The Riffel Effect: The business of generosity recipe for success at Cottonwood Main Stage
As Rebecca Riffel emerges from behind the pool tables and comfortable couches in her spacious Main Stage bar, she hears the sounds one would expect: a pleasant conversation from patrons about ball games and what happened that day at their jobs, backed by classic rock softly drifting out from the house speakers.
In addition to the modern bar ambiance of Americana, Riffel and her family also try to foster an environment that supports community, and a sense that we’re all in this life together.
Riffel, who was severely burned in a childhood accident, said she has a special place in her heart for the Arizona Burn Foundation, but there are dozens of causes in the Verde Valley and beyond that have been recipients of fundraisers Riffel has organized or hosted as the owner of Main Stage.
Penny Smith, a longtime Cottonwood resident, the Main Stage booking manager and “all-around great human,” according to Riffel, has been a part of many of the bar’s hosted fundraisers. In fact, she helped kickstart what has become a solid tradition at Main Stage with a birthday fundraiser about four years ago that raised close to $11,000 for the Verde Valley Sanctuary domestic abuse shelter.
Rebecca’s parents, Don and Eileen Riffel, have been in the bar business for many years, she said. In fact, her great-grandmother owned and ran a bar in Belgium, and her grandparents met in a bar.
Her parents helped her open the Main Stage nightclub, at the corner of Main Street and Mingus Avenue in a building that was once a church. She is the owner and general manager of the bar.
Bombaz, a restaurant, recently leased the back one-sixth on the northeast corner of the building for its second location, giving Main Stage in-house specialty foods.
Not Your Grandma's Bingo
Smith’s 2015 birthday fundraiser led Eileen Riffel to suggest a Bingo night as a regular way to raise funds for various charities.
Smith hosts Wednesday-night “Not Your Grandma’s Bingo” at Main Stage, and donations from that weekly event go to a different cause each month.
A percentage of each week’s Bingo pot and a donation bucket go to some type of need, such as a nonprofit or the family of a person with a serious illness.
While the initial challenges in legally and formally sponsoring and arranging a Bingo night were intense, what resonated with Riffel the most about the fundraiser was the generosity she found in the Verde Valley community.
“In July, we ended up giving $1,600 to the Verde Valley Humane Society,” she said. “It’s been amazing to see what the community can do, not only in terms of money and donations, but also love and support for each other.”
Proceeds from “Beer School” classes also go to charity.
Riffel was burned across 17 percent of her body when she was 11 years old and received much help from the Arizona Burn Foundation. She enjoys giving back to that organization and hosting events or helping its efforts in other ways.
Riffel was raised in Sedona and attended the University of Arizona before teaching English in Thailand and then the Dominican Republic before later living in Portland, Ore. and Hawaii, gaining valuable business and life experiences that have taught her universal truths about humanity.
Her family has been in the bar business for generations. When the Main Stage building came available, she was back in the Verde Valley, and saw a need for an environment that could generate income, but also be part of community-wide efforts.
Lots of help
Riffel said Brandon Decker, who has helped her book bands, and Josh Bartosh, who was Main Stage’s first bar manager, are among the many people who helped get the business off the ground.
Decker said Riffel might be starting an entire movement of more community-driven businesses.
“It’s quite a thing she’s spearheaded in the area,” Decker said. “Rebecca, the Riffels and Main Stage have quietly gone about the work of bringing music, art and community to the Verde Valley. They’ve never taken any bait of negativity directed their way and stayed true to their vision, enduring a slow hard fought path to a success I’m proud to have been a part of and have contributed to in some way. The nightlife Main Stage has brought is one of a kind in the area but much more impressive to me is the constant support and giving back to community and worthy causes by way of fundraisers and charity events.”
Bartosh said Riffel is an asset to the Verde Valley — especially Cottonwood.
“This community was lucky to get her back here, and her vision with Main Stage has always been consistent: Music, art and community,” Bartosh said. “From day one of planning Main Stage, she had a philanthropic vision that one of the pillars of Main Stage would be to benefit to the community. Admittedly, sometimes, that was hard for me to wrap my head around how a for-profit business could really benefit a community, especially a venue. Then, it became apparent to me that this was a huge need we could help with when we held a benefit for the displaced employees of Quince. We raised quite a bit of money for the employees — some of whom did not receive paychecks for months. That was all Becca.”
Bartosh said Riffel has a “first-responders’ mentality” if there is a problem or issue, and she dives in to resolve things. Her parents are the same way, he said.
Riffel is grateful to have found people that believe in the mission of her business.
“It’s always great to be surrounded by people who know at least a little more than you do,” Riffel said. “There is also the ‘outsider’ factor. I had been gone for 11 years. So it’s great to have people that know folks in Sedona, Camp Verde, Flagstaff, Prescott and Phoenix so that we can get both a variety of acts and events and also bargoers from all those places.”
Riffel said she’s been told by Arizonans from far more densely populated parts of the state that their communities don’t seem to have a place quite like Main Stage, that supports local efforts and celebrate diversity; for example, she believes the bar is one of the first in valley to consistently host drag shows.
Riffel said the people of the Verde Valley have big hearts.
“There are also a lot of great things coming into the area, like the wine industry,” Riffel said. “What Maynard (James Keenan, the rocker who is based in Jerome) and others have brought here make it an exciting time to be here.”
Riffel said Cindi Kerber-Battisti is one of the other longtime local business owners who has really taken fundraising and volunteer work to a new and needed level, along with Riffel’s mother, aunt and others, as part of the “Sisterhood Connection.”
Riffel said she’s impressed by the women who have hustled to build everything from hair salons to photography businesses in the area.
“It’s important we compete as businesspeople while supporting each other — and lifting each other up,” she said. “We can come from different ideologies and life experiences and still respect each other.”