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In Madrid, life slows to a crawl

Annette Bruso has run Old Boarding House Mercantile in Madrid for 26 years. These days her shelves are becoming sparse as the business is affected by the novel coronavirus outbreak. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

MADRID – This time of year, the town of Madrid is typically bustling with tourists crowded into shops and cars cruising up main street for spring break.

That was before the novel coronavirus crashed the party, bringing with it closures and empty streets. Now the town of 149 looks more like a neighboring ghost town.

Nestled behind the Sandia Mountains, Madrid rests almost as a halfway mark between Santa Fe and Albuquerque. For more than 30 miles in either direction the only grocery store is the Old Boarding House Mercantile run by Annette Bruso and a handful of workers. Bruso has lived in Madrid for 40 years and, for 26 years, has independently run her grocery store 10 hours a day, seven days a week. Customers are normally greeted by baskets of 5-cent bubble gum and shelves of food, ranging from chips and donuts to fresh produce and New York strips. But these days, like in other stores across the U.S., her shelves are becoming sparse.

The community of Madrid, typically bustling with tourists this time of year, sits quietly on March 20. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

“I’m 73 years old, and I’m scrambling to get essentials in this store,” Bruso said. “I just ran out of eggs.”

Bruso doesn’t run her store like others who have a reliable shipment to stock their shelves. Instead, she stocks her store by hand, buying products from other stores. Thanks to limits on products, she has trouble keeping her shelves stocked with the essentials.

“(We need) toilet paper, paper towels – anything with bleach in it,” she said. “It’s all disappearing.” Bruso has resorted to raiding her own home for disinfectant wipes just to help keep her workers at the counter safe.

Bruso tries to keep her local community stocked and supplied. But the 30-mile distance hasn’t stopped people from outside Madrid from loading up on the store’s paper towels and toilet paper. Bruso won’t restrict her sales from people outside Madrid, but it has become a concern for her.

“We’re doing what we can to give stuff to people … who have nothing, but we don’t have much left to give anybody,” Bruso said. “We need to be able to stock our store to be able to keep people home.”

Next door and across the street from one another are shops that cater to tourists. Some sell handcrafted, Native American jewelry. Others sell colorful T-shirts and sparkling minerals. Though their novelties are different, all of them are now closed after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham ordered non-essential businesses to shut down in an effort to stem the spread of the virus that has infected more than 200 people in New Mexico, killing two, as of Saturday.

“Right now, it’d be slamming. It should be a lot busier than it is,” Levi Williams said, two days before Lujan Grisham issued her closure order.

Williams, a miner who helps sell jewelry at Gypsy Gems, first noticed business taper off after March 16 when the state’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department ordered all state parks to close until April 9. Williams’ biggest fear is the pandemic lasting into August and not being able to work. He has already been laid off from a pizza place in Santa Fe because of the coronavirus. Before the governor’s announcement to close all “non-essential” businesses, the job in Madrid was all he had.

Levi Williams, a miner who helps sell jewelry at Gypsy Gems in Madrid, visits with customer Jacob Edwards of Kansas City on recent day. Williams noticed business taper off after the state parks closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

“Worst comes to worst, I’ll go fishing,” Williams said, adding that he has a freezer full of meat to get him through the next months.

“I need to make money while I can because who knows how long this is going to last,” he said.

While the pandemic has kept students out of school, it didn’t stop Jacob Edwards and Paige Rifford from starting their Southwest road trip, from Kansas City, Missouri.

They embarked on the adventure after Rifford was laid off from two jobs, as a server and her retail job, back home.

“It’s like a spiritual trip to get my mind off everything that’s been going on instead of sitting in my apartment and freaking out over everything,” Rifford said. The biggest question for them is whether to go back home. Both said they have been captivated by the beauty of the state.

“We need to move here so bad,” Edwards said.