You can only take so much. For one thing, Terry Polis, owner of Terry’s Chimney Service in Taos, there was an old adage that kept nagging at him as 2020 began.
“When I was a kid and I first started in this business back in ‘78, an old-timer once told me that business is never good in an election year,” Polis said. The axiom he noted describes the tendency for commerce to dip as campaigns raced to the finish line in November due to nervousness about what changes a new administration might bring.
As the year wore on, it was clear a second unexpected thing was about to happen that has turned out to be near-apocalyptic.
The COVID-19 pandemic that struck in February caused businesses, schools and government offices to close one-by-one like a house of cards. Citizens were asked to wear masks, limit social interaction and obsessively wash hands. Then, as the rate of infection rose and deaths began hitting frightening numbers, fear gripped the nation.
It’s been eight months, and the disease is still here despite some federal government assurances that it would miraculously go away. And, although the peaks and valleys of the infection rate, along with help for some from federal grants, gave some business owners the confidence to reopen on a limited basis at various times, without customers their struggle was simply prolonged.
Polis, at 79, decided enough was enough. He sold his business servicing and selling woodstoves all across Northern New Mexico and is planning to move back East. “I hit the wall,” he said. Polis added he didn’t want what happened to him to “reflect badly on me or Taos, but this is just what happened to me … I’m entering a new phase of my life. That’s all.”
He said he wanted customers to know the business has been taken over and will be run by trusted people at the same address and phone number.
The effect of the pandemic has been felt all across Taos County — even at Taos Pueblo, the region’s most famous tourist destination and home to some 4,500 Native American residents. When the pandemic hit, the tribe initiated an emergency management plan in late March that included closing the World Heritage Site to all but tribal members and non-Indian workers. This also meant, several art galleries and shops in the village plaza were immediately closed.
Benito Concha of the pueblo’s Medicine Mountain Massage said he is “not looking to open any time in the nearby future” as a result of the pandemic.
For awhile, he said he “would go both into the town of Taos and Santa Fe to my client’s place of residence for mobile massage.” But, at the beginning of March, he said he realized he had to cease operations “due to ethical ‘do no harm’ reasons. In respect for my clients and always keeping everything sanitary and clean, as a New Mexico–licensed massage therapist, I didn’t want to gamble with anyone’s lives.”
Noting that, as the pandemic spread worldwide, even Taos Pueblo with its stringent measures was not exempt. “I realized the importance and magnitude of this novel coronavirus could be easily spread,” he said, “and importantly, I didn’t want to endanger my Taos Pueblo people.”
Tribal government announced plans Oct. 13 to create a new Taos Pueblo Heritage Center on the grounds of the former Lineberry Estate, located at the southern entrance to tribal lands on Paseo del Pueblo Norte.
“The pueblo bought back two years ago the 14-acre property that originally belonged to the pueblo and was part of the Taos Pueblo Land Grant,” a story in Taos News states. “Now the pueblo plans to create a showcase of its history, culture and art along with a hotel and meeting venue at the site, located a half-mile from the historic Taos Plaza. The pueblo has secured a 20-year license agreement to own and operate two Marriott hotels at the property, according to the pueblo’s presentation.”
It is not known, however, what fate lies in store for the shops and galleries that lined the village plaza before the pandemic.
Another local business that fell on hard times because of the pandemic served local youth and its recently announced permanent closure was considered “heartbreaking.”
High Altitude Athletics, a business located on Civic Plaza Drive adjacent to Taos Town Council chambers, decided to shut down after surveying parents of children who used the facility and speaking with its lessee, the town of Taos. In its announcement dated Oct. 20, HAA’s board said “the COVID pandemic has made reopening too uncertain and the town of Taos has graciously given us an opportunity to relinquish our lease obligations and so, we feel the time has come.”
All the equipment in the facility will be donated to Albuquerque Gymnastics School in Albuquerque. “Our equipment will live on and help future generations of gymnasts throughout the state of New Mexico,” the letter continues.
Board president Debbie Friday Jagers said Saturday (Oct. 25) HAA could have stayed open, but state restrictions required only five students per coach. Normally, there might be as many as 20 per coach. But, after a survey, they found that “parents just didn’t feel comfortable with their kids being out and about … Obviously, there’s still a lot of fear in our community because it’s so unknown. So, we just didn’t have the number of students that could return any time soon.”
In the letter to “HAA families,” it states that the business “produced many state champions and regional and western qualifiers, given hundreds of thousands of in-kind training and support for our community, hosted summer camps and after-school programs, partnered with Special Olympics and Los Angelitos, worked with our highly successful and winning cheer teams, hosted competitive meets and even hosted the great Olympian Nastia Liukin twice. We have been fortunate to have worked with over 2,500 children in our community and we hope that we helped teach them not only gymnastics, but good and healthy life skills.”
Asked what opportunities local youth have available to them now, Jagers said, “None that I’m aware of. With the rules that are in place by the governor, I honestly don’t know where we stand on fall sports or spring sports, recreational teams … Who would have ever thought we’d be living in a time like this.”