STORY BY DEVON JACKSON | PHOTOS BY KITTY LEAKEN
DECIDING WHEN TO START A BUSINESS can be a bit like deciding when to have a baby: Even when it’s planned, there really is no optimal time. These Santa Feans, though, bucked the odds and set up shop right when all logic might’ve told them, “Wait. It’s the middle of a pandemic. This is the worst time to try something new or different.” “We didn’t ever think of the pandemic as an impediment,” says Heidi McKinnon of Heritage by Hand, which sells handmade sustainable clothing, accessories and home products from artisans — mainly women — around the world. “Lots of people say, ‘You guys are so brave.’ But because this is a slow time of year anyway, it’s not much worse than I’d imagined.” McKinnon cofounded Heritage with Hilary Kilpatric; they opened the Sena Plaza store on December 12 of last year. Neither had ever owned a store, and both had been out of work since March. McKinnon had helped launch a museum in Panama City, Panama, last February, and the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., before that; Kilpatric had set up an online shop for the International Folk Art Market. “We actually jumped the gun — but it wasn’t a bad decision at all,” adds McKinnon. “I’m not unhappy that we opened when we opened. Starting slowly allows it to take shape.” Business has started slowly for Kelly Stranahan as well, “but I’m not in a huge hurry,” she says. The firsttime business owner opened her gym, Core Fit Santa Fe, in mid-October with a handful of clients, almost all of whom are older and/or physically compromised. “I thought of having my own space, but I never thought at 49 that I’d do it.” Stranahan had been a trainer with Keira Newton until Newton closed her dkb Fitness space in March. “That forced me out,” Stranahan recalls. “So I bought a bunch of equipment and started training people for free at the Rose Park. Then I got kicked out and turned my threecar garage into a gym.” She also trained people near Bicentennial/Alto Park, which was how she discovered her new space on West Alameda Street. She was tired of dragging her kettlebells in and out of her car, and she figured her loyal clients would keep her afloat through whatever might come up. “I’m either really smart or really stupid,” she adds. Rick Pedram had plenty of actual business experience, as an owner and operator, and as president of Santa Fe Dining, which owns about a dozen restaurants, coffee shops and breweries, including Blue Corn Café, Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen, Rio Chama Prime Steakhouse, 35° North Coffee and, as of January 20, Hidden Mountain Brewing on the southern end of Cerrillos Road. Santa Fe Dining kept most of its eateries open during the pandemic, which taught its employees “how to maneuver and work with the imposed restrictions,” says Pedram. “We felt that we were fully equipped and educated to deal with the pandemic.” Plus, he admits, after opening Hidden Mountain in a pandemic, things could only go up. Over at Reside Home/Reside Casita, an interior design business on Paseo de Peralta, owners Chris Martinez and Jeff Fenton didn’t start a new company but had to rethink and reorient their existing business. They’ve been limited to Zoom, FaceTime and Skype for client presentations, and “the events of the last year,” says Fenton, “have had a profound effect on the supply chain, doubling our typical lead times on orders. We’ve been transparent with our clients about the reasons why and the resulting impact on their orders. But our clients have been wonderfully patient as they understand these delays are across all industries.” All these companies have prioritized safety — for staff and customers — as their first order of (new) business. “Every decision, purchase and hire had to go through the COVID lens,” says Santa Fe Dining’s Pedram. “One positive test for a staff member or a guest would simply devastate our business.” “We were very concerned that things be as COVID-safe as possible,” adds Heritage’s McKinnon. Many owners, new and old, were stressed about cleanliness and COVID-19 hygiene. Tim Valdez, however, saw an opportunity. Up until March 2020, he and his wife ran an after-school care program for kids. After seeing news reports about a deadly virus in China, he ordered all the cleaning materials he could. When he realized that schools (and his program) wouldn’t be reopening anytime soon, he looked around at all the cleaning supplies he’d ordered. He had already taken U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classes on sanitizing and cleaning when he worked for a pesticide business and as prep for sanitizing septic tanks. “I knew there was no sanitizing company in Santa Fe, and I’m sitting on all this sanitizer, so I started an LLC,” says Valdez, who named his company Sanitizing Solutions. He soon went to work spraying down restaurants, including The Compound, Crackin’ Crab, Santacafé and Coyote Café, as well as gyms and the Roundhouse. Valdez disinfects spaces with electrostatic backpacks and UV lights. All his cleaning products are made by Ecolab, meet all Centers for Disease Control guidelines and can be used on porous and nonporous surfaces. If someone in a workplace tests positive for COVID-19, he can sanitize that space in one day. He and his wife plan on reopening their after-school business in April with a new name and new location, but “it seems like these viruses are more common now,” says Valdez, an admitted germaphobe, “so I’ll keep the sanitizing business too.” In lockdown, many people have been inspired to buy new furniture, redo entire rooms, renovate or relocate say Reside Home’s Fenton and Martinez. “We’re seeing clients from major metropolitan cities relocating to the beauty and livability of Santa Fe, as we have a more relaxed style of living” says Martinez. “So we’ve completely focused our freestanding adjacent casita toward contemporary design in support of this growing trend — in contrast with the current national trend toward glam.” Pedram is similarly optimistic about the city of Santa Fe and its businesses. “If we were able to make it through this last year, we can pretty much make it through anything!” he enthuses. “I think the restaurant community as a whole became a more tight-knit quilt, all intertwined with having each other’s back. Even though [we’re] competitive, when one goes down, all come to the rescue.” “We’d already been through almost nine months of no work, so you have to get creative,” says McKinnon, who saw an opportunity for herself and Kilpatric in the crisis. “Even though everything in our world was changing, it ought to go back to normal at some point. I don’t think we would’ve done anything any differently. You just have to weather this storm and find comfort in whatever the new normal is for everyone.” Devon Jackson is a writer and editor in Santa Fe. He has written for “The New York Times,” “Outside,” “New Mexico Magazine,” “Rolling Stone,” among other newspapers, magazines and websites.