ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Another longtime Albuquerque business fixture is about to close its doors.
Farmers Market, which traces its roots through three generations and was once one of the largest purveyors of produce in New Mexico, will shut up shop for good, citing the loss of its primary supply sources in drought-plagued California and pressure from large supermarket buying power.
The popular greengrocer, which once had 10 locations in New Mexico, will close its sole remaining location at 10110 Snowheights NE on March 1.
Owner Jhett Browne said the iconic produce business that first opened in 1962 was unable to compete with pricing at nearby supermarket chains, especially after California growers cut their acreage by 50 percent in the wake of a historic drought. “The cost of production is so goddamn high, not to mention labor” in the Golden State, which provides two-thirds of the fresh fruits and vegetables grown in the U.S., said Browne.
“Guess which customers get first priority?” said Browne, referring to large buyers that can ace out smaller retailers like Farmers Market. “California (growers) set the market. You can’t buy competitively and stay in business.”
“We’ve always had competition, but in the last five to seven years, it was much harder” to stay viable, said Browne of the family-run Farmers Market, founded by his grandfather, Ralph Basila. Its advertising slogan never changed: “Where a fast nickel beats a slow dime.”
But don’t expect a dearth of fresh produce providers in the area. In addition to homegrown favorite La Montañita co-op, Phoenix-based Sprouts Farmers Market recently opened its sixth store in the Duke City. “I gotta give Sprouts their due; they’re a good competitor,” said Browne.
During the company’s peak, Browne said Farmers Market moved more tonnage than Smiths and Albertsons combined. “We could out buy any chain” in the country, he said of a business that once served a half million customers a year from nine stores in Albuquerque and one in Santa Fe.
While relying heavily on California growers, the business also purchased produce from New Mexico farmers.
“It is a loss to all of us that relied on him to sell our fruit and vegetables,” said Eddie Velarde. “He (Jhett Browne) is a testament, that you can buy local and keep farmers in business,” said Velarde, owner of the Fruit Basket and Velarde Orchards.
Ninety percent of the Farmers Market merchandise was produce; about 10 percent was staples like milk, eggs and bread. The business also sold private label jams, jellies and pickles as well as bulk items like pinto beans.
“We also popularized chile-roasting,” said Browne of the family’s original store at Eubank and Snowheights.
Now the store’s 15 remaining employees, Browne and his mom, Joanne, are clearing out the inventory prior to closure.
“Things change; we’ve had a good run,” said Browne, adding that the family is looking at leasing its 6,000-square-foot store in the Northeast Heights to another retail client. “We’re trying to find a national name to go on the corner,” said Browne.