Know your neighbor: Bernie and Connie Garcia

Garcia family to shutter longtime local shop on Taos Plaza

By Kathy Córdova
For The Taos News
Posted 4/18/19

On April 30, 2019, Taos Plaza will experience the end of an era. For the past 50 years, The Village Shop graced one of the corners of the Plaza, at 110 North …

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Know your neighbor: Bernie and Connie Garcia

Garcia family to shutter longtime local shop on Taos Plaza

Posted

On April 30, 2019, Taos Plaza will experience the end of an era. For the past 50 years, The Village Shop graced one of the corners of the Plaza, at 110 North Plaza. The shop withstood various changes throughout time, always in tune with current events, customer preferences and inspiration of owners Bernie and Connie Garcia. On April 5, the couple reminisced at their home in El Prado about their mercantile years.

"We're blessed for our wonderful career where we met wonderful people. We also raised our children at our place of business," said Connie Garcia with a smile.

"We were always finding ideas to offer our customers the best possible [product]. In our business, we were able to involve our family," agreed Bernie Garcia.

The Fascinating Taos Plaza

Ever since childhood, Connie Martinez Garcia spent most of her life on the plaza. Her family lived in close proximity, so spending time at the plaza was natural. She spent so much time in the area that Taos Plaza became her playground and second home. It also helped Connie as a little girl to learn about her hometown and culture.

Like all Taoseños, Bernie and Connie visited the plaza many times for Taos Fiestas, to accompany visitors and for enjoyment. Both had opportunities to spend their early careers close to the traditional downtown area.

For five years, Connie worked directly on the plaza managing Fry's. A second store location in Red River and travels kept the owners busy, so they placed their confidence in Connie to manage the store. The store's inventory included jewelry, clothing, shoes, boots, moccasins and a line of heavy ceramic cookware known as Frankoma Ware.

Bernie's early job was as assistant manager at the Taos J.C. Penney store. At the time, Penney's existed around the corner from the plaza, at the former Paseo de Pueblo Norte location of Graham's Restaurant. After 13 years in this capacity, Bernie received word that the corporate executives wanted to transfer him to Crystal City, Texas. "We started out to Crystal City but Connie said she didn't want to raise the kids there," said Bernie.

Connie added, "Instead, we came home and decided to open our own store. We rented from (the late) Rumaldo Garcia, next to Michael's Kitchen. Our store, The Pueblo Shop, featured dry goods, clothing, furniture and appliances."

At this point, Bernie chimed in, "The appliances included TVs. I was constantly hooking up televisions purchased by our customers."

As the business continued to grow, the space needed to expand. The couple moved the business to the plaza. It evolved in keeping with the times. Originally, clothing remained a popular sales item, until Walmart opened in the community. The clothing inventory included discounted fashion items (jackets, pants and shirts) for school children through the leadership of Felix Miera through a special federal program at Taos Municipal Schools. The store's inventory changed to accommodate the popularity of T-shirts. This included outfitting the first soccer league in town. "We included a section of the store to create custom T-shirts. The change worked for a long time, but many other businesses selling this item arose, so it was time to change," Bernie said. "We decided to go to Chamisal, Rodarte and other places to recruit santeros."

The shop changed focus then, more toward the Taos art community. Paintings, pottery, jewelry, ceramics, rugs, etc. helped form a portion of the business (Galeria Nativa). The art portion of the business followed a very important rule, and that was to feature only local artists. The goal later extended to include only New Mexico artists. "With clothing, fashions change; a gallery never goes out of season," Bernie added.

Bernie handled the business portion, and Connie worked on the creative end. On occasion, the couple traded rugs for jewelry or baskets. The Village Shop featured drums designed by Connie, ceramic Nativity sets, paintings and other ceramic items with Southwest and Native American designs. Bernie related information about the Nativity sets. "We kept a ledger on the whereabouts of the Nativity scenes. They're all over the world," he said.

The couple also enjoyed taking the business on the road. They attended shows in Washington, Arizona and Colorado.

Family

Bernie's parents, the late Bernabe and the late Marina Garcia, raised Bernie and his siblings Presciliana Garcia, Tita (Nick) James and the late Manuel Garcia. Connie's late parents, Rose and Ernest Martinez, raised Connie and two other daughters, Carmen (Steve) Lieurance and Rosita (Felipe) Trujillo.

The couple succeeded in incorporating the immediate family into the business. The children and grandchildren include Bernadine (Eric) de Herrera and their son Emilio; Mark Garcia and his children Anthony and Amber; and Jeanette (Reed) Burnside and their youngsters Nicole, Jennifer and Sonya.

The children not only spent after school time, holidays and vacations at the shop, but as they grew up, they actively became part of the business. Bernadine and Mark worked on the premises and Bernadine and Jeanette, like their mother, helped with ceramics. Family members felt at home at The Village Shop. One time, grandson Emilio guided his Leaping Lizards' class to the shop during a field trip. He showed the classmates his "office in the back," complete with a small television set, a ream of computer paper and a small cash register.

Personal pursuits

When they weren't managing their popular store on the plaza, Bernie belonged to the Sheriff's Posse and the Kiwanis, cut alfalfa and plowed. Connie bowled on The Village Shop team. Both Bernie and Connie coached the El Prado Little League team. For over 20 years, they traveled to the annual National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, Nevada, and many other places. For one month and ten days, their most notable trip included Israel, Jerusalem, Egypt, the Red Sea and the Dead Sea. They also enjoyed time hunting, camping and fishing, especially around Latir Lakes. They followed Taos Tigers teams to out of town games and to Florida for Elite Dance competition.

The future

When asked about plans after retirement, Connie quipped, "Instead of looking for items to feature in the store, we're the collectors now."

Bernie said, "Now we'll have more time to go fishing."

Connie concluded by adding, "We're going to sit by the lake with two chairs and our fishing gear. It's time."

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