself as "Night Life Evolved."

While the Fourth Avenue Street Fair has evolved since 1984, the headline from a Weekly story about the fair back then remains appropriate: "A Scene So Peculiar You Never Want to Leave."

Started in 1970, the Street Fair will celebrate its 2009 spring edition on March 20-22. With 400 arts and crafts booths, it's larger today than it was 25 years ago, but it still offers something for everybody. Plus, as the 1984 story pointed out, "a Street Fair has never been cancelled due to weather."

A review in an early Weekly issue looked at Bob Dobbs Grill on Sixth Street. The piece mentioned the grill's octagonal bar and the availability of board games, books and magazines.

The bar is still there, but there was no sign of the cultural material on a recent visit. Instead, the walls are covered with legible graffiti, and five television sets broadcast a variety of sports shows.

The Weekly's reviewer in 1984 praised Bob Dobbs' greasy hamburgers, but today, the burgers don't seem greasy at all, although they're still tasty.

The enduring establishment is named after the fictional J.R. "Bob" Dobbs, spiritual leader and supposed sage of the Church of the SubGenius. The followers are "an order of Scoffers and Blasphemers, dedicated to Total Slack."

It wasn't slack which sustained the Weekly since 1984. Instead, quality readers, loyal advertisers and a dedicated staff have kept the paper going.

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