By Philip Haldiman
Art and ancestry go hand-in-hand.
Melissa Zimmer and Scott Holmes, owners of Iron Key Studio, the newest addition to Old Town Peoria, know this well.
Ms. Zimmer brings decades of creative experience to the area and Mr. Holmes practically grew up in Old Town, a member of a local family that has deep roots in Peoria.
Iron Key Studio, 8301 W. Washington St., is no stranger to the city, which had been providing tattooing and cosmetics services in a 1,400 square-foot space located at 9210 W. Peoria Ave. No. 5, since 2015.
For years it has been their dream to expand the operation to a bigger location closer to the heart of downtown where community members and creative people can partner to foster the arts.
Ms. Zimmer said the endeavor has been a long-time dream in the making and Peoria’s growing historical arts district is the perfect location — a place where people can meet in an urban community and grow their art career.
She said the new 8,000 square-foot space, the refurbished Hood building, is a placemaker facility — a collective for artists to be inspired, create and flourish. The studio will offer regular gallery exhibits and events, as well as feature a gallery co-op showroom, full art-frame shop, art classes, studio space, photography/media studio, retail opportunity, conference rooms and co-working space.
The studio will also continue to offer tattoo and cosmetics services.
“We supply the space and tools to bring your ideas to life,” she said.
Creativity and history
Ms. Zimmer and Mr. Holmes have been married for 10 years and bring their own foundation of creativity and history to Old Town.
Mr. Holmes is member of the Kosier family who helped built the early foundations of the city and helped pioneer its incorporation.
From 1957 to 1959, Conley Kosier served as the mayor of Peoria. His wife, Velma Kosier, contributed to the Peoria Arizona Historical Society and operated Kosier’s True Value Hardware until 2006.
They were the great grandparents of Mr. Holmes, who grew up working at the hardware store, which has since been razed, but is a stone’s throw from the new studio.
“I love the fact that we are down here in this quiet neighborhood. I grew up coming to these three blocks multiple times a week, and I always feel welcome in this area. We knew all the business owners and the local residents,” he said.
“So when it came time to opening a new studio, this was the first place that we thought of because I have so many good memories from growing up here.”
The new studio could blow fresh air into Old Town, which has seen numerous attempts at revitalization over the years, including a more recent push.
The owners of Iron Key see the new establishment as an anchor for an area, brimming with potential. There is a lot to do, but the right people are in the right places to make it happen, Mr. Holmes said.
“There is quite a list of people that put their lives into this neighborhood. I feel privileged to be one of those people,” he said. “I feel that we need to make a strong and great first appearance to anybody coming to Old Town. We are the first thing you see.”
Ms. Zimmer has been involved with the arts for more than 20 years, and is an award-winning artist in mediums ranging from tattoo to paint.
She has been published by Hot Rod Magazine and created public art throughout the Valley, including Old Town where she recently created the intersection painting outside Iron Key Studio and contributed to the Peoria Community Planter Project.
Ms. Zimmer was raised by her grandmother, also an artist, who instilled within her an old-fashioned lifestyle and love of the visual arts.
“I was an artist from as young as I could remember,” Ms. Zimmer said. “Everyone in my family is an artist in some way or another. From making ships and putting them into bottles to an architect, stained glass artist, metal polisher, gourmet chef, gardener. Art is all around us!”
The road to the new studio hasn’t been easy.
Ms. Zimmer said she had difficulties finding the right space and obtaining a variance and conditional use permit for the space due to old land-use codes that did not allow for the unique uses proposed for the space.
Recently the city updated some of its land-use categories to allow for a business that is a creative collaborative space.
“There were many, many trials and tribulations along the way,” Ms. Zimmer siad. “We had difficulties in finding a space zoned correctly. Every space we pursued ended up getting (demolished) in Old Town due to it not being habitable or (costing) too much to bring it to code. We needed a large building so we could have the space to expand.”
The new Iron Key Studio is located in the Hood Building, one of Peoria’s oldest structures.
Council member Vicki Hunt, who has been working with the couple to find a home for their business in Old Town and represents the area, said the eventual availability of the Hood Building seemed a perfect fit, both for the location and the art they are bringing to the arts district.
Iron Key will host a grand opening July 27.
Ms. Hunt said it will be a celebration of the hard work and achievement of two young people who had a dream of opening a stand-alone arts facility in Old Town Peoria and who are now realizing that dream.
“And more than that, it is a celebration of what Old Town is becoming — the place to be for arts, entertainment and really good family fun,” Ms. Hunt said.
“I could not be prouder than I am of Melissa and Scott … I applaud their vision and ability to add to our arts scene, and to thrive in this new environment. Both their talent and perseverance are to be commended.”
Plans for the studio include working with local businesses of downtown Peoria to accommodate events that promote the arts and culture within the community. It will also partner with various organizations to give back to the community.
Specifically, Iron Key Studio aspires to collaborate with organizations such as Free Arts AZ, Maricopa County Animal Care and Control, and others that cater to abused or underprivileged children, suicide awareness and animal care/control.
Marylou Stephens, Peoria arts and events manager, said Ms. Zimmer is an incredibly talented artist who is very interested in collaborating to bring arts experiences and artists to Old Town.
She said Ms. Zimmer is already reaching out to local business owners in Old Town on ways to collaborate and bring an artistic flair to the community.
That type of relationship with the community and unique spaces and experiences where people are welcomed is what the future of Old Town needs, Ms. Stephens said.
“Businesses that locate in Old Town need to be driving the conversation and concepts for how arts and culture become part of the fabric of the community,” she said.
“I am so happy to see that Melissa is doing just that and wants to create a vibrant, welcoming Old Town. The city is here to support these efforts and to assist with logistics for events and arts experiences.”
Philip Haldiman can be reached at 623-876-3697, email@example.com, or on Twitter @philiphaldiman.
If you go
What: Grand opening Iron Key Studios
When: Saturday, July 27
Where: 8301 W. Washington St.
Iron Key takes over Hood Building
The Hood Building is a staple of the city’s original downtown, and is centrally located in Old Town. The structure was built in 1920 and has housed various businesses over years. During World War II it was Anderson’s Hardware Store and the large storefront windows were used to showcase photos of local soldiers, and to encourage residents to buy war bonds. In the 1950s it was Western Auto, which supplied car parts and accessories to the area. And then in the 1960s the building housed an appliance store and offices upstairs. Now it is home to Iron Key Studios.