FORT GARLAND — This small, unincorporated community founded around a pioneer military fort doesn’t have a town hall, but it has a heartbeat.
Fort Garland has a business district with two motels, several restaurants, the Fort Market grocery store, the Fort Garland Museum, two gas stations, two recreational marijuana shops, a car wash, hair salon, campgrounds, hardware store, liquor store, and multiple shops featuring collectibles and antiquities as well as a Wild West show.
All are important to the residents of the area, but the market is crucial. The next big town with fresh meats, fruits and vegetables is Alamosa, 25 miles to the west, and many area residents can’t afford to make the trip for something so essential as a dozen eggs or a gallon of milk.
The Fort Market serves many purposes in addition to feeding its neighbors. It’s a drop off and mailing area for parcel services, a place to post ads for everything from construction businesses to lost pets, a place to hang out and swap community gossip and a place to get cool on a hot summer afternoon.
Owners Gerald and Emerald Tamada have also organized such community events as the Band Jam and a one-day fundraiser for youth sports. While high liability insurance costs ended the Band Jam, community activities are still popular.
In 2015, the market was on the verge of closing its doors. Emerald gestures graphically as she states the business was walking a thin wall, with one side offering success and the other ending its long run as the community grocery store.
Operated for many years by the Gonzales family as the Old Fort Market, the store is an important part of many life stories.
Costilla County Commissioner Lawrence Pacheco, who worked as a meat cutter in the store while attending school and college, says he and many others were working to keep the Tamadas on the success side of the wall.
The largest grocery store in Costilla County, Fort Market was struggling to keep stock on the shelves due to a lagging customer base and growing energy bills caused by outdated equipment.
Gerald says it was often nearly impossible to make payroll and keep the store open, but it was done.
According to Emerald, she and Gerald eventually united with another small market in Alamosa to split the cost of a weekly grocery truck, this keeping both in business.
CEF Director of Lending Alan Ramirez said he heard about the store from Pacheco, the Tamadas applied for funds and qualified for a loan from the state via the Colorado Enterprise Fund (CEF) Healthy Food Program/the Healthy Foods Financing Initiative, which provides small businesses with funds to offer fresh, healthy and affordable foods for residents in rural communities.
Ann Misak, manager and loan officer for the healthy foods program and Marcia Johnston-Walden, senior credit analyst and Small Business Administration (SBA) loan specialist joined Ramirez in delivering the funds on Aug. 3.
This program also caught the attention of U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CD3), who joined in to help announce the funding and commended both the CEF and the Tamadas for keeping the store in operation.
Together with the Colorado Fresh Food Financing Fund (CO4F), CEF provided two different loans that enabled Fort Market to replace the outdated equipment, as well as to provide working capital to stock shelves for the summer tourist season and sustain the supply during the slower winter months.
The Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI is federal funding that enables lenders such as CEF to better support food businesses through programs like CEF’s Healthy Foods Fund loan program.
These programs are being implemented throughout Colorado communities, including Costilla County, to help improve access to healthy foods, support local businesses, create jobs and revitalize communities.