Walk into the store at the south end of the El Dorado Plaza in Taos, and the smell of leather hits you in the face as soon as you open the doors.
“It’s the boots,” Maria Martinez said.
That smell, and that location particular to Taos, will be gone soon.
Paul’s Western Wear – a local downtown Taos staple, at 304A Paseo del Pueblo Norte, for nearly 50 years – will be closing its doors at the end of September.
The reasoning for it?
It wasn’t a loss of revenue from the coronavirus pandemic that has shuttered businesses nationwide over the fast pew months, but rather because it was an end of an era.
Paul Martinez, the owner of Paul’s Western Wear, died on Aug. 12 after a two-year battle with colon cancer, his wife, Sylvia Martinez, said.
He was 73.
He worked up until March 19 – sick with cancer – the day Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham had told nonessential businesses to close down because of the coronavirus pandemic. Since the shop has reopened, Maria, his daughter, has been helping keep the shop running while her father had received treatments until his death.
“It won’t be the same without my husband here – this was his place,” Sylvia Martinez, Paul's wife, said.
Sylvia said he was in the shop seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. throughout the entirety of its existence. If he needed to make a stop somewhere, say, like Super Save, he did that before work started.
“His work ethic was the biggest thing he had,” Maria said. “He loved what he did.”
Paul’s Western Wear began as Paul’s Men’s Shop back in 1973, when he had purchased it from Leroy Garcia. The shop was in the building in which Guerrilla Graphix now resides, on Paseo del Pueblo Norte.
In the 1980s, the shop moved to its current location in the El Dorado Plaza and has been there ever since. That’s when the store, in turn, became Paul’s Western Wear.
Paul, in fact, owned a curio shop as well that extended north toward where Camino Real Imports resides. That came to a halt around 2010, Sylvia said.
Sylvia remembers Paul as a hard worker, someone who hasn’t taken a day off since he was a teenager. She said from the time she met him, his goal was always to become a business owner.
“This was what he always wanted,” Sylvia said. “The retail business was his whole life.”
Paul’s Western Wear sells a selection of boots, leather belts and button-up shirts, among other Western clothing. The store had just celebrated 47 years open on Aug. 6.
Maria said her father catered to the working man – and especially Taos locals. He enjoyed selling to tourists, too, and especially those that would come back year after year. Paul was a man who enjoyed his conversations.
“It was more than a store,” Maria said. “This was his place of socialization. He never had to go anywhere because everybody came to see him ... so that’s what this store brought him. That’s one of the joys he had, you know, was just being surrounded by people.”
Throughout the years, Paul’s Western Wear had its fair share of famous people who’ve bought clothes from the store – Val Kilmer, Ruth Buzzi, Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn. Shortly before Paul’s death, his daughter Maria had called him to let Paul know she had seen “Sons of Anarchy” actor Mark Boone Junior.
“Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell came in and Kurt Russell was on the phone the whole time and my dad just sold (to) her,” Maria said.
He was a popular man around Taos – “the whole town knew him,” Sylvia said – so much so that he always had friends in the shop or at his house.
“Dad was always the life of the party,” Pablo Martinez, Paul’s son, said. “He would just joke around – and he always put a smile on somebody’s face.”
Sylvia and Paul first met at Taos High School in 1964 in chorus class – Paul a sophomore, Sylvia a junior. The two started dating a year later.
Three months after Paul graduated in 1966, he was drafted by the U.S. Army.
Paul was stationed in Germany during the Vietnam War. In 1968, he had gotten back in touch with Sylvia when he was in Chicago – he was traveling back to New Mexico because his father was having brain surgery – and the two hit it off again. A year later, they were married.
Paul, since the 2000s, had also written three books on his family genealogy – the first book titled “Mis Primos, Los Descendientes de Jose Manuel Martinez y Juana Maria Aragon.”
His family lineage goes back four or five generations here in Northern New Mexico, Maria said.
A family man at heart, Paul was also fond of Juanita Martinez, Pablo’s wife. Juanita was his caretaker the past two years when he battled cancer, and long before that he had told her she was “like a second daughter.”
Paul also has another child, Francisco Martinez – who is the eldest.
While Paul’s Western Wear is closing at the end of September, the store itself –and the man who owned it – will not be forgotten.
“It was his American dream, you know, because as he said, everybody’s American Dream is different,” Maria said. “And his was having a family, owning a home and owning his own business. That was his American dream.”