In a quiet corner of the MSA Annex, beneath the shade of palo verde trees in full bloom, warm sunlight streams through the windows of a beautifully converted shipping container. Here, Kristin and Alex Tovar sit comfortably among the brightly colored shelves and artwork of their shop, Why I Love Where I Live. The Vantage West Member-Owners, who opened their doors at MSA in April 2018, have settled in to share the details of their small business journey. They begin by reflecting on the choices they’ve made and lessons they’ve learned along the way, and explain how utilizing a community credit union has helped their growing Tucson business thrive.
Kristin estimates that she moved at least 18 times in as many years, before arriving in Tucson to attend the University of Arizona in 2004. During her time in college, she assembled a handful of life-long friends through the Young Life organization. This is how she was first introduced to her husband Alex, a native Tucsonan. During her time in college, Kristin enjoyed Tucson but always planned on moving to a bigger city after graduation. And she did, bouncing around metropolitan areas like Washington DC, Seattle, and New York. In these places, she learned to appreciate the walkability and big-city activities organized to bring people together and propagate diverse communities organically. She flourished in her new environment, but without Alex to share it, her exciting life still felt empty. Kristin knew she had to move back.
Unlike her time in Tucson as an undergrad, Kristin remembers longing for the monolithic skyscrapers and world-class museums that she had found so inspiring. “My attitude about Tucson was just negative at the time, it was like something was lacking. And over time that started to really bother me. And I knew that I was going to be in Tucson forever, so I needed to find a way to love it here,” she says.
While sitting on the porch of her downtown apartment, newly married but geographically unsatisfied, Kristin decided that if she couldn’t change where she lived, she would have to change her mindset. So, she opened the Instagram app and created an account that would change everything. @whyilovewhereilive didn’t start with any grand plans, it was simply a way for Kristin to practice gratitude and hopefully shift her mindset about Tucson. In fact, she didn’t initially share her personal experiment with her husband. “I just thought she wanted to have fun on the weekends and explore,” Alex says. And that’s exactly what they were doing while Kristin slowly began to compile a collection of images that highlighted the various places and spaces she loved about her desert home.
Kristin’s burgeoning appreciation for Tucson and the celebratory content she created struck a chord in the hearts and minds of her followers. As the account grew, so did her connections with various Tucson community organizers. These relationships eventually provided the first opportunity for the social media account to host an in-person event. In February 2015, the couple organized a mural project in celebration of Arizona’s statehood day. The festivities featured a 10’ x 10’ mural that said “Why I Love Where I Live” and encouraged participants to write what they love about Tucson on it. This is also where they sold their first Why I Love Where I Live branded t-shirts, which sold out almost immediately. Kristin says the robust turnout at the event made her realize just how many people connected with her story and planted the seeds for the thriving business we know today.
While reflecting on how much their business has changed over the years, Alex said, “Retail is a long game, there’s gonna be ups and downs. Not until I embraced that fully was I able to look at the bigger picture.” Kristin also offered some insights into the advice she would have given herself when they were just starting out, saying, “Trust the process. You learn, and you make decisions, but I think just trusting the process and knowing that you’ll figure it out. Because each step takes you to a new place.” So far, it seems to be working for them.
It’s been 5 years since Why I Love Where I Live opened its doors in the MSA Annex, the social media handle is now a brand and movement that encourages people to engage in their local community. Kristin and Alex try to practice what they preach and use their platform to invest in the city they love. “If you say you’re invested in your community, then where you put your money matters,” Kristin says. It’s this spirit that prompted the couple to partner with Vantage West to manage their small business banking. Alex, who handles most of the shop’s finances, credits Vantage West with helping him to conveniently manage and organize their revenue across multiple business accounts. Utilizing a financial partner that reinvests in their local economy allows the Tovars to perpetually give back to their community. The business is also financially involved with a variety of local non-profit programs, and they view Why I Love Where I Live’s charitable giving as a part of Tucson’s culture of generosity.
Kristin and Alex now find themselves looking beyond the borders of Tucson for new opportunities to invest in different communities. The couple is working to open Why I Love Where I Live’s second location in Gilbert, Arizona, and they view the upcoming business expansion into the Phoenix-Metro area as an exciting challenge. “We always thought of the brand as something that can be moved around to different places. Because essentially Why I Love Where I Live is a perspective that you can take and use anywhere you live,” Kristin says. The new storefront is still under construction and scheduled to open before the end of this Summer in the Epicenter at Agritopia.
For now, Kristin and Alex are enjoying the calm before the storm, spending their time exploring the trails that run through the desert near their westside home. On one such day, as their family finishes an early morning hike, Kristin pulls out her phone. She opens her Instagram app to post a photo of Alex and their children with arms outstretched mimicking the towering saguaro behind them. The image of their smiling faces is yet another cherished moment she shares along with thousands of others using her prolific hashtag. And eleven years after first creating the social media account, it would seem that Kristin’s experiment has been a success. Because now, more than ever, she truly does love where she lives.
Bank like you live here.Vantage West is helping Member-Owners do more for their businesses and their communities. Learn more about how Vantage West Credit Union is helping small business owners like Kristin and Alex Tovar to help them manage their day-to-day while planning for tomorrow.