Taos: The Underreported Issue of the Big Box
Recently, a band of concerned citizens has voiced worries about the location of a Family Dollar Store in the pristine El Prado area. We might take a lesson from the destructive dirt pile and storage unit complex, now for sale, that sits on the west side of the north entrance to Taos between the Blinking Light and the El Prado Post Office. We don’t see the economic sense of locating an 8000 sq. ft. commercial entity in front of Overland Sheepskin. Of course, the County Commission will be growing more desperate for gross receipts taxes so they will, no doubt, give the project due consideration. A new and expanded gas and liquor facility will be built in El Prado just outside the 300-foot perimeter of the Methodist Church per the Chevron station.
A Family Dollar Store located in the Blinking Light Corridor adjacent to the intersection makes more sense. The Commissioners and activists should try and talk some sense into the agents for the project. The Commissioners are generally pro cottage industry but against commercial construction for bars and brewpubs even as county cafes and bars are closing. We don’t know what they think about commercial retail businesses but predict that they will like it.
The poor and disadvantaged benefit from the Family Dollar Store—see recent additions of the Family Dollar Store to Questa and Penasco. It’s a poor person’s Walmart and appears to work. And, by the way, the Commission is not interested in your opinion of the viewscape or the effect on tourism.
Now comes the Taos Town Council. At a recent meeting, the Planning Director sought, (at the instigation of higher ups, he implied) to review the land use development code, specifically, the limitations on Big Box development of 80,000 square feet. Despite the disclaimers by the Mayor and Council that they were just taking a look at reviewing and revamping the code, the intentions are obvious. Try and lure a Big Box store into the commercial corridor on Paseo del Pueblo Sur. Rudy “Walmart” Abeyta voted to allow a behemoth Walmart Superstore eight years ago and lost his seat in the next council race.
The Mayor encouraged and the Council voted 3-1 to support the review, the beginning of the slide down the slippery slope. Apparently times have changed. The Mayor himself made his chops opposing the “Big Box.” As Rudy, the most pompous of Councilors, has pointed out, the “Poor People” need a place to shop without leaving town. Councilor Silva mentioned “leakage,” that oft-used term to denote the loss of gross receipts taxes due to out of town shoppers. Only Councilor Gene Sanchez voted against the review and took a strong stand against revising the “Big Box” ordinance.
According to the news reports, the Council is against the “Free Box” but as the Mayor has said they must think outside the box. “Big Box.” Rudy “Walmart,” a realtor, who famously sought locations all over the community for the Super Walmart, alluded to the benefits of “Target. ” We’re not sure if that paragon of middle class shopping utopia would appeal to the “Poor People.”
Councilman Silva, no doubt, sees another dirt work contract in the offing if his past is any judge of the future. He and Rudy voted to bail out KCEC at the Command Center, which is projected to add unnecessary expenses of $50,000 a year to the E911 operation plus cost from $500,000 to $1 million for the move. So much for discretionary money that might be spent on Rudy’s “Poor People.” Silva, of course, has gotten, reportedly, a Broadband contract, for his good deed. And he reportedly, squeezed some work out of the Singing Plumber and his gang at the Valverde project as well as the installation of the Town’s new Eco Park soccer field.
(Indeed, Abeyta’s interest in real estate, Silva’s in excavation, and Cordova’s in broadcast advertising sums up their rather short-sighted economic vision. For the more than 40 years I’ve observed how Taosenos enjoy shopping out of town—whether in Alamosa, Espanola, Santa Fe, or Albuquerque—especially, the latter today. The drive to the Duke City can be justified due to a yen to see relatives, friends, shopping, and cultural activities unavailable in Taos. Unlike the Traveling Trustees, the average Taoseno must make do with a brief in state trip to the casinos or urban areas to our south.)
According to officials at the KCEC, Lowes, a discount lumber and hardware chain, has been inquiring about electrical infrastructure. Nationally, Lowe’s has closed over one hundred poor performing stores. Folks from Taos drive to Espanola to shop there. Still, Randall’s and Ace Hardware are apparently weathering the current downturn in the economy. But if Lowe’s moves in how will they be affected?
It is difficult to imagine why a chain like Lowe’s, Walmart, or Target would want to expand in a community that looks like it is in decline (despite the KCEC $60 million investment in Broadband). Real estate sales are at a standstill, tourism is slowing, retail shops are closing, and derelict buildings dot the landscape. We may see some slight bumps but the future of the national economy, too, is dim. As for shopping, second homers and many locals today surf the Internet. Witness the growth of UPS and FED X—even as post office delivery declines. Course crime, according to jail population figures, is on the decline at least among the youth. The THS population has declined during the last decade from about 1100 students to 700 today. Why are families moving out of town?
We must be patient and plan better–even as the Council and Mayor prepare to deliver the coup de grace to the historic community–and the troublesome “Mom and Pops” as Councilor Sanchez implied.
To me, Rudy, the realtor and Target advocate, seems more concerned about exploiting his neighbors in Weimer Heights, “the Beverly Hills of Taos,” as Harold Timber has called it, than caring for the “Poor People.” Rather than regulate the “Free Box,” the Council wants to eliminate it—as well as newsvendors in the busier intersections—they say, due to “safety.” So much for poor people. Ironically, according to reports, Walmart is a poor person’s welcome mat, where shoplifting is reaching new levels of refinement.
And neither Rudy nor Mayor Cordova will leave their cuates behind, the ones who erect commercial buildings but are not required to pay “Open Space” fees. Or the Town allows friends to skate around requirements for hooking up to the Town Water system. It’s the “Contracts for Crony” program as economic stimulus: Bail outs for the KCEC Trustees.
During the special meeting, I watched on DVD, it became clear that the Abeyta agreement requires the Town to close at least one, perhaps two, of its wells and pump more water from other wells, say Well No. 5, adjacent to McDonalds. Hence the Spring Ditch, like the ditches in Autumn Acres/Valverde Commons, will continue to suffer from urban encroachment. At a time when the food supply is increasingly threatened by corporate and financial predators, a majority on the Council and the Mayor himself are ignoring the traditional and contemporary notion of popular and practical food sustainability associated with historic acequias.
Why not build on what we have? Historically, of course, tourism goes way back in one form or another: Tribal trade fairs, the Spanish Conquest, the American occupation, the arrival of the Broken Wheel duo, the burgeoning outpost of artists, due to Mabel Dodge; the arrival of the hippies, the coming of the second homers. The view and the culture, the funky adobe community, Taos Pueblo and the Bridge, and the very interesting mix of people–all add up to something you can build on for the future. This Town government has invested more dollars in tourism than prior administrations. And that’s a good thing but the town needs a new vision, too. Many local merchants are lost in a past based on t-shirt sales, fake curios, boring art, and generally lack a real cultural connection to the Plaza.
Meanwhile, everybody everywhere—almost—in America has the “Big Box.” . Sometimes you’ve got to destroy a village to save it. That’s what they used to say in Vietnam. The attitude toward Mainstreet by Wall Street and Town Hall toward historic Taos seems like an echo not a choice.