When Gilbert Arizona was founded, it was known as the small farming town that would never grow beyond a population of 5,000. In fact, this was a common opinion that spread throughout the Phoenix suburbs surrounding the small town. Within a few short years, every single doubter would be proven wrong. Gilbert has blossomed into a bustling suburban town, hosting about 240,000 people and still continuing to grow even today. Outsiders to the area may not be able to comprehend or understand the rapid growth the space suddenly experienced in the 1980’s and 90’s, but most locals are able to agree on one of the most helpful factors of stimulating the town’s population: The Heritage District. Now commonly known as Downtown Gilbert, this small area has transformed from boarded up gas stations and abandoned trailer parks to one of the most popular places to visit within the town. Full of different restaurants and entertainment sites, Downtown Gilbert has become Gilbert’s own little metropolis, drawing visitors from across the state to come see what all of the hype is about.
Ten years ago, Downtown Gilbert was nothing more than rundown buildings and unpaved roads. Although Joe Johnston, a man who had grown up in Gilbert, had driven past the low brick building on the North Side of Gilbert Road many times as a child, he saw it for the first time as a barbecue building in 1995 and decided to buy the building from the church that was currently occupying it. The rest is history. Ever since 1998, Joe’s Real Barbecue has served its patrons faithfully, kicking off a new era for Downtown Gilbert. Once other restaurants and companies saw how well Joe’s Barbecue was doing, they began moving in one after the other, starting with the Hale Centre Theater. This theater provided a source of entertainment for the locals of Gilbert to spend their weekends at, further pushing the popularity of the downtown area forward. From there, the area took off, full of locals and visitors every night of the week who were determined to experience the new restaurants and entertainment venues that were opening rapidly. Within a few years, Downtown Gilbert was nearly unrecognizable from the dusty ghost town it had once been, and it has only continued to grow over time.
Now, Downtown Gilbert is a hub of entertainment and excitement for families and young adults alike. With fantastic restaurants such as Liberty Market, named after the historic grocery store that was built in 1935 in the area, and Postino’s, a Phoenix wine bar that completely changed the night life of the downtown area, The Heritage District continues to draw in new businesses and customers from across the country. With a Catholic university practically in the backyard of some of the district’s most popular restaurants, as well as plans for a shopping center to be developed in the near future, the town of Gilbert foresees a huge economic boost in the District and surrounding areas as well. For now, Downtown Gilbert will continue to serve as a source of new adventure to be discovered for each person that decides to travel there, perfectly tying together the new age of modern entertainment and the charm of days past.
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