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Santa Rosa talks about “the bypass” December 29, 2013

Posted by Ron Warnick in Restaurants, Television, Towns.
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KOB-TV in Albuquerque, in the wake of its story about the Silver Moon Cafe, filed this report on the impact of Interstate 40 on the Route 66 town of Santa Rosa, N.M.:

The report was mostly well-done, but context and other notes are in order:

— KOB makes it sound as if the I-40 bypass is fairly new, when Santa Rosa was bypassed in 1972. If businesses are closing now because of the bypass, that’s a really delayed reaction. That does not mitigate the economic effect when the bypass¬†did occur 40 years ago, however.

— The recent Great Recession has indeed been tough on Santa Rosa and everyone else. Various data show the downturn that started in 2008 was the worst since the Depression. (Having experienced the rough early 1980s, that’s saying something.) So it was inevitable the economic fallout would impact small towns on the route. The Guadalupe County Communicator in Santa Rosa reported the closing of at least four landmark businesses in recent years.

— The town is impacted by the ongoing emptying-out of the Great Plains. One may argue Santa Rosa lies outside of the Plains, but it’s close enough its effects are being felt. If children grow up in Santa Rosa, the vast majority move away. I’m not sure what anyone can do about that.

— Santa Rosa is beset by bad leadership in local government. Perhaps it’s a chronic problem in small towns magnified by the excellent reporting of the Guadalupe County Communicator. Regardless, Santa Rosa has dealt with silly and often-avoidable crises that would give little confidence to prospective outside employers.

— I wasn’t aware the Breezy Rain Cafe, formerly El Comedor de Anayas, had closed in recent weeks. Its Facebook page had seen activity as recently as Thanksgiving. Phone calls to the restaurant’s phone number at midday Saturday were not answered. The restaurant had changed hands less than a year ago; the new operators apparently couldn’t keep it going.

(Sign from the long-closed Club Cafe in Santa Rosa, N.M., by velo_city via Flickr)

Comments»

1. Sal Paradise - December 29, 2013

I don’t know what the report said because my computer wouldn’t let me see it. But, I agree with some of the comments about Santa Rosa. The Blue Hole lagoon area is still an attraction for divers. But, I’m at a loss for anything else in town that may be a draw.

I’ve always liked the town, that goes way back to the 1970′s when it still was hot and booming. Some of my first impressions of New Mexico are from there. It’s where New Mexico begins to look like the southwest.

I was back in 2010 and spent some time there and in the area (Tucumcari, etc). Santa Rosa has a different feel about it now. It’s as if the town is slowly passing away. Although people still call it home, as you noted, the population has dropped off. Most of the young people leave and don’t come back. Even the Club Cafe owner Ron Chavez left for California back in the old days, only to return to run the Club. As he noted back then Route 66 made the town go. He said he’d close when the first McDonalds came to town. He did.

The town’s politics are interesting, as you point out. The local paper, one of the few in any rural area in the US, is fearless and takes on stories others would pass over for fear of offending someone and losing advertising. Hence, we get to read all of the weird things going on there that would usually be ignored. The political battles hurt Santa Rosa. People in politics there fight each other over who will control the jobs, from Fire Chief to Tax Collector. The questionable goings on even effect the local hospital, which is loaded with political jobs from its administrator on down. You could go on all day, but the point is the town isn’t being run by people with its best interests at heart.

When I was there I talked with some locals at the Dollar General store on Route 66. They were young people right out of high school. They all said the area didn’t have jobs with any future. All had friends who left for Santa Fe, Las Vegas, Albuquerque, Amarillo, even Denver and Phoenix. Many had joined the military. Like many small towns across the country the future was somewhere else. Unless you owned a farm, or ranch, etc.

Reading some of the travel websites comments about Santa Rosa gives you an idea of what the town is like to people passing through. Joseph’s Restaurant, located on the main drag right next to the bones of the Club Cafe, draws in a lot of tourists with its location and connection to Route 66. The comments give you an idea of what ailes the place. It has the feeling of a place not long for the world. The service isn’t very good and the food reeks of amateur night at the local high school cooking class. Long ago you could get a good meal in town. Not just the Club Cafe. Not today. Especially if you hit Josephs. The owner is Joe Campos, a former mayor and his wife, Christina. I’ve met and talked with both a few times. Joe is outgoing, his wife a bit reserved. Both have other interests, Josephs is only one of them. Sometimes you wonder if they really are aware of the town’s condition.

Route 66 in town is 4 lanes wide with big shoulders. It has the remains of the glory days along it. Gas stations, cafes, small stores, motels, etc. Most are closed today. The Club Cafe closed in 1994 for good. The town itself sits a block or so off of 66. Its pretty slow there as well, with some new buildings going up. The main activity is down at the I40 interchange. The chain food joints and gas stations/stores are there. Even the Holiday Inn Express is there. Those are fairly new and located in nearly every town on I40 from Tucumcari to Gallup.

The town isn’t going to die. It is a county seat so it has that function going for it. But the rest of it could be on life support soon enough. The place just isn’t being well led. Political feuds and lack of money hamper plans to open the place up some. At times you get the impression the feuding factions are content to let the place fall apart just to deny the other side credit for any success. Sort of a small version of what’s going on in Washington. Too bad, Santa Rosa is a great place. I still like it. And, I hope it will be around so others can enjoy it the same.

2. Jim Hunt - December 29, 2013

Holbrook Arizona which was also bypassed is amazingly similar in many, many ways that you’ve described. A county seat but hardly a destination one would suggest to visit on the weekend. Hope springs eternal for these iconic towns of US 66.

3. lara - January 1, 2014

what you describe is exactly like barstow, ca. route 66 is main street, right through the middle of town, but the city can’t seem to get its act together to capitalize on the mother road’s popularity. it doesn’t help that iconic buildings between barstow and victorville on 66 are being torn down or vandalized beyond recognition. why would anyone want to ride down 66 in barstow if all they saw were closed shops.

there are no solutions that i can see.

Lee Sundermeyer - January 2, 2014

I completely agree, Lara. What is the real allure of Route 66 if the vast majority of what’s to be seen is in ruin or obviously becoming so? If I want to see depressing, dying small towns, there are plenty in rural Minnesota (where I grew up).

Ron Warnick - January 2, 2014

Two observations, Lee:

– A fair number of tourists, especially Europeans, like to see ruins on Route 66.

– Route 66 is so long, you’re bound to have a few towns not take advantage of its tourism regardless.

lara - January 2, 2014

abandoned ruins are fine, picturesque even, but when a stone gas station and cabins are reduced to rubble, nothing very scene about that. but i understand what you are saying.


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