DAVID BERGELAND/Durango Herald
DAVID BERGELAND/Durango Herald
Durango residents overcome by a desire to shop at big-box stores know where to go: south of the border to the Land of Enchantment – a place called Farmington.
It is here where shoppers can browse the aisles of retail giants such as Target, Lowe’s, Dillard’s, Sam’s Club, Hobby Lobby and Best Buy. And it is here where they can savor the culinary delights of chain restaurants such as Chili’s, Fuddruckers, Red Lobster, Outback Steakhouse and Olive Garden.
“I go four or five times a year, because they have stores that we don’t,” said Jessica Dehen, who has lived in Durango for 10 years.
But beyond shopping, Durango residents say they have few reasons to visit Farmington.
“I’ve never gone there for any other reason,” Dehen said.
Which begs the question: What do Farmington residents see in Durango?
For them, Durango is a quaint town surrounded by mountains, history and adventure – river rafting in the summer and skiing in the winter. They come here to shop at boutique stores and dine at the eclectic restaurants. They appreciate everything from the rich mining history to the laid-back college feel.
“I love Durango, absolutely love it,” said Dorothy Nobis, president and CEO of the Farmington Chamber of Commerce. “We’re all very much aware of the fact that Durango is really the tourist attraction around here.”
For being only 50 miles apart, the two cities have many differences.
Durango, population 16,887, sits near the base of the San Juan Mountains, which provide easy access to hiking, skiing, hunting and other recreational activities. The Animas River flows through town, another attraction for tourists and locals. Fort Lewis College keeps the town feeling young, liberal and vibrant.
Farmington, population 45,877, is situated in the high desert of the San Juan Basin.
The city borders the Navajo Nation, which plays a significant role in defining its culture.
Residents rely heavily on the natural-gas and oil industry for high-paying jobs.
The two cities really developed their identities in the 1950s when the first natural-gas boom arrived in the area. The professionals moved to Durango and the field workers settled in Farmington, said Duane Smith, a local historian.
Despite our differences, Durango and Farmington residents have at least one thing in common: Many prefer Durango.
“The people are a lot friendlier (in Durango),” said Daniel Pelt, 45, of Aztec, a town about 35 miles south of Durango and 10 miles north of Farmington. “It seems like down here, you talk to somebody and they just walk away from you.”
Pelt said he used to live in Durango, but he moved to Aztec after losing his job in the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning business. He earned $25 per hour in Durango and $15 in Aztec for doing the same job, he said.
Tim Baughman, who lives in Bloomfield – about 14 miles east of Farmington – said he and his wife enjoy the “hometown feel” of Durango.
“When it comes to people down here (in Farmington), they have a tendency to be a little bit ruder,” said Baughman, who lives in Farmington. “It just seems like everyone here is in a hurry to get everywhere. There, it’s just kind of laid back.”
Farmington resident Ben Jemmett said he enjoys going to Durango about once a month with his wife and kids to see the mountains and alpine forest, something that Farmington lacks. They visit the Durango Community Recreation Center and usually eat dinner at East by Southwest, a sushi restaurant.
He called Farmington the “ghetto of the Four Corners,” but he said his view may be jaded because he works as a police officer for the Farmington Police Department.
Farmington’s violent crime rate is about double that of Durango’s, according to 2010 FBI statistics.
Area law-enforcement officials have expressed concern that Farmington’s gang activity is moving into parts of La Plata County, said Todd Risberg, 6th Judicial district attorney in Durango.
“Many of our recent serious crimes are related to people in Farmington,” Risberg said.
Three Farmington residents were arrested in April on suspicion of murdering an Ignacio man.
Four New Mexico residents were arrested last month on suspicion of luring a man away from his home and burglarizing it.
In March, a Farmington man was arrested on suspicion of stealing a truck and burglarizing several businesses in Durango.
Lt. Ray Shupe, with the Durango Police Department, said Durango residents also have been known to commit crimes in Farmington.
“I think that’s probably reciprocal,” he said.
The poverty rate in Farmington has increased 5.5 percent in the last three years, from 18.4 percent in 2007 to 23.9 percent in 2010. Durango’s poverty rate has remained steady, increasing only 0.2 percent, from 11.3 percent in 2007 to 11.5 percent in 2010.
Nobis, with the Farmington Chamber, said she makes monthly trips to shop and stroll Durango’s historic Main Avenue.
“You guys have some of the best thrift shops of anywhere in the area,” she said. “You guys have some speciality restaurants that I adore. And the shopping is great.
“I’m telling you this as I preach for our people here in Farmington to shop locally,” she added.
Both cities are rich in culture, but they have their own personalities, Nobis said.
“We’ve got that multicultural (population) here that is great, and I think Durango has more of the theatrical and musical things that we don’t have,” she said.
It is common for residents in both communities to commute to the other for work, said Jack Llewellyn, executive director of the Durango Chamber of Commerce.
“If you go sit at the border, I think we’d always be amazed at how many green plates go to the south and how many yellow plates come to the north,” he said.
One of those commuters is Sweetie Marbury, a Durango city councilor who drives through Farmington every week to teach school in Kirtland, N.M.
She goes to Farmington for pleasure “once in a while” to eat at the Olive Garden, she said.
“I’m definitely a small-town girl,” Marbury said.
Would more big-box stores in Durango ruin that small-town charm?
Marbury doesn’t think so. The city loses an estimated $40 million in sales-tax revenue every year to Farmington in what is known as “retail leakage,” she said.
“Durango would like to recapture a lot of those local dollars,” she said.
Dehen, the Durango resident who goes to Farmington about five times a year, said she would stop going if Durango had a better mall, Target store, arts and crafts store and a place to buy hospital scrubs for her job.
“That’s the only reason I go down there,” she said.