Displaced New Mexicans — or residents who want to experience new products while supporting New Mexico businesses — will soon have a way to get a box of New Mexico-grown products shipped directly to their doorsteps.
Enchanted New Mexico Boxes — a subscription-based service, locally curated to provide a taste of New Mexico on a monthly basis — was started by Heather Salopek, owner of the Mesilla-based Legacy Pecans, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The suffering sets in
“I’ve gone from running a very successful business to literally losing money, month after month,” Salopek told me last week. “And that has been the most devastating thing through all of this. I’ve worked tirelessly — put all of my blood, sweat and tears — into building Legacy over the last six years. And, within a matter of months and through no fault of my own, I have seen it crumble.”
If Salopek’s company was to fail, she said, she hoped it would be of her own accord — rather than something she has no control over.
“And, as we move into the holiday season, there are a lot of unknowns,” she said. “And that makes it hard for me to know, inventory-wise, how to prepare for it. Usually, I can run my numbers and prepare for the holidays — especially with my corporate gifting. This year, I just don’t know what to expect. We’re in uncharted territory, and I don’t have a crystal ball.”
Legacy Pecans, she said, had not been making any money out of the store since the pandemic arrived in March.
“We were going on five months; month-after-month, we were losing money,” she said. “When it’s just one or two months, you can sustain. But with this, there was no end in sight.”
Born of desperation
Inventory in Salopek’s store, on the plaza in Mesilla, had just not been moving. The store had gone from being very successful to one that was losing money, month after month. There simply wasn’t the foot traffic on the plaza to support it.
Salopek said that because Mesilla — and the plaza, specifically — relies so heavily on tourism, Salopek said businesses were also negatively impacted by quarantine orders for out-of-state visitors and restrictions placed on state parks.
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On a 107-degree day in July, Salopek took a hike up “A” Mountain. And there an idea was born.
“I’m all about putting myself in uncomfortable situations,” she said. “It was in the middle of a hot summer day, but I wanted to go on a hike and ease my mind a little bit. It was on that hike that I realized that I have got to pivot and find a way that we can all overcome this together.”
And so, she started thinking.
“People aren’t coming into the store,” she explained. “And so how do I get these products into the hearts and the homes of people, in a safe environment? And that’s sort of where the idea for a subscription box came from.”
On the plaza, she said, it’s easy to see that her business was not the only one feeling the effects of the pandemic.
“When you drive around the plaza and don’t even see a car, or you walk into the Double Eagle and there are only five people in the restaurant — that’s when you know that you’re not in this alone,” she said.
No one goes hungry
But, as Salopek was thinking about this, she wanted a piece of it that could really help the community.
“And I knew that Marci (Dickerson) had been giving out free meals,” she explained. “So I called her up and asked her how she was doing it — whether it was through Revolution 120, The Game, or personally. Like, what were the logistics? And she said, ‘We’re about to do a whole push about ‘No One Goes Hungry in our Community,’ and I would love for you to be a sponsor of that.’”
And, because Dickerson already had the logistics worked out, Salopek told her that she would “100% be a sponsor of that.”
“So the Enchanted New Mexico Boxes are not only helping small businesses survive the pandemic, it’s also donating funds to ‘No One Goes Hungry in our Community,’” she told the Sun-News. “And we’ve had two giveaway events now, and residents can pick up food every day at both of The Game locations.”
Initially, Salopek just donated funds out of her own pocket — since the Enchanted New Mexico Boxes were not yet up-and-running.
“But, as the business grows and I have customers purchasing the boxes, then we’ll move to a one-to-one model — where each box purchased will go toward feeding the community and those in need.”
A taste of New Mexico on your doorstep
The response from out-of-state subscribers has been fantastic so far, Salopek said.
“Most of (the initial boxes) are being shipped out of New Mexico,” she added. “People love the taste of New Mexico — the chile, the pecans, the spices. And many small businesses don’t have the ability, or the capacity, to ship out of state. What we’re offering is sort of a one-stop-shop. You get your pecans, your coffee, your spices, salsas and sweets and savories — and it all shows up in one box.”
One of the most gratifying parts has been to see people rally together to support their local community — people who love New Mexico, who love New Mexico flavor, and who want to be a part of the project, she said.
“We’ve seen it on the subscriber side, among people who want to know how they can purchase a box, and on the small-business side, among businesses wanting to have their products included in our boxes,” Salopek said. It been exciting to see these small businesses really advocating for themselves — and seeing this opportunity and wanting to be a part of it.”
One thing that’s unique about New Mexico, Salopek explained, is that we have very different flavors in the south and the north.
“Being able to encapsulate all of them is a way to provide a gift that encompasses all of New Mexico,” she added. “It’s not just southern New Mexico that’s suffering. It’s not just northern New Mexico that’s suffering these detrimental downturns in tourism. It’s all of us.”
New products, new customers
“This has been just as much of a treat for me as it is for those who receive it,” Salopek said. “As a native New Mexican who is very ingrained in this community and in our local agriculture, I’m even being introduced to new companies and things I didn’t know about. For instance, I actually found a box of red chile that you just add water to — it’s a mix, and I didn’t know we had that. So, the element of surprise has been fantastic.”
Each box will have six types of categories that goes in each — but what that gets filled with will change each month.
“One of those categories is handmade goods,” she said. “This month is the Organ Mountain Outfitters tote. But to be able to look for different artisans, and to discover all of the different things that come out of New Mexico and see how creative our own communities are has been a wonderful surprise for me. Whether it’s handmade coasters or keychains or totes, it’s been a really cool experience.”
In the inaugural box, set to ship on Oct. 4, all of the small businesses were hand-selected to reach different clienteles and different target markets, Salopek explained.
“And so, for them, this was an exciting way for them to reach another target market — another group of potential customers who maybe haven’t seen their product before,” she said. “My customer base at Legacy Pecans is likely a very different customer base than Organ Mountain Outfitters’ or The Fresh Chile Company’s. This is a way to come together and introduce these brands to people who may not have seen them before, but will absolutely love them.”
To find out more about the New Mexico Enchanted box, and how it works, visit https://www.enchantednmbox.com/howitworks. An individual box retails for $49.99, a three-month subscription is $45 a month, and a six-month subscription is $43 a month, available online at https://www.enchantednmbox.com/. For information, also visit https://www.facebook.com/enchantednmbox and @enchantednmbox on Instagram. Vendors interested in being considered for future boxes may contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Source: Damien Willis, Las Cruces Sun News