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October 29, 2020

Raton Resilient During Pandemic

By Michelle Fishburne

Published in World Journal (10-29-20)

The decline in tourism in 2020 was forecast to hit towns like Raton hard. Located on the heavily-trafficked I-25 corridor between Albuquerque and Denver, Raton relies on the huge flow of tourists in the summer to support its economy. When traffic stopped in the spring due to the pandemic, there was fear that the all-important summer tourism boom would not happen. 

For some downtown Raton businesses, the worst fears came true. “Our sales were down 50% this summer,” according to the owner of a gift shop across from the town’s railway station, “and having the Boy Scout Museum closed didn’t help.” Each summer, thousands of Scouts on the way to the Philmont Boy Scout Ranch stop along the way to visit the museum. But not this summer.

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The situation was very different for Raton businesses close to I-25. “There was more traffic than we expected,” noted Raton Mayor Neil Segotta, “so it wasn't as big as hit as we thought it was going to be. Our fast-food stores and gas stations did very well. Even the hotels operating under-occupancy rate limits did pretty well.”

Casa Lemus Inn and Restaurant, located near the intersection with I-25, used every innovative trick in the book to stay afloat. “Takeout and curbside didn’t go too well. We were only doing maybe a dozen orders per day, which doesn’t even pay the electric bill,” owner Lemus explained, “So we changed menus three or four times, trying to find something that would be more practical for takeout. And we built a drive-thru. The drive-thru kept us alive.” When patio dining was allowed, Lemus turned a carport into a patio and built a roof-top deck.

His efforts paid off. Casa Lemus Restaurant is down only 19% this year, even after factoring in the across-the-board 20% pay raise he gave to his staff after the state raised the minimum wage by 20% in January 2020. His inn is doing even better, down only 10% this year. He attributes his success to the motel set-up of his inn and the fact that the big chains in town had capacity limitations.

Shops in the historic downtown area, though, have not done as well.  To help out, Raton Mainstreet held virtual “cash mobs” twice a week on Facebook. “We have been doing cash mobs since 2010,” explained Brenda Ferri, Executive Director of Raton Mainstreet, “but it had always been in-person, with community members going into the shops.” The Facebook live cash mobs “were almost like QVC,” said Ferri, “We sold their products for them.” The live online events, held every Tuesday and Thursday for 12 weeks, were followed by about 100 people. 

“We helped 31 different businesses in our community,” said Ferri, “And, at the end of 12 weeks, the online cash mobs had brought in more than $40,000 in sales revenues. The businesses were able to pay their utilities and their rent. Everybody in town got involved, even some of the young people who are now living in different parts of the country,” said Ferri. “They have a love for their hometown, so they really wanted to help us out.”

The town’s spirit of helping each other is evident in little things people say throughout their days. When asked about how her dog grooming store, Doggie Stylz by Kathleen, was doing, owner Kathleen Hanson said, “We’re down 40%, but the Humane Society really needs help, so please go talk with them too.” 

Raton’s resiliency, innovativeness, and community have rallied to make it through the pandemic. “We bounce back,” noted Mayor Segotta

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