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June 2024

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Photo by E. Wilde Questa Supermarket during past operations.

Questa Supermarket Entering A New Era

Photo by Mike Barbee Handwritten sign on front door, “closed until futher notice”

In 1965, the first mayor of Questa, Marcelino Martinez, had a vision to provide food access to the local community in the Questa area by providing a full-service grocery store. It was from that vision that Marcelino Martinez and Sons Inc. (DBA Questa Center Supermarket) was born.

The business was run by the Martinez brothers, who worked together to ensure the people of Questa had access to the essentials without having to drive to Red River or Taos in order to feed their families.
Gomersindo Martinez, the son of Marcelino, purchased the store from his brothers after his father passed away in 1980, carrying the vision and mission to serve the community. Gomersindo and his wife Ofelia made many sacrifices within their family to ensure the communities in northern Taos County maintained access to food.

While being successful business owners, Gomersindo was taught by his father the importance of giving back to the local community. The family would often help people by giving them free groceries when they couldn’t afford it, while also allowing people to keep running tabs until they were able to pay. This aligned with the belief of taking care of the community they felt fortunate to serve.

Gomersindo established a business for his children to ensure the store would be maintained and run by them when he passed away, a responsibility each of his children took seriously, ensuring the store remained opened on holidays, through emergencies and disasters, through power outages, and during the Y2K crisis which closed businesses across Taos County.

Debra Martinez, daughter of Gomersindo and Ofelia Martinez worked at the store her whole life. In 2003, Gomersindo, the patriarch of the family, passed away. In that same year, her brother and husband were both deployed to the war in Iraq. “I had worked at the store for 30 years, but I was never a store manager. I quickly found myself without all the male figures in our lives and I needed to figure it out,” she recalls of this tumultuous transition. While figuring things out on her own, Debra says she is forever grateful to her brother who made tremendous upgrades to the infrastructure, allowing her to focus on the shopping experience.

In addition to being the sole manager, she was simultaneously raising three sons, all under the age of 18. “Not only was I running the store and taking care of my kids, but we also had farmland, so we had to ensure the hay was bailed and sold; we had to keep up the ranch,” she says.

Working early mornings and late nights, Debra recalls how much effort she had to put in to keep the store afloat. “It was trial and error. I didn’t have guidance from my brother to show me the ropes before he was deployed, and I couldn’t call him to ask questions either. I would tell my boys, we are a team and we need each other to get through this. It truly was only by the grace of God I was able to get through this time,” she says. Debra was the store manager until 2012, when her sister assumed responsibility for managing the center.

When asked why she was so passionate about keeping the store running successfully while she was simultaneously carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders, she was quick to point back to her grandpa Marcelino’s vision. “I believe our family was blessed to be a blessing. We have been able to provide food access to people, to our elderly for all these years. It’s our responsibility to carry my grandfather’s mission and vision forward.”

It was because of this vision that Debra worked to bring a bank to the store when all the local banks shuttered in the area. “Our elderly people cannot drive far, and they need access to resources like groceries and a bank. That was the reason I brought the bank to the store, because people deserve to have the basic resources to live.”

In July of this year, the Questa Center Supermarket hours started to periodically change. “We were always very faithful in our hours of operation, people knew if they came to our store, even on the holidays, they could find us open,” she says as she pauses. “My sister got sick, and her family was unable to keep up the operation while dealing with her illness.” Debra laments how difficult this time has been for her family. She was grateful to report her sister is home but needs to travel to Taos for medical treatments multiple times per week.

A New Era

“Our family is doing a very difficult thing. We are dissolving the family business structure established by my dad and we are selling the store,” she says as she fights back tears. “The community deserves better and it’s time for a restoration of the vision my grandfather had for the Questa Center… somewhere over the years, that’s been lost and we are doing this for the community.”

The family has agreed upon a seller and the contract is being drafted up by the store’s attorneys. While the store’s model will move from a family operation to a sole proprietary business, Debra says she will be heavily involved as an advisor to help the store get back on track to be a service to the community.

“The new owner is a member of our family, but he will be running it independently as a business owner,” she says. The store is undergoing renovation. It will be reopening as soon as possible. Currently, there is a big priority to refocus and improve the store’s business model and position it to serve the greater northern Taos County communities.