Lost and Found in Santa Fe:

Locals struggle with adapting to a changing economy

By Siet Wright

A small crowd formed outside the only pawn shop in Santa Fe– waiting to sell, waiting to buy, waiting for their turn to tell their story. The people conversed amongst each other, talking about the only bits of their lives valuable enough to sell. What they must sell and why they are there. They each came to the pawn shop to sell a treasured item for money, but they all have different reasons for waiting. A bullet hole spider webs the front door of the shop and a hand-written sign on the glass read, “We are closed to assist the Santa Fe Police Department in an investigation.”

The city had transformed in the last few decades with the Anglo art scene, and some New Mexicans that stayed struggle to keep up with the rising costs of living. For some, staying was a choice. For others, there was no choice. They can’t afford to leave, their families have lived there for generations, and there is nowhere to go anyways.

Bob Lopez of Santa Fe leaned against the adobe wall and waited patiently for the store to open. He had been waiting for 20 minutes to sell some rifles from his collection. He didn’t want to sell his guns, but he just turned 80 years old and had a respiratory disease that made him worry he may have reached his end.

“I’m getting along in years, and I don’t want to burden my wife with selling my things when I go,” Lopez said in a quiet voice. “I want to make sure all she has to worry about selling is the house, after I die.”

The man looked off into the distance and sunglasses partially hid moist eyes as his words trailed away. He wore a white golf shirt, and a white ball cap with the Nike logo on it. He crossed his arms and looked uncomfortable. He readjusted his position and leaned against the wall in attempt to look casual. A large black Nissan pickup truck entered the parking lot.  

“I don’t want her to worry about…” his own worries de-railed his train of thought and another person approached, saving him from his next words. The woman walked to the front of the store dressed in brightly colored garb, wearing a straw western hat, with a black band of silver bears wrapped around it. She was petite with long, onyx black hair and a few wiry lines of stark grey streaking it.

“They ain’t open, or what?” the woman asked with a loud and thick New Mexican accent, breaking the emotional moment of Lopez’ quiet thoughts.

“There’s a sign on the window, that says they had a shooting,” Lopez said to her. “We are just waiting for them to open the door.”

Maria Trujillo, 70, from Santa Fe, decided to join the waiters outside the pawn shop and share her story, too.

“I lost my job, because we ain’t busy no more. There used to be 20 of us, but now there’s just three,” Trujillo said. “I got to make my truck payment, so I came down here to sell some of my jewelry. I don’t want to sell, but I gotta have my truck.” Her hands were busy, flashed like birds darting around, searching in the pockets of her large black purse.

She pulled out a gallon-sized freezer bag full of old Native jewelry, just as a third person joined the crowd waiting. He was tall and lean and dressed all in black. He heard the story from the others waiting, about the shooting investigation and decided to wait silently alongside them.

Trujillo showed each piece of jewelry one by one, to anyone interested. One piece was hand carved turquoise birds. The silver accents were pure sterling and the necklace was heavy and well-made. The next piece of jewelry was sterling silver, with red coral and a large silver horse centerpiece. Her asking price was $200 for the coral and silver necklace, and she hoped to get $100 for the turquoise. She mentioned again, that she didn’t want to sell the jewelry, but her husband had passed and since she lost her job, she had nothing else to fall back on.

Upon hearing her story, the tall man in black, Mike Johnson, 58, spoke up and asked to see the jewelry again. He offered her cash for two of her necklaces, and she accepted. After he had agreed to pay, she continued to offer selling points about the jewelry he had already bought.

Johnson had an easy smile, and a sun browned face full of lines. His accent declared that he wasn’t from Santa Fe and he offered that he was a New Zealander. He had bought the jewelry as a gift for his partner, and he assured Trujillo that she would love it. He promised that he would never sell the jewelry. This seemed to comfort the woman and she was quiet at last. Whether it was the comfort of knowing that her treasures would become someone else’s treasures, or the knowledge that for at least one more month she could keep her truck. She seemed momentarily assured.

Bob Lopez had hoped to sell his collectible rifles but had grown tired of waiting and said his goodbyes to the group. He listened and watched the exchange of cash and jewelry and he was ready to call it a day since no one had asked to see his guns.

After Lopez drove away in his silver Dodge Ram 3500 pickup, another car pulled into the parking lot and two men walked to the door. They were informed about the status of the shop and decided to wait. The 1:30 open time had long come and past, and the doors remained locked.

The group introduced themselves to one another and found common ground on many subjects. An hour passed, and another but they were comfortable chatting with their newfound friends outside of a closed pawn shop, where they were each hoping to find or sell something special.

More people came, but none stayed with the waiters who were lost in a long and meandering conversation. The talk turned from guns, to marijuana, to gentrification– then jumped to politics and the struggles of Latinos trying to survive in the rapidly changing Santa Fe economy.

Everyone who went to the pawn shop that day had something to find or something to sell. Some walked away empty handed, some made a new friend, but all walked away feeling like they had found something special after all. A connection with strangers that became friends.

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