Steph Carrico: Co-Owner of The Trunk Space

Steph Carrico, co-owner of The Trunk Space in Phoenix, photographed at The Trunk Space, by Nicki Escudero

Steph Carrico, co-owner of The Trunk Space in Phoenix, photographed at The Trunk Space, by Nicki Escudero

Steph Carrico

The Trunk Space has hosted rowdy punk shows, moving poetry readings, sexy burlesque, and life-drawing sessions. For the past 10 years, it’s been a haven for all ages to come express themselves through art and music, featuring monthly art exhibits, touring and local bands and sideshow acts that inject a quirky feel into the Downtown Phoenix Grand Avenue space.

Thank Steph Carrico, who along with co-owner JRC, strives to cultivate a diverse line-up of entertaining acts. The 38-year-old Phoenix resident is a photography and 2D/3D design teacher at Metropolitan Arts Institute and a freelance photographer when she’s not running the space.

Get excited for new Trunk Space developments. The venue, which also features an artist-made gift shop and vintage photo booth, is getting an air conditioning unit this summer, and Carrico and JRC plan to expand their coffee bar hours to all day by summer, too. Carrico talked about her motivation for running the space, and keep reading to see a video of her talk about her favorite reasons for living in the Valley.

What brought you to Arizona?

My parents brought me to Arizona when I was 9. My dad was a contractor, and we were living in northern Utah where it’s snowy. There’s no snow here, so they decided to move here because it was safer for him to work year-round.

I was born in Salt Lake City. Here, I went to Coronado High School and graduated Arizona State University with a degree in fine art photography.

How did The Trunk Space get started 10 years ago?

Originally, (co-owner) JRC and I were helping book shows at the old Paper Heart art space, and we had a coffee cart. At the end of 2003, the owner decided to move into a bigger location, and he got a liquor license. We had kind of planned all along to do our own thing, but that seemed like a really good time to do it, because we wanted to do a space that was all-ages, and the alcohol part wasn’t something we were interested in. We found this space at the end of March in 2004.

Why was having an all-ages space important to you guys?

A big thing for me personally was that I grew up here, and there weren’t a lot of things for teenagers to do, or where their grandparents would be welcome to participate or experience. We wanted to be all-ages not just so we could cater to teenagers, but we wanted to be a safe place for any age people to come and express themselves and be creative.

We also didn’t want to be a music venue – we wanted it to be a place for art. It didn’t matter if it was theatrical or visual or musical, we wanted it to be a place where anyone would feel welcome. I feel like sometimes when alcohol becomes part of it, it becomes more of a music venue than a creative space for everyone.

What do you look for when you’re choosing an artist or performer to feature?

We look for passion. It’s important for us that an artist has something they need to say or a drive to create whatever they’re creating. That’s more important than pure skill.

We’re going to pick something where whoever is performing or creating is doing something different than what’s been done before, over a rock band that’s the absolute best rock band. It’s more experimental and more avant garde, people who are really passionate about whatever they’re creating.

How has The Trunk Space evolved in the past 10 years?

In the beginning, we didn’t really have anything. It was just this big empty room with a coffee cart in it. Then, we upgraded our sound system and built a stage, and slowly things developed into this space that can host a lot of different things.

I feel like we’ve settled into the community more, and that was always part of our goal, too. We always felt downtown was amazing, and that what was going on in this little creative world was really cool. We wanted to be a part of that.

What stands out about your location on Grand Avenue?

I really like there are a lot of different art spaces on Grand Avenue and creative people. At first I didn’t, but now I like it’s on the only diagonal street in Phoenix, which is a little funky.

What are your plans for the open-all-day coffee bar?

Sam Clark, (owner) of Lo Fi Coffee, is joining forces with us. If all goes as planned, we’ll have a coffee shop open, hopefully by June, during the day. The Trunk Space will stay the same at night.

Lo Fi Coffee is roasted here locally, and it’s really good. There is some space in here to hang out, and if a bigger group wanted to meet, there’s room. It’s independent, which is nice. I feel like there are a lot of good coffee options, but we don’t really have anything west of Lola coffee-wise, besides Starbucks. We’re hoping to bring in vegan snacks from Bragg’s (Factory Diner).

What are your goals for The Trunk Space?

I’d like to see The Trunk Space turn 20. I like we’re getting air conditioning, because we’ll be able to do some things we haven’t been able to do, like film, and some of the electronic stuff we never could book in the summer because the gear just wouldn’t work because it was so hot inside. I’m excited we won’t have to limit ourselves.

We want to continue to nurture the creative community and be a part of it, and continue to host performers and artists I personally think are amazing.

What have been the biggest challenges to being a business owner?

We’ve run Trunk Space, pretty much until the last two years, just JRC and I. Sometimes it’s tough to keep up on everything with only two people – there’s the online calendar, the Facebook events, the taxes and banking, and going to Smart & Final to get cups. I guess the biggest challenge was juggling all those things.

When we started this, I had no idea how many little details there are, and how so many people depend on you getting those little details done. If you forget to put some band’s name on the calendar, it hurts their feelings. It’s just a lot of work, but at the same time, it’s been so incredibly rewarding.

What have been the most rewarding aspects to it?

For me, the absolute most rewarding aspect is having performers or people who have come here come back and tell us the Trunk Space changed their lives, or they felt like they were really allowed to grow as an artist here. That, to me, is just the most amazing feeling.

Also, to see bands like Andrew Jackson Jihad or iji or Dogbreth see some success. I’m just so proud of the people who play for five people in here sometimes, continue to work and work and work, and become better artists and get the attention they deserve. That’s super-rewarding.

What has been your most memorable night here?

There have been 2,500 nights – more than that. There have been so many, though the 10-day festival we recently finished has been one of the most magical things to have happened here. We picked 10 days’ worth of performances from people we really felt were part of The Trunk Space family, and it was really cool to see people who had moved away or always lived away come back and play for our town.

And, just that we endured 10 days of it was really magical. Every night had sort of its own little personality, and everyone was beautiful and fun.

What are your personal goals?

My big personal goal is to be able to travel in the summers. I really like to travel, and I really don’t like the heat, so we’re working on getting more volunteers to help us with Trunk Space. It’s mainly so we don’t burn out, and for me to do more traveling in the summer. With teaching, it’s perfect, because I get two months off.

How can someone become a volunteer at The Trunk Space?

Email us at, or just show up and talk to us. There are people who do sound or coffee, and there are people who help with booking and promotion. Some people just want to take flyers around, and that’s a huge help to me, because I hate taking flyers around.

Why are small independent theaters like this important to Phoenix and the arts community?

I love Crescent Ballroom, and they have so many amazing shows – I’m going there next week for one – but they’re only going to book acts they know can draw enough to keep that size space open. If you’re on tour for the first time, or you’re 14, and you just started a band, that’s not an option for you. Or, if you’re 18, and you want your mom and dad and grandma to come to your show, you’re not going to play a house show, because that’s not conducive to your family coming and watching you play.

I feel like Trunk Space is important because it gives people a safe place to perform, create art and share it with anyone. I have musicians who play here because they want to share it with their 4-year-old – their 4-year-old can’t go to Yucca Tap Room. It’s important because there needs to be a place for everyone.

Not to diss other places – I love going to The Rhythm Room and those places, but they do something different than what we do.

You have an amazing story involving silver dollars.

It was about 2007, and things were rough. It was a lot of work, day in and day out, and I came in and thought, “I don’t know if I want to do this anymore.” I thought in my head, “Alright, universe: if I’m supposed to keep doing this, I want someone to pay with a dollar coin.” The cover was $5, and a couple minutes later, this kid came up and had five of the Sacagawea dollars and said, “Hey, could I pay my cover with this?” I said, “Absolutely!” I took them and was like, “Hey, sweet, thanks universe! I get it, I’m supposed to keep doing this!”

Then, (musician) Stephen Steinbrink was performing that night. He walked up to me, reached out, and had one of the big silver dollars in his hand. He said, “I feel like I should give this to you,” and he handed it to me. I almost started to cry and was like, “Whoa, I get it! I’m listening!”

I didn’t tell Stephen right away because I was still sort of overwhelmed by everything, but I later told Stephen, and we cried. I took it in my purse and have it with me all the time. I think I might have given up if it wasn’t for that – it was this huge sign: “Keep doing it, you have to!”

What advice would you have for someone who’s interested in creating a place like The Trunk Space themselves?

Be ready to work really hard and not make any money. It’s not going to just be about letting your friends’ bands play. All of a sudden, the tax guy is going to show up at the door and be like, “You need to pay your taxes.” All these little things come up. Be ready to do a lot of work.

The other side of that is, if you do the work, it’s super-rewarding and feeds your soul.

You and co-owner JRC have worked together for 10 years. What makes a good business partner?

Finding someone who is good at the things you’re bad at is key to finding a good business partner. I feel like I’m good at some of the stuff JRC is bad at, and JRC is good at some of the stuff I’m bad at. We make a good balance. The things you totally suck at, go out and find someone who is really good at those things.

What are your hopes for the Phoenix arts scene in general?

My hope is we continue on the path of small independent business and don’t let downtown get gentrified, and continue to nurture diverse, interesting spaces instead of crushing them. More people are going to come to Phoenix, to either move here or visit, if it’s interesting and different than where they come from. I think homogenizing downtown would be disastrous.

Why should people come to The Trunk Space?

I think people should come to The Trunk Space because they might experience something new, and it might change their life. JRC has a great phrase I’m going to butcher a little bit: “If you have the choice between staying home and going out, go out. If you have the choice between doing something you’ve done before or doing something new, do something new.” I think there’s truth to that. You might experience a little bit of magic if you do things you’ve never done before.

Even if you’re like, “Oh, it’s kind of scary to go to Trunk Space all by myself,” or, “I’ve never been there,” it’s healthy to push outside what you know, beyond Trunk Space, anywhere. There’s Space 55, the Phoenix Center for the Arts, and tons of art galleries. Lawn Gnome does stuff all the time. Go support those little places, because you’re probably going to discover a world you didn’t know existed.

Learn more about Space 55 founder Shawna Franks here on Phoenix People.
Learn more about Lawn Gnome Bookstore owner Aaron Johnson here on Phoenix People.

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