SANTA FE, N.M. — In Santa Fe these days, one shopping center’s loss (or disappearance) is another one’s gain.
Owners who ran the quaint ma-and-pop specialty shops at Sanbusco Market Center near the Railyard will have to find a new place to operate in the coming months. Some have already found new homes at the DeVargas Center on the north side of downtown, and many more will migrate there before the summer.
Sanbusco, the historic former warehouse cluster in downtown Santa Fe, will soon become the new location of the state-chartered New Mexico School for the Arts.
Sanbusco, which had been sold once in recent years while under foreclosure, was on the auction block in August. The school’s fundraising foundation won the bidding and completed purchase the mall in September, apparently for about $7.3 million.
Some stores were immediately courted by DeVargas senior project manager Katy Fitzgerald, but the moving of businesses has now officially started. One business, op. cit. books, set up shop in late November. Kioti women’s clothing re-opened in DeVargas just last week, and several other Sanbusco shops are expected to be there by May 1, Fitzgerald said.
Linda Prager, who operated Kioti at Sanbusco for 16 years after she and the store moved from Michigan, said she’d been open for “about five days” at DeVargas when she spoke to the Journal on Monday. She was already optimistic about the new location on a corner inside the mall.
“I can’t tell you about sales or anything, but everyone’s coming in, saying how happy they are that we’re here,” Prager said. I’ve seen more people than I realized I knew since we moved here. Everyone comes to DeVargas at some point. It’s got more exposure. It’s lighter, it’s brighter, it’s bigger, and it costs less. I think it will be a good thing.”
The move also seems to have worked out really well for Noemi deBodisco, who reopened op. cit. near Office Depot on Nov. 20 after 2½ years at Sanbusco, just in time for the holiday craze.
She said that because people often visit Albertsons, CVS Pharmacy or Office Depot for everyday needs, there is a chance they will wander into her bookstore, which now has 1,000 extra square feet for sitting areas, and a trading and receiving center at the back of the store.
“The slow days here are better than our average days over there,” deBodisco said. “It’s a great move for us. This location has actually been better than we thought, and the real reason, from what we found, is that people use DeVargas for utility. Because people are doing their day-to-day errands, we’re seeing a lot more foot traffic.”
Fitzgerald said it’s difficult to get major mall retailers – like Pottery Barn, for example – to lease space at DeVargas, so the mall had to rely on home-grown businesses. She saw the closure of Sanbusco as a golden opportunity to fill in gaps.
“Since 2008, when Santa Fe’s economy really slowed down, some of the bigger spaces were hard to lease,” Fitzgerald said. “Santa Fe doesn’t attract a ton of national true mall tenants, because of the size of our population, and some of the locals couldn’t afford to take that kind of space, so this was just an amazing opportunity that doesn’t normally happen.
“Without a doubt, Sanbusco boasts some of the best local tenants in town. Pretty much since Cost Plus World Market went out (World Market is moving south to the Santa Fe Place mall), we kind of knew what might eventually end up happening with Sanbusco, so of course when the news really hit, we started courting them even more.”
Others from Sanbusco will soon join the commercial fray at DeVargas. Rock Paper Scissors hair salon will move into the empty space across from Radio Shack, while Bodhi Bazaar, Teca Tu: A Paws-worthy Pet Emporium, Pandora’s, Dell Fox and Santa Fe Pens are expected in the near future, Fitzgerald said.
Some pre-existing DeVargas tenants are also moving around as the mall’s mix changes. Harrell House Bug Museum and Science Shop will move to where holiday-season occupant This ‘n That gift shop was located, and Queen’s Ransom is shifting to where Harrell House was.
Baskin-Robbins will move from its current south-facing spot to the other side of the mall, near the movie theater and fast food restaurants. The current Baskin-Robbins location, along with Chavez Fine Jewelers, which is closing after 40 years in business, will combine to be the new Teca Tu.
Some Sanbusco shops, along with World Market, have opted not to go to DeVargas. Eidos Contemporary Jewelry will move just yards away to a studio behind REI. A sign on the door implies the boutique will reopen next month. Pranzo Italian Grill and On Your Feet get to stay at their current Sanbusco locations.
Will tourists find DeVargas?
While the transition may seem to be working out, there is concern that the crowds of tourists who visit Santa Fe every year won’t make their way to DeVargas. That wasn’t a big problem before, since Sanbusco is a short walk from the Plaza, close to the Rail Runner train stop and next to the developing city-owned Railyard district.
“Sanbusco has always been a walk-to destination for downtown,” said Neal Frank, owner of Santa Fe Pens. “It’s tough to justify walking to DeVargas. The scenery’s not there. My philosophy has always been that, if you don’t cater to both (tourists and locals) in this town, you do not stay open. I rely on tourists and I rely on regulars.”
To compensate for possible lost tourist dollars, Kioti owner Prager said she plans on advertising in local hotel publications. “As far as getting the tourists here from downtown, we’re going to have to do something about that,” she said. “Hopefully, they’ll come.”
Many believe Sanbusco’s demise started when Borders, it’s biggest tenant, filed for bankruptcy and booked it in 2011.
“It’s easy,” Frank said when asked what led to the foreclosure. “You had a recession, and, more importantly, Borders books was the anchor to the mall. Every mall needs an anchor. That was the downfall.”
Frank did say that, although Sanbusco as a shopping center operation was doomed for the past four years, the stores themselves are still doing well. He himself has operated his high-end pen store in Sanbusco for 21 years. “If you look at the stores (currently) here, the youngest store is 17 years old,” Frank said. “Despite the fact that the mall was having issues, we’ve all developed our clientele. We were all destinations unto ourselves, and that’s why we’re still standing. That crowd’s going to follow us to DeVargas and, hopefully, what DeVargas already had will make up for what we lost when we used to have Borders here.”
City pitching in
Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales is aware of the Sanbusco merchants’ significance to Santa Fe, which is why he drafted a resolution Dec. 29 that would waive building permit, fire inspection and impact fees for stores that are moving to another location within the city limits. The City Council is expected to take up the measure Jan. 27.
The New Mexico School for the Arts, which is currently at the old Saint Francis Cathedral School on the corner of Paseo de Peralta and East Alameda Street, bought Sanbusco to accommodate its growth. It has just over 200 students now, but its state charter allows for up to 300. The NMSA-Art Institute, which raises funds for the school, and is overseeing the purchase and transition, said it doesn’t quite know just yet when the school will begin taking over.
“We are currently in the programming phase and don’t have a specific timeline,” an unnamed NMSA representative wrote in an email.
Some stores or restaurants reportedly have leases until September. The NMSA didn’t respond to questions about lease issues or other tenant concerns.
Sambusco was originally a group of abandoned warehouses before businessman Joseph Schepps bought the property in 1984. It was sold under foreclosure to General Electric Capital Corp. in 2012 for $8.8 million.
Sanbusco is on the National Register of Historic Places, the New Mexico Register of Historic Places and the New Mexico Register of Cultural Places.