I found Driftwood Coffee by chance in the summer of 2018 when searching Yelp for a midway point to meet a friend from the opposite end of Valley. My first reaction was “there’s a coffee shop in downtown Peoria?! And it actually looks… pretty rad!”
I grew up in the heart of Peoria and know the area pretty well… or at least I did a decade ago. I watched throughout my childhood as cotton fields, corn fields, and orange groves were replaced by homes, grocery stores, freeways and shopping malls. In the mid 90’s the city was growing at a rapid pace. Unfortunately, this growth did not seem to include the heart of Peoria, what we locals called Old Town.
My family shopped in the Smitty’s by 83rd Avenue and Peoria/Grand Avenue in the 80’s. It became a Smith’s hybrid for a time in the 90’s before eventually closing. The newer Wal-Mart and Albertson’s complex across the street became the new central hub of the area, drawing people slightly further away from Old Town. When Wal-Mart eventually abandoned that storefront to build a new location up the road, everything else in the strip mall seemed to die with it. That, combined with the newer Developments around 83rd Avenue and Bell Road, meant fewer incentives for other businesses to invest in the Old Town area. The story of downtown Peoria seemed to be one of abandonment and decay.
So, you can imagine my surprise upon discovering this modern, hipster-esque coffee shop in the heart of what I thought to be a dying city center. I assumed the shop was located there because the real estate was cheap, or some other convenience. Over the next few weeks I often found myself stopping in Driftwood to marvel at this fresh, clean space and try different drinks from their well-crafted menu. As I got to know the owners I quickly learned my assumptions about the shop’s location were wrong.
Driftwood exists in Old Town Peoria precisely because of their love for Peoria and desire to see the narrative of abandonment and decay reversed. The shop, a renovated 1950’s era lumber storage warehouse, was birthed from a desire to create a true community space. This commitment to community was quickly noticed by the City of Peoria, leading to many collaborations between Driftwood and the city. As it turns out, Peoria has big plans for its Old Town neighborhood and some exciting things are in the works for the near future.
In early 2019 the owners of Driftwood approached me with an idea to curate a photography show. They wanted to tell the story of Old Town through the eyes of local photographers but needed experienced help navigating the logistics of a juried show. We got to work right away putting the word out for local photographers to shoot and submit their work.
The show opened June 8th, featuring the work of nine local photographers. The opening reception was full of great energy as locals, city officials, Driftwood patrons and non-locals filled the space throughout the night. I didn’t get any shots at the reception but here are a few post-installation views from earlier that morning.
Working with Driftwood to help tell the story of Peoria has been an absolute pleasure. I enjoyed my time exploring my hometown with my camera and getting to know the community a little better. At the opening reception I got to know the other photographers and swapped stories with locals whose families have owned homes in the area for over 70 years. I also met more recent transplants who shared a passion for seeing this area thrive. Even though I live a little further South these days, Peoria is still home and I’m glad to once again be in touch with my roots.