Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Talitha Nichols, her husband Arturo and a friend have been putting in hours of hard labor this week, moving 30,000 pounds of rocks, gems and crystal out of their Española mineral store, Chimayo Rocks.
That’s because their business and at least three others in a strip mall on North Riverside Drive near the Santa Claran Hotel Casino are being evicted. Each business received a notice Monday from Santa Clara Pueblo telling them they needed to be out by Friday.
“We were under the impression everything was fine,” said Talitha, who goes by Tilly. “We always pay our rent, pay our bills and pay our taxes.”
But according to the letter from Jesse Gutierrez, realty director at Santa Clara Pueblo, the landlord to whom they pay rent doesn’t own the property – the pueblo does.
The letter says the pueblo Tribal Council determined their landlord, native Santa Claran potter Delores Curran, “has no right to use or possess the Pueblo lands that she has been renting to you. The Tribal Council has directed Ms. Curran to immediately cease using, possessing, or asserting any right to use or possess those lands.”
Efforts to reach Curran by phone and text message were unsuccessful.
According to the website of Santa Fe’s King Galleries, which sells some of Curran’s pottery, she is now an Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo resident.
Other businesses in the strip mall include an Allstate Insurance office, Yoselin’s Boutique and Ralph’s Lock and Key.
Ralph’s already moved across the street. Insurance agent Dennis Rivera, who has been at that location for 33 years, is seeking another spot. No one could be reached at the phone number listed for Yoselin’s, which as of Thursday still looked fully stocked.
Property in and around the city of Española is a patchwork of tribal and non-tribal land. A map on the website of the Rio Arriba County Assessor shows the property is on tribal land.
Tilly Nichols, who also is the executive director of the Española Chamber of Commerce, said she’s not looking for sympathy – she wants people to know why the businesses will be gone by next week.
“One day, people will wake up and this building will be empty,” she said, adding she thinks the pueblo plans to demolish the building.
Gutierrez did not return phone messages from the Journal this week. He said in his letter that all personal property must be removed by Friday and anything not removed will be deemed abandoned property. He added all decisions by the Tribal Council regarding pueblo lands are final and may not be appealed.
“To have that happen to us during this time without any warning seems a little excessive and a little cruel,” Nichols said, referring to the coronavirus pandemic that has closed non-essential businesses including hers. “They didn’t even give us the rest of the month or until the stay-at-home order is lifted.”
Closed since March 12 due to the coronavirus outbreak, Nichols says they don’t know when they’ll be able to reopen. They do have a place picked out on North Paseo de Oñate.
“(But) we haven’t been able sign a lease on the new place yet,” she said. “Because of COVID-19, the landlord doesn’t want to leave the house.”