There was a day when every rural American town had a General Store. At these usually family-owned and operated institutions locals could post a letter, catch up on the latest gossip, gas up their trucks, and pick up everything from a hundred-pound bag of livestock feed to a quart of milk.
I wonder how many of these places exist anymore. Martin's, a general store a few miles from my parents' rural New Mexican home that dates back to the 1930s and boasts a beautiful tin ceiling and authentic Old West false-front facade, just closed this past August.
Now the 1,300 or so residents of El Rito, a farming and ranching town that attracted Spanish settlers in the early 18th century, have to drive about 20 minutes or so to pump gas or buy a newspaper.
This isn't the case of a local being driven out of business by the arrival of a big chain store; word has it that the owner of Martin's closed shop so he could enjoy his golden years. The building is for rent. But what with the current state of the economy and a Wal-Mart within a 45-minute drive, I'm doubtful that the place will reopen anytime soon.
El Rito's kind of a quiet town. Traffic along its one main road does pick up during tourist season, when visitors make the drive for the award-winning green chile stew at El Farolito, just across the street from Martin's (I highly recommend the red chile enchiladas as well).
And meanwhile Martin's sits empty, its shelves still -- strangely -- half-stocked, a shopping cart in front of the check-out counter, looking for all the world like a store in one of those horror movies about the plague that befalls a town and, within half an hour, kills off the entire populace as it's going about its daily business.