|A little over a week ago, while working on my recent editorial about the pending sale of the Archuleta County Courthouse, I began to think back on my friend David Joy. David had told me two years ago that he’d been evicted from his leased auto shop by developer David Brown, after being reassured by Brown that his long term lease would be honored.|
I had not seen David Joy since then, but I felt the time was ripe for talking about that eviction, since the County could conceivably find itself in a similar position.
I posted the editorial early Friday morning. Around noon, I answered the phone and heard a familiar voice: “Mr. Hudson, this is Mr. Joy. I haven’t seen your article yet, but people are telling me you wrote some kind words about me.” As it turned out, David Joy — our long-time mechanic — was back in town and in the midst of opening an auto repair shop in a leased bay at the Grease Monkey, on Putt Hill. I was delighted to hear from David, and we made plans to have coffee together later in the week.
David moved to Pagosa Springs with his wife Petra and his two kids about 14 years ago, within a few months of the time Clarissa and I moved here with our three kids. David and Petra had escaped from L.A. and found their piece of paradise in Aspen Springs, about 20 minutes west of downtown Pagosa.
“Our children were elementary school age. We did not want them to go to school in Los Angeles; we didn’t want to raise them in that environment. We wanted the type of environment that Pagosa Springs has to offer,” David explains. They knew that Pagosa was probably not a place to get rich; David remembers the first December that his new auto repair shop was open, he brought in a grand total of $200.
My wife Clarissa had met David even before he’d opened his first auto repair shop, when her car broke down in the middle of the night on Highway 160, coming back from Durango. A friendly stranger who knew David drove Clarissa to his home — or rather, to the barn where David and his family were staying before their mobile home was installed. David was not yet in business, but he found a piece of hose and fixed Clarissa’s engine. When she asked what she owed him, he told her $40. “I don’t have any money with me,” Clarissa had told him, “but I’ll bring you the money tomorrow.” David said he was petty sure he would never see this woman again — after all, David had just arrived from L.A. where it’s natural to be dubious about people’s intentions.
Clarissa showed up the next morning with the $40 — David’s first paying job in Pagosa — and we have been on friendly terms ever since. We’ve gone through a half dozen vehicles in the past 14 years, (we have an affinity for used cars) and David has worked on all of them.
When David and I sat down at the Junction restaurant last week, we had a bit to catch up on. I hadn’t seen David in two years for good reason: he’d been living in Taos, New Mexico, overseeing the Dodge dealership’s repair shop there. “We had taken out a $250,000 loan to open our new shop downtown,” David told me. “After we were evicted, I had to find a way to pay that all back. There was no way I could do it living in Pagosa.” The job in Taos paid quite well, he said, and he has paid the bank back all but about $20,000. He admits, though, that he didn’t enjoy seeing his wife only on the weekends for the past two years.
When I had last seen David, right after he’d been given his eviction notice, he was angry, hurt and bitter. Two years later, the anger was barely perceptible, and David was able to talk openly about another emotion that resulted from his experience with developer David Brown and previous landlord Lou Poma.
“With me, to be really honest, it’s the embarrassment. I feel really embarrassed by the situation, by the fact that I let someone take advantage of me, from a business standpoint. I feel that I was very naïve in my dealings with them. You know from your dealings with me that I’ve always been a business man from the old school: a handshake, my word is my word, and that is what I’m going to do. And I believed I could deal the same way with these big businessmen, with their contracts and so forth.
“That whole situation made me feel — and I hate to even say this, but — incompetent, that is really the word. Incompetent. I may be incompetent as far as business savvy, dealing with people like this, but in my profession, in my trade, I know I’m at the top of my field. That’s where the conflict inside me comes in.
“I’m trying to get over it, I’m trying to do better.”
We both lamented the fact that David’s downtown repair shop had been demolished two years ago, and the lot is still sitting empty, with no evident development plan in place.
"You have to understand that, by moving to that location [downtown], my business increased by over 100% in the first year. We tripled our number of employees. We went from a business with three or four employees, grossing $100,000 a year, to a business that was employing 10-12 people and grossing $700,000 a year. Things were looking really good."
We also talked about how recent development has affected commercial real estate in the county.
“Growth is inevitable; the whole planet is growing. And growth is generally good for business. But here in Pagosa Springs, rents have gone up as much as 50% or more. And not only have rents gone up astronomically, but it’s a fact that a small business owner like myself can no longer come to town and buy a piece of [commercial] property; it’s impossible. Properties that you could have bought a few years ago for $60,000, they are now asking $1 million for.
"People move here for the same reasons that you and I came here: they love this little small town, they love this little small community, they like the environment. And then the first thing they do when they get here is they want to start changing things. You've seen it as much as I have; it's just amazing. Two weeks in town and they want to start changing things. If you moved here because you liked, why not leave it alone?"
“As much as I might like to move back to a big city, and am extremely qualified to get a very well-paying job at any dealership in the nation, Petra felt we shouldn’t let this situation — losing a business we’d invested our life savings in — turn us away from Pagosa Springs. This is as much our town as it is anyone else’s.”