Dave "Thin Mint" Perry

Dave Perry doing his best cookie impression.

You can learn some things about your community by standing on a street corner in a Girl Scout cookie costume, holding a sign to lure motorists toward free coffee and pastries.

That was me the one January morning it rained, wearing a Thin Mints costume (thank you, Golder Ranch Fire District Executive Assistant Fire Chief Cheryl Horvath), standing at the southwest corner of Lambert and La Cañada. Such a fine sight to see. Thanks for not recognizing me, Jim Woodrow.

Reconstruction of West Lambert Lane and North La Cañada Drive was delayed by difficulty, and was certainly inconvenient for commuters, motorists and businesses alike. To say thanks for your patience, your Chamber and the Town of Oro Valley decided to purchase coffee from Fry’s, and baked goods from Breadsmith, and give them away at no charge, and with no obligation. I had a really cool sign, courtesy of the town, to announce the offer. Like a third-base coach, I flailed my arms to wave ‘em in.

 Few were persuaded.

People roaring down La Cañada at 7 a.m. on a Wednesday (and, sometimes, I’m among them) have some place to go. They’re on their way to work, in downtown Tucson, perhaps at the UA, maybe Caterpillar or Raytheon or Davis-Monthan. They’re in a big ol’ hurry, and they’re not easily swayed to sustenance.

They drive nice cars, too. It was astonishing, candidly, to see how many luxury automobiles zip down La Cañada from points north at that time of day. Lexus. BMW. Mercedes-Benz. You’d think a luxury car dealership at Lambert and La Cañada would do very well. Then again, they’re already doing well in OV without a resident dealership. Literally tens of millions of dollars of vehicles, nearly all with one occupant, leaving.

David Laws, permitting manager in Oro Valley’s Department of Community Development and Public Works, shared statistics from 2013 provided by the Pima Association of Governments. Those counts showed peak, morning rush hour, two-way traffic between Naranja and Lambert on La Cañada at 1,648 vehicles. With growth, we’ll assume 1,700 vehicles on the roadway.

And they’re not stopping, at least not early in the morning.

As the clock ticks, the traffic begins to change. There are more parents driving kids to school. And more seniors, moving a little slower. More drivers turned into the shopping center for the free food and drink.

Each day, something on the order of 22,000 vehicles operate on that piece of La Cañada. 

The numbers make you wonder about the business opportunities at the intersection, where a former Big 5 sits dormant, and three of the four corners have at least some storefront vacancy. Could a drive-in coffee place do well? A doughnut/pastries shop? Bruegger’s Bagels, just north at Naranja, appears busy. The nearby Fry’s has a Starbucks inside.

What of the afternoons and evenings? Traffic is steady, if not as strong, between the commuting hours. Restaurants like Harvest, Caffe Torino and Noble Hops do well in season at night. Walgreen’s, on the northwest corner, sees its highest customer counts between 2 and 6 p.m., store manager Nicki Adamson reports. Can business at those corners capture more commuter and resident business? What kind of business? We’ll see.

Standing on that corner, drenched, I also observed:

The new Lambert and La Cañada is a beautiful intersection. Elimination of the hill makes it safer, and the right-of-way is wide, with attractive new landscaping and art; A pedestrian, coffee and roll in hand, told me how much she liked it. Why? The crossing light is now 30 seconds, up from 20; Lastly, it’s hard work to be a sign “spinner” (Oro Valley allows “human signs,” but they’re not supposed to “spin”). You’re on your feet for a long time. Aiming the sign at traffic from different directions becomes a form of yoga. Soon, the initial charm weakens with the rain, the occasional splash and the fatigue.

Next time, give your roadside sign spinner a thumbs up. And, if he or she is waving you in for free coffee and pastries, heed the siren’s call.

Dave Perry is the president and CEO of the Greater Oro Valley Chamber of Commerce.

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