Small businesses squeezed on Marcy Street

November 27, 2018

Days apparently are numbered for a couple of mom and pop stores in downtown Santa Fe whose owners say add character to the town. Proposed rent increases for two small businesses in the Cortez Building on Marcy Street at Washington Avenue will force them to move or possibly close, the owners said.

The Marcy Street Card Shop has been a fixture for some four decades in the commercial building a block north of the Santa Fe Plaza. But last week, customers were wishing owners Rick and Roberta Remington well and expressing hopes the couple can find another location for the shop, which offers a variety of cards, men’s specialty gifts, bath and body products, wrapping paper, candles, toys, locally made T-shirts, and reading glasses and sunglasses.

The Remingtons’ lease expires March 31, and their proposed rent increase just doesn’t pencil out, said Rick Remington.

“They were going to give us a lease, but we couldn’t make the dollars work because they increased the amount beyond our ability to pay,” he said.

Next door, Laura Sheppherd, owner of Laura Sheppherd Atelier, said, “I’m going to be out in September because they wanted too much rent.”

She has been in business on Marcy Street for 18 years, selling hand-crafted clothing and accessories, about half of which she designs and has made locally. Other clothing comes from places such as Uzbekistan, India, Peru, Thailand and Laos.

The Cortez Building, previously owned by the the Gianardi family, was sold about 18 months ago to a Colorado firm, Cortez Marcy Street LLC, Sheppherd said. Her lease expired just after the takeover.

The new owner wanted a five-year lease with a substantial rent increase that would go up every five years, Sheppherd said. “Eventually my rent would probably triple,” she said. Sheppherd negotiated a shorter term, with a rent increase, to carry her through to September.

Sheppherd not only laments the possible end of her business but also what she sees as a trend. “I think some of the uniqueness of Santa Fe is being eliminated because of higher and higher rents,” she said. “Little mom and pop shops can’t afford high rents.”

Jeff Branch of Columbus Capital said he doesn’t know the details concerning the Cortez Building, but that it’s not unusual to see rents for commercial properties in downtown Santa Fe rise during a period of economic recovery, especially as older leases expire.

“Santa Fe in particular has always been a little cyclical, but it doesn’t always follow the national cycle,” he said. “We go into recessions a little bit later and come out of recessions later. … Things are getting a little bit better, and as a consequence, we’re seeing rents increase again.”

In some cases, he said, it can become untenable for a retailer to continue operating in a space when the cost of doing business goes up.

Efforts to obtain comment from managers of the property were unsuccessful.

The Remingtons would like to relocate their card shop but say to make it work for their longtime customer base, the business needs a location in Santa Fe’s historic center.

“If we had to move out to Cerrillos Road or away from this area, it just wouldn’t work,” Rick Remington said. The couple thought they might have found a couple of possible locations, but those have not panned out.

“We have been looking since June,” Rick Remington said. “We have talked to everybody we can think of but just have not been able to find anything within our budget.” Store spaces that could be available have rents even higher than those proposed by the store’s current landlords, he said.

The Remingtons don’t want to lose a customer base that includes regular visitors from around the country. “Our customers are 40-year customers,” Rick Remingtion said. The prospect of moving “is not what we wanted; we are brokenhearted,” he said.

The couple, who live in Albuquerque, commute daily to open the store at 9:30 a.m. and keep the doors open until “the last person leaves,” he said. “We don’t kick anybody out.” They will be open seven days a week during the Christmas season.

Rick Remington, 70, said that even if they find a new location, he and his wife would like to take more time away from the business. “We would like to sell the store rather than close the store,” he said.

Sheppherd, meanwhile, is considering her options, weighing whether to continue in business or perhaps return to the East Coast, where she lived before moving to Santa Fe two decades ago.

Instead of full-on retail, Sheppherd said, she may decide to do individual clothing shows.

“I am considering closing or relocating a very small portion of the business, or moving out of state,” Sheppherd said. She said she employs two part-time employees and one seamstress. She added she also buys fabric from artists at the International Folk Art Market/Santa Fe to transform into garments.

“In a sense, this has pushed me into early retirement,” she said of the rent increase.

Other things also are creating obstacles for small Santa Fe businesses, Sheppherd believes, including the seasonal cycles for tourism. “We have some definite slow times … and I don’t believe this town has recovered from the recession,” she said.

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