In the fall of 2018, Guadalupe merchants rallied together to try to address a downtick in business. As SFR reported at the time, the causes were myriad, but store and restaurant owners believed the closure of Sanbusco Center and ongoing construction for New Mexico School for the Arts were at least partially responsible.
Potential solutions, however, also were plentiful. Merchants began talks with the city on proposals such as lowered parking rates, pedestrian improvements and increased signage.
The latter idea led to a committee effort to create a stronger identity for the neighborhood: a banner project that would help reinforce the Guadalupe district's identity, spearheaded by Lance Blankenship, the buyer for Get It Together, and Shawna Tatom, who owns Curioso, both located on South Guadalupe Street.
That banner project now hangs in the balance, as merchants wait to see if the business contracted to make the signs will respond to their requests for a refund.
Tatom tells SFR she and Blankenship worked in tandem to usher the banner project through the permitting process. Liz Camacho, the city's economic development and communications administrator, helped steer the process through various committee and permitting requirements. The merchants secured arts nonprofit Little Globe as an umbrella sponsor for fundraising and, through donations from the merchants in the area, raised approximately $3,000, she says.
Alberto Zalma of the Zalma Lofton Gallery designed an image for the banner with a stylized Virgin of Guadalupe image, for which the merchant group sought and received permission from the Santuario de Guadalupe. The plan, Tatom says, was to install 22 signs from the Paseo and Guadalupe intersection up to West Alameda. Merchants hoped help identify the area "as a specific and unique district," distinguishable from the heavily trafficked Plaza and Railyard.
"We just really wanted to brand ourselves and have a visual cue that when people were driving up and down the street or walking up and down they knew they were in a specific district that had amenities to offer them," she says.
The momentum snagged, however, when Blankenship placed a deposit for the work with Fast Signs owner David King in late August.
"I found Fast Signs as we were making our final presentation to the city," Blankenship says. "I needed to get an estimate for costs and basic stuff to show the city we were doing our due diligence…[King said] 'We've done this before, it's very easy, blah blah blah,' and that began a three-month odyssey of not returning phone calls, not supplying information when I needed to get everything pushed through the city permit process."
After months of unreturned phone calls and emails, in November, Blankenship emailed King that he wanted the down payment of approximately $1,600 returned.
When King didn't respond, Blankenship contacted the state Attorney General's Office. That route also proved fruitless, as the AG was unable to resolve the case. When SFR inquired to the AG's office, spokesman Matt Baca emailed the following statement:
"Our office's Advocacy and Intervention Division provides New Mexicans and businesses with an informal mediation process, in an attempt to provide an expedited resolution of any disputes between them. Since we cannot represent anyone on an individual basis, we are limited to this process in our efforts to assist, however where individual complaints indicate a pattern or practice of potential violations of the law, we fully investigate them and bring enforcement actions where appropriate. In this instance, I can confirm that we were unable to achieve a successful resolution for the complainants."
"Getting the whole thing through the city was a challenge," Blankenship says. "It was an endurance test, and we passed that test. And then to have this go so badly wrong dealing with Fast Signs is doubly discouraging."
City Economic Development Director Rich Brown tells SFR he is aware of the situation, but the city has no jurisdiction beyond the help it provided with the permitting process itself. The city confirmed that Fast Signs' business license is not current for the year, but Brown said businesses have until March 15 to renew.
SFR visited Fast Signs and spoke with owner King. Regarding his business license, King says he did visit the city to try renew his license, but the city wasn't able to at the time. (The city is, in fact, in the process of implementing a new business license system).
More to the point, King acknowledged the lapsed communication with the Guadalupe merchants, but tells SFR he plans to make the situation right.
"I've had many personal issues [and health issues] which kind of trumped my business for just a little while," King says. "I do apologize for not communicating with Lance and the other people in the group…I've got that all squared away, as far as I can tell, and I'd like to either do the job for them or give them a refund."