By Jeff Kronenfeld / NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ
(Oracle, AZ) Sue Parra, a miner’s daughter, has called Oracle home since 1970. She has seen the small community’s fortunes rise and fall with the flow of copper and other minerals from the San Manuel Mine, once North America’s largest underground mining operation.
The mine’s closing in 1999 caused many area businesses to fold, though Parra and her husband’s resale shop, Sue and Jerry’s Trading Post, survived.
Now, it anchors The Ranch Store Center, also owned by the couple, which is home to a small but growing number of shops, the Oracle Farmers Market, and many other events.
Carolyn Blair, the co-owner of Life Under the Oaks Lavender Farm and one of the center's occupants, doesn't mince words regarding Parra and her husband's contribution to the mountainside community.
“They give everyone a chance,” Blair said. “If someone wants to try to do something in town, Sue and Jerry are there. They’re like the rock of Oracle.”
Trash into treasure
A skeletal legionnaire and other metallic art creations of Parra’s husband greet visitors to the cute, eclectic complex, though this wasn’t always the case.
In 1985, after Parra successfully ran a garage sale at a local motel, her friend mentioned that a local storage auction buyer — like those seen on long running A&E show “Storage Wars” — who needed help moving some inventory.
When Parra visited 1015 W American Ave, the future site of her store, she accepted the offer to set up shop and sell the assorted items, despite not being impressed.
“It was the ugliest thing you would ever see, but over these years, we've made it our own,” Parra explained. “We sold it all, and it was junk. Do you remember Rodney Dangerfield had a plaid green suit jacket? I had one, actually, and I hung it up on the ceiling because it just reminded me of how junky this place was.”
Parra and her husband returned a percentage of their proceeds to the owner and started frequenting garage sales, estate sales, and auctions. At first, they took items needing extensive repairs or refinishing, though they’re pickier these days.
Finally, in 1995, they purchased the three-and-a-half-acre property, which included a storage facility, a rental cottage, and an apartment where one of their sons currently lives. In time, they made improvements, welcomed a suite of new businesses, and fell in love with all the items they sold, even some looked like junk at first glance.
Friends and a farmers’ market
In 2014, Parra began hosting the Oracle Farmers Market to help her friends and neighbors make some extra money. These days, vendors crowd the market selling everything from fresh produce to custom knives to pastries to cosmetics to art. The space also provides an outlet for fundraisers for local nonprofits.
Other businesses in The Ranch Store Center participate as well. Country Sweet Boutique sells jewelry, handbags, accessories, clothes, footwear, and wallets from a quaint trailer next to the trading post’s entrance. Across the way, Zany's Upcycle and Sacred Spaces, another pair of vintage stores, share a space that opened last November.
The newest addition to the neighborhood is Raven’s Rooste, a metaphysical and wellness store owned by Suzanne Torres.
For Parra, seeing the once junk-strewn property filled with smiling people, music, and the smell of tacos is about more than the business.
“It's just our dream has always been to have this as a little shopping center, other than just us,” Parra explained. “And it's happening, after almost 40 years, but it's happening. Never give up. That’s my advice.”
On August 20, the Ranch Market Center hosts Cool Shopping Saturday from 4 to 8 p.m. This outdoor market will feature live music, and a food truck from Dripping Springs called the Saguaro Hot Dog Company.
In 2014, Oracle State Park was recognized as an international dark skies park for protecting its exceptional conditions for stargazing. To celebrate, the pPark and the nearby Biosphere II are throwing their second annual David H. Levy Arizona Dark Sky Party from Sept. 21 through 25.
In conjunction with this, Parra is hosting Bright Stars, another open-air market event with live music and fresh food, on Saturday, Sept. 24, from 4 to 8 p.m.
The Oracle Farmers Market happens every Wednesday, October through April, from 6 to 9 p.m.