La Puente to buy Atencio’s Market
By Owen Woods | firstname.lastname@example.org
LA Puente has entered into a purchase contract with Junior Atencio to acquire Atencio’s Market as its new, larger food bank location with 5,000 square feet. Lance Cheslock, executive director of La Puente, presented the news to the Alamosa County Commissioners Wednesday. They voted unanimously to support La Puente and agreed to be the fiscal sponsor of a Community Development Block Grant application to help with the acquisition.
The deadline to close on the $360,000 sale is April 15, 2023.
The Alamosa County Commissioners agreed to support a $280,000 CDBG application as the fiscal sponsor, meaning the money comes into the county and then to La Puente for help with the purchase. La Puente’s existing, additional funds will be used for the renovations and improvements. The block grants are funded through federal COVID relief funds used for widespread social services or community development.
“With the community acting as our CDBG fiscal agent, we could more quickly turn our attention to improvements on the interior and exterior of the facility,” Cheslock wrote in a letter to the commissioners.
La Puente would do the grant writing and most of the work on the application. The county would simply have to inspect and sign off on it. Cheslock expects a copy of the grant application will be submitted by Friday, Aug. 26.
Cheslock called the grant “use it or lose it” money. The opportunity to apply for the grant came soon after Cheslock and Atencio had a “meeting of the minds” on Aug. 10. The purchase agreement then came on Aug. 18, when boxes were checked and the contract was agreed upon.
Moving the food bank out of the downtown corridor has been on the backburner since 2019, as COVID-19 swept through the Valley. Until recently, La Puente was eyeing three buildings as potential prospects, Atencio’s Market among them.
A relocation would give the food bank a larger space. At the end of the day, however, the move is about a more accessible and dignified experience for clients, according to Cheslock and Annalise Baer, La Puente’s food bank director. The opportunity, as Cheslock wrote in his letter, would also help by “removing the implicit conflict between a robust social services program and ongoing downtown economic development.”
Baer spoke on the advantages of the new building and the complications of having the current food bank sit alongside the busy Sixth Street corridor. The space also will be able to provide ample room for La Puente and its VEGI program to expand. “I’m really excited about this potential project for two main reasons,” she said. “One being accessibility, one being increased dignity for our clients.”
The current food bank location has parking available, but La Puente does not own the adjacent lots, so there is a little wiggle room for patron parking. ADA accessibility is also an issue, as well as the general proximity to the busy road. Cheslock and Baer mentioned numerous instances of patrons feeling “humiliated” and “embarrassed” while waiting outside. “It is not a dignified experience, currently, for our clients,” Baer said.
The current food bank is 2,900 square feet; Atencio’s Market is 5,000 square feet.
The new building will offer more parking, ADA-accessible parking and bathrooms, as well as a private waiting room and a play area for kids inside the building. “It will just overall be a more accessible space for our clients,” Baer noted.
According to La Puente, the food bank served somewhere between 1,200 and 1,500 households over the past four years. Some 600 of those households reside on the south side.
“It’s important to understand that the patrons of the food bank are living in houses, residents of our community. You know, with La Puente presenting it’s sometimes misconstrued that all the people that we serve are people experiencing homelessness, but these are long-term residents, short-term residents, people who are housed and who are just having a rough patch, that will be receiving those services,” Cheslock said.
This upgraded space will allow for the food bank’s offices to have more space and would accommodate La Puente’s VEGI program. The hope is for these two programs to improve their outreach with upgraded space and amenities.
Atencio’s Market has a walk-in cooler already installed, which Baer is thankful for. There is also food-safe kitchen equipment that will allow for the food bank and VEGI program to expand. With the large kitchen space, La Puente plans to host cooking classes through VEGI and demonstrate meal prep with simple, nutritious recipes.
Cheslock hopes to help people recognize hunger as a nutrition issue rather than a calorie issue. He also said that a large influence behind this contract and subsequent grant application was sentimentality. La Puente wants to use this building to further its partnership with the community, but also wishes to see the little grocery store continue living.
With the closing of Atencio’s Market, it will mark the first time in at least 70 years that there will be no grocery store on the corner of 8th Street and State Avenue serving Alamosa’s south side. The closing creates a food desert for people who live south of the railroad tracks, Cheslock acknowledged.
“It is sad that the neighborhood grocery store has lost viability. The loss of Atencio’s will be felt in the neighborhood,” Cheslock wrote.