The former Willcox Heating and Cooling building, on South Haskell Avenue, is getting a new lease on life as Nakai’s Emporium.
That building is one of several that Hector and Maria Figueroa are in the process of renovating in Historic Downtown Willcox.
The couple opened Nakai’s Bar on Oct. 15, 2011.
As to Nakai’s Emporium, which will make its “event debut” during Rex Allen Days this weekend, Hector said, “The concept has always been a community events center, not just a dance floor or a honky-tonk.”
“We’re putting it out for use for a fee,” he explained.
Hector graduated from Willcox High School in 1968, having moved to Willcox with his family some 18 years earlier.
He graduated from law school at the University of Arizona in 1988, and was in private practice with H.M. Figueroa & Associates in Tucson since 1989.
Hector became City Attorney for Willcox in 2007, and resigned effective Aug. 30 this year.
Maria began living in Willcox after the couple met in Tucson and married in 1993.
They bought their pecan orchard in Kansas Settlement in 1996, then had their house built in 1998.
Maria continued to teach Pre-K for the Tucson Unified School District, “commuting back and forth,” living in Willcox every weekend and over the summer, she said.
“I retired from the District after we moved here, but didn’t retire from the State because I was too young,” Maria said.
She worked five years at Chicanos por La Causa in Willcox, resigning July 31, 2011, and opening Nakai’s Bar less than three months later.
The business is named after Maria’s 16-year old nephew, Nakai Arvizu, who is a sophomore at Salpointe High School in Tucson.
He is Native American, which accounts for the motif found in both the Bar and the Emporium, she explained.
While the Figueroas didn’t plan to open a bar, Maria said, “It just happened. Three weeks after I resigned, the opportunity came up, and we said, ‘Let’s give it a try.”
The Figueroas never had any prior bar experience, so they relied heavily on their friends David and Becky Akes.
“She held my hand,” said Maria about Becky, who is bar manager.
The couple sold their hay farm in December 2011, and then their orchard in March 2012.
Nakai’s Emporium, which had a grand opening Sept. 15, is equipped with the technology for corporate presentations – an 80-inch, touch screen Smart TV “designed to do a power point on.”
“You can hook up a laptop right to the TV,” said Hector, explaining that one can download a file then “touch the screen and open it, then drag it all the way down.”
The Emporium’s security cameras also have the capability of recording the meeting if that is wanted.
The Figueroas have already made the Emporium available at no fees for fundraisers, such as Chiricahua Regional Museum and the National Rifle Association.
The advantage with the Emporium is that it can be closed to the general public as long as the bar is open.
“We are the host bar for Rex Allen Days,” said Hector, adding that he and Jeff Willey, owner of Big Tex BBQ, helped sponsor the Rodeo with a donation of $1,275 to Rex Allen Days, Inc., about $500 of which went toward insurance for the Parade route.
The Emporium has also donated $500 to this weekend’s Tractor Pull, and $100 to the Veterans Day Parade planned for next month in Willcox, he said.
The Figueroas also see the Emporium as a possible venue for future concerts, with a total capacity of 500 -- the Emporium with 425, and the Bar with 75.
The Emporium has an ‘in-house sound system owned and operated by the business,” Hector said.
The building is equipped with a 10 by 20 foot stage, as well as a walk-in cooler “to handle all our kegs,” with 12 draft beers on tap,” he said.
There are four five-ton heat pumps in the Emporium, and a sprinkler system with a four-inch water main in case of fire.
The Figueroas currently employ 10 people, and plan to increase that to 20 or 22 for Rex Allen Days.
Hector said they have three individuals doing security “at all times when both places are open,” and Maria added, “we card everyone who walks in the door.”
“We have customers who say they can’t wait to come here on Rex Allen Days,” Maria said.
“With the Emporium’s proximity to the (Railroad) Park, Big Tex, the wineries, and Rix’s, we should have a good crowd,” Hector said.
“A lot of people will come in because it’s a new venue,” he said.
“We also have a lot of family coming in for Rex Allen Days.”
The Figueroas also purchased the building that houses his law office on Maley Street, and are renovating the upstairs into a bed and breakfast.
They have also purchased the house across from the City Hall Depot, and were recently given permission by the City’s Historical Preservation Advisory Committee to tear down the red brick part of the building due to structural problems. The couple plans to make that parcel into a parking lot.
The Figueroas had hoped to make the white part of the building (formerly Dr. Wilson’s office) into a Mexican restaurant in the future, but have since found structural problems there also, and “we may not be able to save it.”
“We’re going to take a look at it after we take down the red building,” said Hector, explaining that right now they need to concentrate on Rex Allen Days and other projects.
“What we hope to do is contribute to the economic development downtown,” Hector told the Range News.
Referring to businesses downtown who are painting, like Big Tex, or otherwise remodeling, such as GMA D’s, La Tortilleria Unica, or La Cocina Antigua, Hector said, “There is economic activity here.”
“Hopefully we are all surviving and making some money,” he said “We are not going to get rich because of the economy, but we can contribute to the revitalization of downtown. We are doing it by cooperating, which helps all of us.”
Hector added, “We wish the downtown all the luck in the world during Rex Allen Days, so we can all look forward to a more solid financial foundation downtown in 2013.”
“We feel lucky and privileged that everyone has supported us,” he said.
“We encourage everyone to patronize the downtown during Rex Allen Days.”