The Santa Fe Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has an opportunity, its members say, to combine forces with the community and improve Southsiders’ quality of life.
At a recent Thursday-night gathering inside the office of Jairo Gutierrez, a local State Farm insurance agent, chamber members, along with Mayor Alan Webber, reiterated their intent to empower business owners and support local residents. The group is coming off a few quiet years, as the pandemic forced its leadership to hit pause.
Now, the organization is working to revive its membership and inject some new life into the chamber.
“So I think it’s definitely a revamp, especially from COVID,” chamber President David Fresquez tells SFR. “During COVID, everyone was just trying to figure that out. Now that we’re out of COVID—knock on wood—one of our focuses is definitely on young professionals.”
The group is using initiatives like a “40 Under 40″ awards campaign to highlight young entrepreneurs and bring fresh faces on board. (Award nominations were this spring and an inaugural event to honor them is planned for the fall.) With more than 100 members now, the chamber’s leadership believes the economy along Airport Road is set to boom, largely because it’s built of people who have already carved out success for themselves.
“I think one thing everyone here has in common is we work our butts off and we take the risk,” Fresquez told the group during its Business After Hours event in July. “You may be in debt, you may be tired, you may have had a bad day, but the next day you claw your way back up.”
Fresquez found his calling after his scholarship to play soccer for Colorado State University Pueblo ran out 13 years ago. In need of a job, he walked across the street from his apartment complex to a nursing home. He had no clue what he was doing at the time, but it was there that he fell in love with serving elderly people. After a quick stint working in sales and marketing for the San Antonio Spurs, he decided to pursue his passion and started his own business, which now has 30 employees, to ensure those in their golden years live comfortably.
“One thing I had in common with them is they missed home, they missed family,” Fresquez said during the meeting. “So I started up my business back home here in Santa Fe, called Age Friendly. We do exactly that. We help people age in place at home, instead of into a nursing home or assisted living.”
Stories like Fresquez’s are common around the newly revitalized Hispanic chamber. There are people like Perla Ramon and her husband, Pedro Lopez, who have seen their business, Fusion Tacos, expand across the city since moving their first truck from a location on Cerrillos Road to Airport Road in 2019.
“Our customers kept on telling us, ‘We’re not going to go to that side,’” Ramon says. “They said, ‘Southside is really dangerous.’ I said, ‘The more dangerous, the better the tacos.’”
To Ramon’s surprise, the food truck thrived at the Airport Road location. Fusion Tacos has since opened locations at Old Santa Fe Trail, Santa Fe Brewing Co. and Santa Fe Place Mall. The duo isn’t stopping there, though. The business is franchising, with one location now in Albuquerque and another on the way.
Then there’s El Paisano Supermarkets, owned by Carlos and Maria Andre, with Moises Tarango serving as executive director. Tarango remembers the days when Carlos sold candy from his apartment in the early 1990s. Today, El Paisano has locations on Cerrillos Road in Santa Fe and on North Riverside Drive in Española, while a new storefront on Airport Road is in the works.
“That land where we’re building the new store, there used to be a tree there on the sidewalk,” Tarango says. “[Carlos] would be there in the shade selling candy. Now, he’s building that store and he’s so very excited, because after 25 years, look how far we’ve come.”
While Santa Fe’s downtown has long served as a tourist destination, the Southside hasn’t enjoyed the same attention. But the area has grown over the years, and Mayor Webber says businesses on the Southside are still making progress.
“I basically believe that any business does three things really well,” Webber told the chamber. “It creates a community, it makes connections, and it starts conversations about how to have a better place…Everybody here is doing those three things, at least, and the better you do them the more you grow your brand and the things you value—the reason you’re doing it in the first place.”
The chamber wants to use its platform and experience to help the surrounding community flourish. Now is the time, members say, to build on what’s already been done to enhance the Southside. The chamber is inviting others to join the effort.
“I think the thing I would like everyone to have is the goal of helping people,” says Gutierrez, the State Farm agent. “I think if we start with that and that’s always the foundation of what we’re doing, it’s going to come back. The more you give, the more will come back.”