In the early 1950s in the small Village of Questa, the infrastructure was just being established to create better opportunities for residents. “My dad was instrumental in bringing the water system, along with electrical systems, to Questa,” lifelong Questa resident Marcus Rael says.
His father, Malaquias Rael Sr., was a community leader, businessman, and entrepreneur whose dream was to establish a business in the small village he called home. “In those days, he would work 16-hour days, getting up early and working until 10 p.m. every night milling lumber. The next day, he was right up working at it again because he had a dream and a vision to provide resources for his community.” That vision is what led to Questa’s first hardware and lumber store, now known as Questa Lumber & Hardware Co.
“The business was established in 1951 and it was first located in a small front room. The store then moved to where the Questa Visitor’s Center now sits. They would keep their supplies across the way where Jay’s Thrift Store is now located.” While Malaquias Sr. was the business lead, his wife Lucy Rael was equally as important to the equation. “When my dad had to go out of town, my mom would fill his place and mana Sara Cordova would take care of my siblings and I. It was a team operation and we saw how hard they worked together.”
While the store has gone through many changes through the years, the main theme has remained, and that has been to provide and take care of the community. “My dad always told us it was important to work with our customers and earn their trust. We have had so many repeat customers over the years, and we work with them. There have been times when people couldn’t afford their full bill so we would work with them on credit. My dad also felt it was important to help the elderly and the widowed, and we have always done everything we can to ensure they know we’re there to support them.”
In 1989, when the Questa Mine shuttered its operations, the Rael family looked at it as an opportunity to provide jobs and more resources, which led to bringing on Carquest Auto Parts & Rentals under their business umbrella. “My brother Mario was the lead on the auto parts business, while my siblings Malaquias, Ralph, Roxanne and I ran the hardware business. Now, my nephew Martin has taken over and is doing great things there.”
Fast-forward to today, and the Rael’s business umbrella has expanded to four businesses, including the NorthStar Tire and Auto Repair, which is run by Malaquias Rael, Jr. The businesses are entering their fourth generation of family employees who are keeping them alive and well. “All of our kids have worked and continue to work at the store as our family continues to grow. We have grown together as a family while we serve our community. Currently, we have my sister Roxanne Cisneros, my brothers Ralph Rael, Matthew Rael, Malaquias Rael Jr., my niece Danielle Lovato, my nephews Martin Rael and Mikey Rael, and my great-nephew Dedrick Rael—all working the businesses. Overall, we have 22 employees including our family across all three businesses.”
Danielle Lovato serves as the Chief Financial Officer, Human Resources Lead, and Business Operations Manager for all of the family businesses. She handles all the business aspects, from marketing and communications to personnel, including hiring and firing, to procurement and operations.
While Danielle has been in her current role for nearly 11 years, there was a point, in 2002, when she left Questa for Denver, to pursue a life outside of her community for a decade. Graduating from ITT Technical Institute, she obtained a degree in computer networking. She and her family decided to move back to Questa in 2010. “It was an adjustment coming back home. I enjoyed the city and the conveniences it offers, but in the long run, I believe this was the right decision and move for me and my family.”
Playing a one-woman band of sorts, Danielle believes her work is important because it’s advancing the vision her grandfather set forth for their family. “I hear stories about the work my grandparents had to do to establish the family business just to support their family—that’s what drives me every single day. I am carrying on the same mission and that is so fulfilling for me.”
Danielle shares the same sentiment as her uncle Marcus when it comes to working with customers. “We are always working to meet people where they are. We are here to serve our community. Although there are Home Depot and Lowe’s in the big city, here in Questa, you can get the same products from people who will gather around you and support you when you’re down on your luck. You can trust our family and that’s what sets us apart from the big box stores,” she says.
When asked why she decided to return to Questa, she says that although the transition back home has been an adjustment, the slowdown is what her family needed. “Living in Questa has made us appreciate everything so much more. Our quality of life feels more meaningful and knowing we’re contributing to the community that raised us makes it all the more fulfilling.”
When asked what contributed to the family being so dedicated and entrenched in helping their community, Marcus is quick to point to God. “We lived right next to St. Anthony’s church, so we were always in mass every Sunday. If we wouldn’t wake up on time, my parents would say, well it’s up to you if you want to go to mass looking all disheveled—but regardless, you’re going to church… and they did make us,” Marcus chuckles. “In reality, our faith is truly what drives our mission as a family to give back to our community. We believe it’s important to take care of our people and help them when they need us. That was planted by my father and mother, and we are still carrying it forward to this day.”