Akimel O’Othham Smoke Shop Plans to Expand

Akimel O’Othham Smoke Shop Plans to Expand

Akimel O’Othham Smoke Shop Plans to Expand

Plans for intertribal commerce are in the works via the Akimel O’Othham Smoke Shop located at I-10 and Riggs Road. According to Gary Nelson, who manages the Smoke Shop for owner/proprietor, William R. Rhodes, D4, ‘there is huge economic development potential at Gila River.’

In an interview with Nelson, he said, “the goal is to develop a travel center with lodging, dining, fuel, and laundry services—things travelers need. And also serve the Community.”

According to Nelson, last year $1 million dollars was provided to Gila River Indian Community in the form of tribal tax revenue. Nelson said the expansion will provide jobs for a 60-room hotel, a national chain restaurant, and an RV park. The process will take approximately three years.

When complete, the project could easily employ 50 to 75. “There’s lodging, housekeepers and managers. Tobacco is not the main emphasis,” Nelson said.

Under Nelson’s supervision, expansion plans have already begun. The outdoor patio area was recently converted to include what Nelson calls a ‘native food café.’ Orders are placed at the window. Customers have the option to sit at one of the outdoor tables or take it to go.

The short menu includes typical native fare—fry bread and burros—but these menu items offer up homemade with a twist. The flour and pinto beans are products of the Navajo Agricultural Products Industry out of Farmington, New Mexico.

Plans are to someday expand to include seafood from tribes in the Northwest and Alaska. Nelson said, “there’s a big native community in Phoenix. If, say, they come here for a conference, they’ll know to stop here because we offer these native products.”

The Native Pride flour doubles for fry bread and tortilla dough. The package reads, “Just Add Water.” Nelson said “the fry bread is fluffy because there is no shortening in it.”

Future items on Nelson’s list include caribou, moose, deer, or natural range beef and lamb. “There’s lots of opportunity to provide retail. We could acquire other property to the south and maybe to the east. Landowners can potentially receive income.”

The Smoke Shop was established by William R. Rhodes in 1985. It had humble beginnings in a lone mobile trailer. Presently the 5-1/2 acre property abuts the I-10 frontage road on the west and up to the billboard to the east.

Nelson said the BIA is a long process. Contacting landowners is quite slow to obtain consensus to lease or purchase. “We hope to inspire other landowners to create their own commercial/retail development for Gila River. Casino revenue, that has limits,” Nelson said.

Not one to mince words, Nelson also said, “the Community needs to wake up as far as economic development. Start focusing on infrastructure to develop parcels.” Nelson also said, “April 2009, the feds taxed $7 to $8 more per carton [on cigarettes]. You have to adjust to things. Diversify. The vision of the travel center will enhance what is here. People will always smoke. Just like alcohol, use should be in moderation.” When asked about the hookah pipes displayed in the glass case at the front of the store, Nelson said “everything we sell here is for tobacco use only.”

The smoke shop offers cartons of “Smokin Joes” from the Tuscarora tribe in California, and “Native” from the Mohawks in New York. The shop also carries a supply of high-end cigars.

Smoke Shop hours are daily 7 am to 9 pm.
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