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Column: Celebrate the birthday of Tulsa's Route 66 by shopping local
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Column: Celebrate the birthday of Tulsa's Route 66 by shopping local

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The Mother Road turns 95 on Thursday! Even though she is nearing her centennial, Route 66 is just getting started.

The revitalization along Tulsa’s stretch of the historic highway is nothing short of amazing. Thanks to the development of districts such as Tulsa Market District, Gateway, Kendall-Whittier, Blue Dome, Cathedral, University, Meadow Gold and Red Fork/Crystal City, Tulsa’s Route 66 is trailblazing a path that pays homage to its past while looking to the future.

When I brought Buck Atom (my store’s beloved Muffler Man) to Tulsa in 2019, we hoped to attract a few new visitors. We didn’t expect to become a destination for tens of thousands of new people, including the likes of Jack White, Lea Thompson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Folds, Jesse Plemons, Lana Del Ray, C. Thomas Howell, Nena Dobrev, Taylor Hanson, Route 66 Historian Michael Wallis and, most famously, the tourists.

Today, Route 66 is home to Oklahoma’s only nonprofit food hall (Mother Road Market), Ike’s Chili, whose chili recipe has been famous for over a century, the University of Tulsa, and world-famous attractions like the Blue Whale and Totem Pole Park.

Thanks to the $7 million in zero-interest advance funding by the Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation to underwrite infrastructure and beautification for the Tulsa Market District and the city of Tulsa’s commitment to improvements, Tulsa’s Route 66 is only getting better.

An estimated 85% of Tulsa’s economy is rooted in small business. Entrepreneurs are not only key drivers of the economy, but we create unique experiences along the Mother Road. Just like in its heyday, people can connect with local artists, makers and foodies on Route 66.

Through a tight-knit business community, we work together to hold First Saturday Market Days featuring local vendors, host local art shows and even organize scavenger hunts.

I am especially proud that Route 66 has become a place for equitable and inclusive experiences. Our community is more diverse than ever, featuring traditionally underestimated entrepreneurs, namely women, people of color and immigrants. This diversity has created an influx of global cuisine, more female-owned businesses and an eclectic and diverse mix of music, artisans and makers.

When I opened my shop in a 1950s PEMCO gas station in 2018, I wanted to create a new landmark and roadside attraction for Tulsa’s Route 66 while celebrating the past and showing you can still create new businesses for the future on the Mother Road. Giving an old building new life not only provides me with a source of income, but it’s an inspiration to others.

I’ll never forget seeing Pops in Arcadia for the first time and realizing the energy that Buck could bring. His whole mission is to help revitalize Route 66 by attracting tourists and creatives from all over the world. Through the love and support of our community and Route 66 travelers, that dream is a reality.

Success is seeing people take photos with Buck, laughing and enjoying their friends and family. It’s also really cool to have a 20-foot neon sign, custom designed by Roadhouse Relics and built by Encino Signs, with support from the Tulsa Route 66 Commission Neon Sign Grant program.

By shopping local, you can bolster the economy, reduce barriers and make Tulsa THE destination on Route 66. And, on Thursday to officially celebrate Mother Road’s birthday, you’ll have the perfect opportunity to browse hand-picked holiday gifts from local Route 66 businesses through an online gift guide.

Shop tulsamarketdistrict.com to find 20 one-of-a-kind products and services.

The Mother Road is ALIVE! Enjoy the more than 100 businesses along Tulsa’s Route 66, and keep coming back to see the transformation that’s already underway to brighter streets, beautiful trees, native plants, more roadside attractions and walkable spaces.

You can eat, sip and shop local, but also enjoy spending the day on our unique stretch of America’s most famous highway. Buck and I will be waiting for you!

Featured video:

The Tulsa Route 66 Commission's neon sign grant program covers 50% of the cost of a new neon sign or restoring an old neon sign along both Route 66 corridors in Tulsa.

Mary Beth Babcock is owner of Buck Atom’s Cosmic Curios and Buck’s Cosmic Crash Pad.

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