The Northern region of Taos County is a bright spot for tourism based on consumer spending data. The two communities of Questa and Red River share proximity, workforce, housing, and a breathtaking, rural vibe that is very attractive to residents and tourists alike. Although the full-time populations of both villages are modest in size, key businesses are growing and setting records. A combination of locals, a stable tourism base, and many new visitors each month is good news.
Census records vary between 1,734-2,004 as to the total population of Questa. Questa Independent School District reports a significant rise in new students which would indicate that Questa’s population is closer to the larger number. Red River reports 475 full time residents with about 200 more seasonal residents.
There is documented tourism synergy between the adjacent towns of Questa and Red River. The annual Red River Memorial Day Motorcycle Rally hosted in Red River is one of the most robust impact examples. Last year the rally hosted 24,000 guests in Red River. Questa restaurant, bar and liquor store, El Monte Carlo posted their best weekend of the entire year over that holiday serving almost 3,000 customers. That equates to 500 percent more sales than El Monte Carlo normally has on a weekend. El Monte Carlo sells affordable homemade grab-n-go breakfast burritos and its liquor store also sells adult beverages and snacks to the biker guests.
The dominant retailer in 2022 again is the Red River Brewing and Distillery. It is a statewide leader in its category and the legitimate retail anchor of the area, meaning it is a destination that draws consumers that spill over and impact other businesses in the micro-economy. It is the #1 restaurant in the entire county based on performance.
More importantly, the Red River Brewery and Distillery ranks as the #1 brewery in the entire state of New Mexico. The #2 brewery is in Santa Fe and is not even a close second-posting 23 percent fewer patrons. The customer skew of Red River Brewery is solid because it actually serves the local Taos County population with consistent day trip patrons and it is the iconic “winter go-to” place for the Red River and Questa tourists.
“…and let’s not forget the various contractors working nearby with Chevron — it provides both meals and lifestyle. I eat there often myself and visit with many of them,” said economic development consultant, Patti Sunday.
The other local leader is the Dollar General that has prominent yellow signage on HWY 522, the state highway that serves as the “main street” of Questa. Both General Dollar and the Family Dollar in Questa are performing well and have close annual customer counts with Dollar General leading. The ranking of zip codes that purchase from these retailers show a unique pattern of shopping and document regional shoppers as well as “ driving” tourism clusters:
Dollar General’s Shopping Visits for 2022 (Each number indicates where shoppers originated)
26,000 Questa residents
1,300 Ranchos de Taos
1,200 Arroyo Hondo
1,000 San Cristobal
930 El Prado
885 San Luis, Colo.
847 Red River
563 Tucson, Ariz.
398 Town of Taos
Family Dollar, in Questa, is a firmly established business that has served the community for years. There was initially some concern that the Questa area could not support two dollar stores. Questa’s newer dollar store, Dollar General, opened in the 4th quarter of 2021 and grew over 500 percent in 2022 with 75.7 percent of the Questa Dollar General shoppers returning home after the visit. This means it is a destination choice for the community. Of the 48,000 visits to the store last year, only 8,200 were occasional visitors which probably translates to tourists. The other 40,000 visitors shopped there from two times up to 30 times last year.
From an economic development perspective, this “General Store” category is an important Capacity performance marker for Questa in future development because it proves the potential of the area for future commercial development, explained Sunday. “Dollar stores train tourists to stop the car.” This benefits small businesses nearby because it allows tourists to see what else is available. It creates synergy and changes consumer habits for errands and destinations. There is already an emerging pattern north at the Alamosa Walmart for shoppers. In 2021, approximately 400 Taos County shoppers drove to the Alamosa Walmart and in 2022 this number went to over 1,000 visits. Dollar stores fill the gap and may continue to change big consumer trips towards the North, visiting Alamosa versus heading South to Taos.