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The Burrito Company

I haven’t been here long enough to remember Zook’s Pharmacy, Bell’s Department Store, the Canton Cafe on San Francisco Street, or the Union Bus Depot (now the Coyote Cafe). These are among the downtown institutions whose passing marked for some longtime residents the moment when Santa Fe no longer felt like home.

For me it would be the Burrito Company. I headed down there this morning for breakfast, as I often do on Sundays, only to find it gone, replaced by some horrible thing called the Coffee Beanery. Along with several other disgruntled Burrito Company customers I stared dumfounded through the door where hip, young employees were installing generic chain store furnishings and signs. Just what Santa Fe needs, another place to buy expensive servings of warm flavored water identically available in two dozen other states. I kept thinking about the nice family (from Nayarit, Mexico, I believe) who recently began running the Burrito Company. The food, barely changed since I first ate there in 1992, was as good as always and the service friendly. It was my favorite place to grab a quick meal downtown. I liked watching the people from the pueblos stopping there for breakfast on their way to sell pots and jewelry beneath the portal of the Palace of the Governors. It was hard to imagine many of them buying lattes and frappucinos. Later in the day I noticed a security guard posted outside the door and wondered whether the new owners were anticipating a riot. What a relief it was to learn Monday morning, from Julia Goldberg at the Reporter, that the sudden transformation is for a movie set. According to the October 11 edition of El Mitote the Burrito Company will return on October 24.

A block away, on Lincoln Avenue, came another surprise. Beneath the red awning next to the Talbot’s clothing store was a sign that said “Buffalo Thunder Resort & Casino.” I crossed the street for a closer look. There were no slot machines or prostitutes inside, and a small placard in the window said Glenn Green Galleries. Is the Buffalo Thunder sign supposed to be conceptual art or an advertisement? I don’t know what to think.

I continued on foot to the new Railyard commercial development where business seemed as subdued as ever. The Bin 132 Wine and Cheese Bar was still “Opening Soon.” A sign for the Second Street Brewery in the Farmer’s Market Building insisted that it was “Coming This Fall.” In two more months it will be winter. I looked through the dirty windows and saw nothing but raw, empty space. (Another sign on the building said, “Please Do Not Loiter and Do not burn fires.” There must be a story there.)

As I headed toward Don Wiviott’s half-empty Artyard Lofts, which have been holding a perpetual open house, I passed by the hole where the Railyard movie complex was supposed to be. With private investors and the state unwilling to provide financing, the city is now thinking of underwriting the venture itself. I’m all for government economic stimulus, and I think the city’s decision to rescue the mismanaged College of Santa Fe was a good thing. But maybe the reason no one wants to invest in a Railyard cinema is because it’s a bad idea. Santa Fe has 28 movie screens. With a population of 72,000 that comes out to one screen for every 2,571 residents. The ratio for Albuquerque, with 71 screens and a population of 522,000, is one screen for every 11,900 residents.

On the way back to my car I walked through the Borders bookstore and overheard a customer asking a clerk where 500 Montezuma Street was. He said he was sorry but he didn’t know. 500 Montezuma Street is the address for Borders and the other businesses at Sanbusco Market Center, once known as Santa Fe Builders Supply Company.

This evening I was looking again through the late Kingsley Hammett’s wonderful book, “Santa Fe: A Walk Through Time,” with its before and after photographs. What a fine place this must have been.

George Johnson
The Santa Fe Review