LA GARITA– An historic trading post officially established in 1927 has closed its doors following a series of tragedies that recently struck the current owners, the Nusbaum family, a notice placed in the San Luis Valley Lifestyles reports.
The Lifestyles notice reads: “Bonnie and Jerry [Nusbaum] want to say good-bye, not that we want to but we have to. It breaks our hearts in half because we love the store and café and all the people that have come in. Our government is trying to get rid of all the small businesses. We have no other way except to close the doors. We will dearly miss all of you.”
Bonnie Nusbausm died earlier this month after a months-long battle with cancer. Last week, Jerry Nusbaum’s granddaughter Samantha, 17, who waited tables at the café and helped out her grandparents, was found dead on the store grounds, reportedly of natural causes related to a medical condition. Saguache County Coroner Tom Perrin said Tuesday that the autopsy to confirm the official cause of Nusbaum's death is being conducted by the El Paso County coroner.
Center High School students held a memorial service for Samantha at the school Thursday, releasing balloons in her memory.
The Nusbaums found out sometime earlier this year the store would have to close after those currently managing the business, buyer-hopefuls David and Jeanne Lewis, were unable to complete their intended purchase.
One problem concerned water issues on the store property — the use of adjudicated domestic wells to provide water for the store, restaurant, adjacent residence, a cabin and an acre-plus RV park behind the store. Wells should be designated as commercial for business use.
Pat McDermott, a longtime staff engineer with the Division of Water Resources said Monday the trading post’s permits and decrees “don’t exactly match” the current use by the owners. “I will meet with any current or future owner to help correct these issues since they’ve kind of outgrown their decree,” McDermott said. “It might take going to Water Court, but I think it could be brought into compliance.”
McDermott said in the past he has offered different owners options to correct the water problems but has never heard anything back from them.
The Lewises, who performed remodeling work at the trading post for the past several months and managed the restaurant, said Monday that when they tried to close the deal to purchase the property they were told of the water issues and something even more concerning — the fact that a gas pump at the store had not been inspected for as many as 17 years.
“The pumps aren’t in compliance with the oil and public safety people,” Lewis said. The store could owe “tens of thousands of dollars in fines. It’s terrible for everyone.” Inquiries to the Oil and Public Safety hotline were not returned before press time.
Lewis explained he and his family put thousands of dollars of their own money into the business and now have little hope of ever recovering their loss.
“It’s sad for the whole Valley,” he commented. “We sold our home to buy this.” The Lewis’s have since moved from the trading post to Center and are hoping to start a new business soon, he said.
LG trading post history
A photo taken from historic documents shows the La Garita Post Office in the current location where the store sits today. Some say the post office building originally was moved from another location and that eventually the restaurant and store grew out of the old post office. The Nusbaums later added dining room space to the store and the Lewis’s were helping them to complete a new kitchen adjacent to the dining room addition.
In the past 20 years, the store has passed through three or four different owners before its purchase by the Nusbaums sometime in the early 2000s.
For many years the annual La Garita Parade was sponsored by the Nusbaums but was discontinued several years ago. The first Penitente bike race also was headquartered at the trading post. Many tourists coming to visit the St. John the Baptist Catholic Church not far from the store would stop in to visit and grab a bite to eat.
Local residents with homes and vacation homes in Carnero Canyon and Lime Creek, residents in outlying areas and hunters who visited the store every year will no longer be able to enjoy a famous La Garita burger, reminisce about the good old days and thumb through the La Garita photo albums, with trophy hunting takes and other special-event photos dating back to the 1980s.
Store patrons and La Garita residents hope the closing is temporary and something can be worked out to preserve a beloved local landmark.