Route 66 in the News

Arizona Town Recognizes Route 66 Heritage

2009-07-15 08:32:08

KINGMAN, Ariz. - The number 66 bears a dual significance to Jim Hinckley. It's not just the designation of his favorite stretch of all-American asphalt, it's also the year he first stepped foot in a sleepy little desert burg called Kingman, Ariz.

In the 43 years since Hinckley arrived here, he's come to appreciate the symbiotic relationship Kingman has had with Route 66. From its days as a pit stop on the way from Chicago to California, to the modern micropolis searching for a way to thrive in a time of economic distress, Kingman has long sought to capitalize off its proximity to the nation's most storied thoroughfare.

But it wasn't until very recently that Hinckley, a member of the newly revived Kingman Route 66 Association and author of "Route 66 Backroads," began seeing actual progress on that front. For years, he said, it seemed as though everyone was talking about using the old highway to draw new tourism and business to town, but no one was actually doing it.

"Kingman has waited far too long, in my opinion, to do anything with Route 66," Hinckley said. "It's almost beyond comprehension, the popularity of this strip of asphalt, and I don't know of any place I've visited that has greater tourism potential than Kingman that's gone undeveloped."

Over the last two years, however, Hinckley said he's begun to see genuine efforts at revitalizing and popularizing Kingman's historic connections to the highway. And the initial successes he's seen have him excited at the possibilities.

"There's been a real wake-up, with people seeing what they have -- not just for tourism, but as a community," he said. "There are a lot of people who are starting to see something here."

The most visible and profound development for Hinckley has been the slow revitalization of Kingman's historic downtown. For decades, the once-beating heart of Kingman's business district stood virtually still, and the city's vast Central Commercial building stood without a primary tenant.

In just two years, though, downtown has become host to a variety of small, independent-minded restaurants and shops, including the Beale Street Brews coffee shop, the Cellar Door wine bar, Redneck's Southern Pit BBQ, and even the Rastafarian-themed Island Beach Specialty Shop, among others. Hinckley said those businesses, combined with Homestyle Furniture's decision to convert the empty Central Commercial space into a beautiful showroom, have transformed an entire block of prime downtown real estate into a vibrant, popular attraction for tourists and locals alike.

"We've lost so much of our historic district downtown, that our only real option has been to recreate one," he said.

"That block, that's what the whole downtown could be. We have the green shoots starting to come up, but they need to be nurtured, fertilized and weeded."

Hinckley believes that establishing cohesion between competing interest groups is a crucial goal toward achieving that end.

He's been doing his part by converting his Penske truck rental office at 2620 E. Andy Devine Ave. into an unofficial visitors' center, complete with brochures, books and a display case filled with automotive memorabilia, some dating back to the turn of the century.

"Basically, I just found a refuge for my eclectic collection of odds and ends," he said. "I change it out about every six weeks."

But the visitors' center also serves as a useful locus for exchanging information, both with travelers passing through town and with other such visitors' centers all along Route 66.

By trading information on upcoming local events with places like the Route 66 Mother Road Museum in Barstow, Calif., and the Afton Station in Afton, Okla., Hinckley said he can increase the chances of someone actually stopping to take a look around town, rather than just driving through it.

"There're a lot of people traveling Route 66 who just don't know about these events when they get here," he said.

"(I want them to) look at it in a different light, to slow down, don't just gas and go."

One such event Hinckley hopes to publicize is "Chillin' on Beale Street," which was devised by his own Kingman Route 66 Association and designed to draw more foot traffic to the downtown commercial district with games, prizes, food and the chance to see some classic cars.

The first such event was held on June 20 and involved the cooperation of two local car clubs, the Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Merchants Association.

The first "Chillin'" proved a modest success by Hinckley's reckoning, and represents a good example of the kind of cohesion between community entities that he believes is necessary to improve the city's tourism profile.

He fully expects the event's sequel, which is set for 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, to draw a bigger crowd, but not just by word of mouth alone.

"The fliers from Chillin' on Beale Street are on display now at the Afton Station, they're on display in Barstow at the Harvey House museum," he said.

"And who knows, this could spark something. With the climate and the weather we have, we could feasibly do something like that every weekend for nine months of the year."

It's a start, anyway. But it's a start to something Hinckley believes Kingman is closer to seeing now than ever before.

"We have people in the community who are really gung-ho about this, and we've got a really proactive mayor and City Council," he said.

"Everything's in place now, and one of the things that's so exciting to me is that it's starting to happen."

~James Chilton, Kingman Daily Miner


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