Barry Muehe and Annie Sager opened Red Mountain Foods in 1981, moving to their new location in 2011. Photo by Marion Vendituoli

When Barry Muehe and Annie Sager came to Patagonia in 1981 to visit friends, they could not have known that they would end up spending the next 40 years owning and running the successful Red Mountain Foods Store.

“We fell in ‘love at first sight’ with Patagonia and the local lifestyle,” Sager reminisced last year. “I was a craft fair artist, doing shows around the state, so I didn’t need a local job. I asked Barry, “Why are we leaving here?”

After several months the couple took over a food coop, launching their business on October 15, 1981, which they named Red Mountain Foods, in a small space on Naugle Ave. 

“I became the bookkeeper and helper, continuing to travel and sell crafts. Mainly Barry worked the daily chores in the store. Slowly, people discovered our dedication to quality food at reasonable prices and our inventory grew,” Sager wrote. “Our cash register was an adding machine for many years. At first, we had to do $175 a day to pay our bills. Profit in the early years basically was eating well…We had no freezer and very little refrigerated space. Before we could meet any minimum orders for deliveries, for many years Barry and Frank Pole grew organic produce in a large garden at the Circle Z.” 

“We would be there for 30 years, finally constructing our new store because the building was falling down around us, and our machines were very old. The health department was also changing their requirements and we didn’t own the building, so it was either invest in the landlord’s property, close or expand.”

The couple bought an empty lot on McKeown Ave., with plans to build a new, larger store. They hired local architect Jeff Latham to design the building and set about to raise the funds needed for construction.

“It was a huge investment of time, research, decision making, life savings and faith,” Sager wrote. “Angels watched over us.” 

Plans were stalled, however, in 2008 when they were turned down for a loan, due to the crash in the real estate market. In 2011 they decided to go ahead with the construction, using their own savings. 

“I knew there was enough business to sustain us, especially without loan interest charges, but it was scary, as we got down to our last pennies,” Sager recounted. “I sent out an email in December saying we would be opening and would be okay, but we wouldn’t have the storage shed or cabinets in the kitchen finished. A customer/friend wrote back and asked how much that would cost. I innocently wrote back, $10,000. She arrived with a $10,000 gift check the next day.”

While excavating for construction, the builders discovered a foundation that was, according to local sources, the cellar to Tom Di Hon’s Grocery, dating back to the ’30s and ’40s. An abacus in the store, purchased from a neighbor’s estate sale, may have belonged to the store owner, as the neighbor had been Di Hon’s landlord.

The new store opened on Dec. 21, 2011. “We had been slowly moving across the park for many months, but that night the old stand-up refrigerator started making noises and Barry had nailed a sponge to the ceiling to capture a new leak,” Sager remembered. “He called me and said, “Come help. We’re opening in the new store tomorrow morning.”’

“While we are a private business, we have many cooperative values. We are focused on people and our community. We are committed to justice and higher-level economic values,” Sager said. “We believe in integrity and respect between our employees and suppliers. We have goals beyond profit and believe in accountability. Barry and I have felt an immense sense of responsibility to be consistent and dependable.”

Sager and Muehe are grateful for the support of this community for their life of service. They do think about retirement: “Some days yes, some days not yet,” Sager commented. “We like to transition slowly and methodically.”