The end of the trail

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It looks like the end of the trail for Magdalena’s Trails End Market.

For more than half a century Trails End Market has been a food staple in the community. But late last month owners Collette Foard and Michael Otero notified customers one of the village’s oldest businesses — and its only full service grocery store — is going out of business unless a buyer can be found soon.

The news caused quite a stir in Magdalena, a once bustling western town now with a population of 938, according to the most recent census. Concern over what impact the store’s closing would have on the village is the talk of the town.

“I don’t know what people are going to do,” said Marva Brunson, who has been shopping at Trails End Market for more than 40 years. “I know a couple of people who say they aren’t going to live in a town that doesn’t have a grocery store. It’s a real problem, in my opinion.”

The fear is Magdalena is dying a slow death. Though several new, small businesses opened last year, there are still a number of historic buildings on U.S. 60, the main drag through town, that have been vacant for decades.

“When I first moved here there were four full-service grocery stores,” said Brunson. “With Trails End closing down, all of them will be gone.”

The closest full service grocery store to Magdalena is in Socorro, where there are three. But that’s a 60-mile round trip.

Times They are a Changing

Since the news broke, the Magdalena Chamber of Commerce has tried to be proactive about what can be done about the impending void.

At a community meeting on March 11, 50 people, including Tim Hagaman of New Mexico Economic Development Department and representatives from U.S. Congressman Steve Pearce and State Sen. Tom Udall’s office, showed up to talk about the situation.

“People are very concerned,” said Danielle Fitzpatrick, who hosted the meeting at her Bear Mountain Coffeehouse. “There are people who are limited with transportation or are low income. It’s going to be hard on them.”

While Trails End Market is still open, shelves are emptying and are not being re-stocked. It seems just a matter of time before it’ll close for good.

Fitzpatrick said a sense of urgency was emitted at the meeting, especially for the community’s older members. She noted that out of the 50 people who showed up, only a handful were younger than 50.

“Some of the population has lived in Magdalena for many years and depend on the market and don’t have easy access to Socorro. They’re going to be up a creek,” she said. “It’s a situation where people with the greatest need are the part of the population with the least capacity.”

Fitzpatrick said many ideas were discussed at the meeting, which Trails End’s owners didn’t attend. They talked about people’s needs and possible solutions.

Forming a food cooperative was one idea, but the question was raised whether such a store could be profitable given the economic climate.

Times are changing, and Magdalena isn’t the town it used to be.

“It’s a small community with a variety of tastes. You have everything from the yuppies to the town’s old-timers. It’s a different town today,” Fitzpatrick said.

A Big Problem

Addressing the urgency, Fitzpatrick said short-term remedies discussed were establishing a buyer’s club and contacting growers to build up a bigger farmers’ market.

Those may be good ideas, but not everyone thinks they’re practical. What people really want to see is a long-term solution, Fitzpatrick said.

Lee Scholes, president of the chamber of commerce, said he felt the meeting was productive. There was a lot of interest and good energy, he said, but nothing was resolved.

People expressed varying viewpoints, but Scholes said there was consensus about one thing.

“Everyone agrees there’s a problem,” he said, recognizing the likely consequences. “It goes from (shopping at) an 8,000 square-foot store in town to a 220-acre food hunt.”

And even then it’s limited. You can get milk, soft drinks and some other foodstuff at the Conoco gas station and convenience store. A Family Dollar store has a grocery section and some frozen goods. But Trails End Market had a wider range of products and, most significantly, produce and meat sections, complete with an in-house butcher.

Everyone would like to see someone else take over the store, but new owners would face risks and challenges.

“It’s not like running a gift shop,” Scholes said.

It’s Going to Hurt

As head of the chamber of commerce, Scholes is concerned about what losing Trails End Market would do to the local economy.

“Now, for people from Catron (County) and Alamo (Indian Reservation) there’s no need to stop here,” he said, adding that Trails End served that market, too.

“And then there’s the gross receipt taxes,” Scholes said.

While some food products are exempt from gross receipt taxes, not all of them are and neither are most household products and other items available in the store.

Mayor Sandy Julian is concerned about that, too.

“Our gross receipts taxes will drop, that’s for sure,” she said.

Exactly how much isn’t certain; the mayor said they’re trying to find that out. Gross receipts are paid to the state and the village gets paid back in a lump sum, so it’s difficult to determine how much the market accounts for.

A town the size of Magdalena needs all the gross receipts it can get to pay for projects, and there are many needs. Most of the roads in town aren’t paved and the village has been putting its money toward another critical need — building a new well to safeguard its water supply.

The loss of Trails End Market will hurt the village, but Julian said she worries about how bad the people directly associated with the market will suffer.

“It hurts to lose a business, especially a store that’s been there that long,” she said. “Who I really feel sorry for are Collette’s employees. Some of them have been there a long time, and they’re losing their jobs.”

A Sensitive Subject

Collette Foard, who has managed the store for decades, declined to be interviewed for this story.

People say she personally broke the news to many folks around town to head off the rumor mill. She also left a message for customers taped to the front door of the market.

“Trails End Market would like to say Thank You to our loyal customers for their many years of patronage!!!” it reads. “BUT Michael & Collette can no longer absorb the financial loss of the business due to the lack of full community support. A 90 day notice has been given to our landlord and Trails End Market will be closing unless sold before that time.”

The sign says buyers of the business can contact Foard. The building is being leased and is currently up for sale, listed at $318,000.

Not everyone likes to talk about it, particularly on the record, but there was some consternation around town when the Family Dollar store came to town in the summer of 2010.

There are many who would like to see Magdalena keep its small-town identity. They favor locally owned businesses over chain stores, and Family Dollar’s bright, shiny storefront is distinctively different from anything else along the one-mile stretch of road that runs through town.

And, of all places, it’s located right next door to Trails End Market.

Other community members are less particular. They saw value when Family Dollar came to town. It offers a wider variety of products, such as clothing, furniture and other household items. Prices are generally lower, the store is open longer hours. It created new jobs and boosted gross receipt taxes.

That’s all good, but the announcement that Trails End Market was likely to close has created unrest.

“My concern is that Collette and Michael are being blamed, and it’s not their fault,” said Brunson, who has remained a loyal customer. “They would bend over backwards for people.”

Brunson said as the town’s local market, Trails End would offer services bigger stores usually don’t. She said Foard and Otero were generous, donating food to local groups and projects, hired kids at the high school and would make deliveries to shut-ins without charge.

Brunson recalled one time when she commented to Foard that she was expecting a visitor from out of town who was allergic to milk.

“Collette said that’s no problem; she’d get some soy milk. I said, ‘You can’t stock soy milk for just a week,’ and she said, ‘Sure I can,’” Brunson said.

That kind of customer service you don’t get from a Walmart, Brunson said.

“That’s catering to the community,” she said. “And it wasn’t just me; she did that for a lot of people. That’s the kind of thing you get from a small grocery store in a small community that’s an intangible. You can’t put something like that on an accounting ledger.”

 


-- Email the author at tslast@dchieftain.com.