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‘Basic’ retailers hope to survive state’s new shutdown order

Carol Campbell, co-owner of ABQ Olive Oil Company, locks her shop for the time being. This comes after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s order to close all nonessential businesses. (Anthony Jackson/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Carol Campbell’s eyes were tearful Monday as she locked up ABQ Olive Oil Company on Albuquerque’s West Side – a painful move necessitated by a new state mandate.

“It’s likely we won’t survive this,” said Campbell, who owns the store and another location in the Northeast Heights with her husband Ralph.

Since the coronavirus emerged in New Mexico, Campbell has already laid off her five-person staff, including her grandson who managed the Heights location.

But Monday marked another difficult step.

State officials have ordered all except for “essential” businesses to close their offices and storefronts effective Tuesday.

State Health Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel’s new order aimed at reducing the spread of coronavirus carves out numerous exemptions and classifies as essential hospitals, grocery stores, pharmacies, auto repair shops, dry cleaners and more.

But Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Monday specifically noted the impact it would have on stores around the state.

Robert Matthews, a store clerk at Blaze Smoke Shop, is uncertain of what the future will hold for him. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

“Basic retail is no longer allowed in the state of New Mexico while we combat COVID-19,” she said during a Monday afternoon news conference.

Despite the challenges, Campbell – whose store sells several dozen flavors of olive oil and balsamic vinegar – is trying to be positive.

“It’s all going to pass over and go away. We just have to hope many of us will still survive,” Campbell said. “If everyone does their part now, doing what the mayor and governor ask, we’ll be able to get back to normal quicker.”

The pandemic and the government actions taken to curtail it are being felt around the city.

By late afternoon on Monday, Old Town was nearly empty. The vast majority of stores had already shut down with handwritten signs taped to the windows acknowledging the coronavirus as the cause.

At The Covered Wagon gift shop in Old Town, Jessica Montoya was preparing to join the ranks of the closed.

“It’s hard because a lot of people are going to be out of a job,” said Montoya, the shop’s merchandising manager, as she packed items she could take home to price.

Eileen and Steve White own four businesses in Old Town and on Monday evening were closing up shop at Old Town Candy and Sweets and taking home perishable items.

They have laid off 19 employees, and noted the speed with which the situation has evolved.

Two weeks ago we were making enough money to make payroll and rent and last week we didn’t have half the money to make payroll,” Steve White said.

Jason Smith, assistant manager at Astro-Zombies, a Nob Hill shop that sells comic books, collectibles and vinyl records, said he watched the governor’s Monday news conference on his phone. He said the store had anticipated such an order and had been preparing to move to mail orders, which it will do on Tuesday.

Jessica Montoya, manager at The Covered Wagon in Old Town, gets ready to take Native American jewelry pieces home to price.

“It’s not going to be ideal,” he said, “but it’s going to be a way to at least try to generate some cash flow during this time.”

A few doors down at Blaze Smoke Shop, worker Robert Mathews said he was trying to decide what to do with all of the free time as the shop where he’s worked for three months prepares to close.

“For me, it means I’ve got a lot of free time on my hands,” he said. “But at the same time I’m really worried about what’s going to happen with the city, what’s going to happen with my job afterwards.”

He said he’s trying to decide between volunteering his time to help deliver necessities and applying for work at grocery stores, some of which are looking to hire additional people to help with restocking.

He and his boss worry that the closed businesses could be targeted by thieves and they are making plans to keep an eye on it.

But even before Monday’s news, he said traffic had been minimal.

“Seeing nobody out on the streets here and Downtown, it’s eerie,” Mathews said. “It’s definitely eerie.”

Monday’s news comes less than a week after the state had mandated the closure of shopping malls and gyms and restricted restaurants, bars and breweries to only to-go and delivery service.

Jason Smith, left, and Dante Prairie, employees at Astro-Zombies, await the future of the Nob Hill comic book store.

“It’s a difficult time for all businesses and organizations big and small and all of us affected,” Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce CEO Ernie C’deBaca said in a written statement Monday. “No one is exempt from the devastating affects of this virus. We support Governor Lujan Grisham’s action that protects us. We are equally supportive of actions the governor and our legislators plan to take to move our economy forward. We are all in this together.”

In Santa Fe, Sorrel Sky Gallery was one of the few remaining downtown art galleries still open on Monday. The gallery, which had been hosting its annual Plein Air Fiesta through March 28, has been reaching out to customers and encouraging them to look at its online gallery and to schedule consultations with associates through FaceTime, Skype or Google Hangouts.

A woman who answered the phone and declined to identify herself said the gallery didn’t have any comment about the governor’s order closing down nonessential businesses. “We just have to do what we have to do,” she said.

Teal Bowes at Victory Contemporary gallery said they had decided to close even before the governor’s order because “downtown is dead.”

Some stores the Journal contacted Monday were unsure what the order meant for their operations.


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