"It's a sad day," said Taos Ski Valley resident Randy German. "I've probably drank more beers here than anyone."
German sat propped on a stool outside Tim's Stray Dog Cantina Friday (June 26) with a beer in hand as staff worked to move the furniture out of the longstanding Taos Ski Valley landmark. Tim's closed its doors after 31 years of serving skiers and locals alike. Owner Marcos Aragon said it was the hardest choice he's had to make in a while.
"It's heartbreaking for the community," Agagon said. "The reason I'm shutting down is so that I don't get in a bigger hole."
According to Aragon, Tim's closure is due in large part to the high cost of water in Taos Ski Valley that has business owners like him questioning their $2,000 or more monthly water bills.
High cost of water
Taos Ski Valley has a water rate set and approved by the village council. This water rate was established to help the village bring in money into its enterprise fund between tourist times, when few people are using water in the valley.
But even when few people are in the village using water, the cost of maintaining the system doesn't go down.
Village officials set the flat fixed rate at $59, which is added to a residential customer's monthly water usage. This total adds to anywhere from $60 to $300 per month for residences in the village.
The total monthly bill changes for businesses. Businesses in the village are charged based on their annual average use as well as a fixed rate designating them as commercial users. For some of the larger properties in Taos Ski Valley, this adds up to over $11,000 per month for the Blake and $5,045 for Alpine Village Suites.
"It's a high cost of operations, but (businesses) would be able to survive if there is that visitor demand there," said Taos Ski Valley village manager John Avila.
The water bill revenues go to the village and are used for various infrastructure repairs as well as maintenance to the water treatment facility and storage tank. This $12.5 million project was partially funded through grants but is also using money from the village enterprise fund.
"The (ski) industry is based on people being here," Avila said. "In order to have the capacity when it is demanded and still be able to operate the rest of the year, you're going to need a plan to handle that."
Crowds drive need
Approximately 70 people live in the village full time, but that number can swell to just under 5,000 during the busy parts of the ski season.
The previous water treatment facility was 30 years old and able to treat up to 167,000 gallons per day. Taos Ski Valley Mayor Christof Brownell said the new facility is able to double that capacity.
At peak times during the season, Taos Ski Valley will see 4,000 skiers on the mountain.
"We have to be ready for that capacity for those few times per year," Brownell said.
Brownell said the council approved a 4 percent increase for the water rates in 2019. According to Brownell, the village does not wish to raise the rates each year, but the cost of maintenance increases steadily over time.
"You have lines that have aged and need to be expanded and we still haven't done what will be needed," Avila said.
Tim's is not the only business facing the challenges of high water bills in the valley. Garrett Cottam of Alpine Village said the situation has also been difficult for the longstanding ski valley hotel.
Despite the crowds, Aragon said it was still difficult, even outside of the COVID-19 crisis that forced most businesses to close for a few weeks, to keep the bills paid.
Aragon's average monthly bill topped $2,000 and in May, a month where the restaurant was closed, the bill was $1,209.
Brownell acknowledged that Tim's is usually one of the only places open in the ski valley during the slow months out of the year.
"We're the only ones up here," Aragon agreed. "When someone's car battery dies (in the off season), we're the ones who usually go to fix it."
The average bill for the 2019 fiscal year for the restaurant was $2,079. Aragon said the village offered to allow Tim's to make a payment plan for the bills but the money owed would still eventually have to be paid. Avila agreed.
Aragon said the decision to close was long coming and said the valley has changed a lot over the 11 years he has owned Tim's.
As the only independent restaurant bar on the mountain, Aragon said it feels like the valley no longer caters to the smaller clients.
"They're pushing us out with these little things," he said.
Taos Ski Valley Inc. is nearing completion on the Blake Residences, luxury condominiums starting at $1.3 million, which will add 24 units for the first phase. Another development near the Bavarian Restaurant could be adding even more residential units in the area.
Agagon said he is not angry with the village and understands their situation with the water charges.
Tim's Stray Dog Cantina has stood in Taos Ski Valley for 31 years and has been a staple for ski bums and snow bunnies, for locals and tourists as well as those just trying to catch a beer.
"It's sad that our longtime neighbors are gone," said Cottam. "We had someone call yesterday and say it was the most depressing thing they've heard all day."
The cantina was founded in 1989 and has only changed hands twice in that time. Tim's became famous for both its chile and its margaritas on the mountain and has always held memorable opening and closing day parties.
"Wandered in there after my first day of skiing Taos," said Facebook user Nathan Phillips. "Green chile cheeseburger and a cold beer. Really glad I had the chance to hit Tim's a few times during the last ski season they were open."
The cantina's final day of service was Tuesday (June 23). A few days later on Friday the crew met up and began loading the furniture, knickknacks and equipment into a moving truck. Dozens of passersby walked up only to be turned away by staff.
"I was looking forward to this all summer," one person said, walking away.
Aragon closed the doors to the cantina on June 30 for the last time.