By Robert Gay

As Patagonia enters a new decade, a quiet renewal is occurring in the heart of its ‘downtown’ retail district. Between the Stage Stop Inn and a vacant lot, two new owners share a joined building on McKeown Ave, fronted by a covered sidewalk with a step to the pavement that provides pedestrians with both protection from the sun and from street vehicles.

There are currently five businesses on McKeown Avenue in this space, as well as Tod Bowden’s fitness studio, Bowden’s Choice, which offers fitness classes in its space off Smelter Alley. The space is bookended by Adrienne Halpert’s long standing and successful Global Arts Gallery and Long Realty’s busy Patagonia branch, managed by agents Jean Miller and Barbara Harris. The exterior wall at that end of the building sports an aging and playful student-painted mural of the town’s streets and buildings. Hidden further down the wall in the bushes toward the back is a lightning-struck figure by Gathering Grounds mural artist, Cassandra Elaine Dixon.

 Of these six businesses in the combined building, three of the businesses in the space are undergoing significant changes. The Long Realty end of the block is now owned by Family Health Care Amigos LLC (FHCA), a home-health-care charity founded by Linda Huffstetler-Dearing in 1975 that runs several programs to support medically challenged community members. The Lending Shed, the FHCA storeroom for supplies like canes, crutches, walkers and other small “durable medical equipment” items that can be borrowed by residents in need, is now housed in a shed on Smelter Ave, part of the renovation headed by Don Borham which also includes reopening a long-closed storefront. 

Experiencing ‘project creep’ as most tenant improvement projects do, the project has led Borham into complete electrical and plumbing replacement, extensive roof-patching, structural work, plaster repairs over crumbling adobe block walls, and much more. What will emerge from the dust will be an upscale second-hand furniture business to be called The Purple Elephant, which will offer donated, often repaired good-quality furniture to raise money for FHCA. Access to the store from the alley in back will be available for loading & unloading larger items, like sofas.

Next door, the Gathering Grounds owners, Audrey Wood and Brendon Doles, have joined forces as Doleswood LLC to purchase the rest of the Stradling building, thus becoming landlords for the other three businesses, from their cafe up to the alley of the Stage Stop Inn. This means they’re managing the whole of the former Stradling Building, a wide-span, steel- framed addition which embraced the original smaller storefronts, providing a large open space which previously housed the food processing operation of Viva Pura.

The Stradling Building owes its name to Anne Stradling, a horse-loving Patagonian who gathered over 10,000 objects related to horses and the life around them. To share the growing collection, Stradling created and ran the Museum of the Horse from 1975 until 1991 in Patagonia, when it was relocated to Ruidoso, NM. There, it was incorporated into The Hubbard Museum of the American West, still open to the public.

The Warehouse, as Wood and Doles are calling the big space behind the cafe, is slowly being rehabbed. It retains an unexpected indoor-outdoor feeling, with small lounge spaces to the side, a ping pong table, beanbag toss, and a serving bar. Starting last summer with a series of Thursday afternoon “Monsoon Madness” events, the Gathering Grounds has begun making The Warehouse available as an event space to supplement the original Gathering Grounds cafe. Musicians who have played there appreciate the acoustics of the room, citing the way in which its many surfaces and planes distribute the sound. One visitor suggested the space would make a great haunted house at Halloween.

This fall The Warehouse accommodated 130 people at a banquet for the SpiritWorld 100 gravel bike race, and approximately 60 public school teachers and staff enjoyed a Christmas lunch the day after school closed for Christmas break. In January a memorial service for local artist Donna Reibslager will be held, which will include a display of her work. 

Another new venture Wood and Doles have in mind is to provide gelato for customers, and, toward that end, they are assembling a side kitchen in the warehouse to refine and test their gelato method, which is both delicate and artful. No grand opening date was offered by Wood. She stressed that it’s a craft they want to perfect before saying they are a gelateria. Another idea being considered by Gathering Grounds is an outdoor deck in the parking strip to extend seating in good weather. 

The third business space undergoing change as the new year begins is the Creative Spirits Art gallery.  As new owners of the gallery space, Wood and Doles are working with Ann and Andy Anderson as managers. The Andersons, who have been in the area for a year, were looking for a local business to become involved in. The gallery seemed a good fit, so they contracted to start working on January 1. Respectful of the local eccentricities and the current stable of artists, they do not plan to unroll some preset blueprint for sweeping change, but rather plan to continue the same consignment contract basis for displaying a broad diversity of artwork.

From the street in 2020, it’s likely that little will appear changed, but together, these three major renewals will bring fresh life to the heart of Patagonia’ s enduring historical downtown and hopefully bring new customers in the various doors.