Big-box and chain stores get a bad rap in Santa Fe, where the likes of former U.S. cabinet secretaries show up at public meetings to denounce them. But as the case of Borders Books shows, the issue is more nuanced than some Santa Feans would like to admit.
Borders closed both of its Santa Fe stores last year. Now, the downtown mini-mall that the national chain anchored is facing bankruptcy. Sanbusco developer Joe Schepps places the blame in large part on the closure of the Borders store, part of a chain and at least a pretty big box.
Schepps is quick to note, accurately, that Sanbusco is not part of the adjacent city-sponsored Railyard development. Sanbusco came into being nearly 25 years ago, as a private effort. Nor does he fault his other tenants, ranging from several high-end retail boutiques (most if not all of them locally owned) to a national import store and a popular Salvadoran restaurant, for Sanbusco’s financial difficulties. All of those businesses remain open.
Despite Schepps’ disclaimer, however, let’s note that the adjacent Railyard retail development also is showing signs of financial stress. In fact, the Santa Fe City Council recently voted to rent office space in the development’s main building, in what can only be construed as an effort to rescue the project.
That building, too, is anchored by a national chain store, REI. At the other end is the Santa Fe outpost of a very successful Albuquerque restaurant chain.
In short, the recipe for commercial success, particularly in the retail arena, seems decidedly mixed.
We’re not in favor of putting a Walmart in the former Borders space (even if it would fit).
But Santa Feans (and the city’s planners) shouldn’t overlook the fact that national retail giants can be a boon to commercial developments that also house locally owned small retailers.