Elderly man seated in a shop selling antiques and crafts
Just One Person,  New Mexico,  People

Meeting Leo at the Chimayó Trading Post

We parked our car next to the Chimayó Trading Post – the only car in what was quite a large lot. After taking a few photos of the appealing exterior, we pushed open the door and entered. Immediately a wavering voice to our right announced, ‘This place is going to be in a book you know. But you’ve come too early; it won’t be out for a month.’

This was our introduction to Leo, the owner of the trading post. The shop has been in this location since the 1930s, and it seemed to me that Leo must have moved here then too, and possibly been sitting inside behind the counter where we met him ever since; his age and that of many of the objects for sale here seemed about the same, and he seemed as much of a fixture as they did.

From old brass beds to china dogs, kachina dolls to copper kettles, wooden santos to porcelain tea-cups, National Geographic magazines from decades past to antique furniture – even a fairground horse! This place is a treasure trove / junk shop / total dump, depending on your perspective, and all three perspectives are valid in fact; it just depends what your eyes light on next. You could browse here for hours, if so inclined; or you could give it all a cursory glance and dismiss it as being too chaotic to face the search.

Bed with patchwork quilts
Inside the trading post

Española is an unprepossessing town a few miles north of Santa Fe, but is home to a little gem. To step inside the Chimayó Trading Post is to feel yourself transported back around a hundred years, when the pace of life was slower and nothing was ever thrown away, because it might just come in handy one day. And it seemed to me that many of those un-thrown away items have found their way here, to Española. The location of the Trading Post, marooned on a small triangle of land surrounded by busy roads, is somehow apt, because the place itself feels like a perfect slice of history marooned in the 21st century. 

And if you’re wondering why a trading post in Española should be named for a neighbouring town, well apparently the building was originally built in nearby Chimayó in 1926, but was moved to this location in the 1930s. Behind the store is the Trujillo House, dating from around the same time. Both it and the store have been in the Trujillo family ever since.

As we rootled around, and took our photos (having asked permission), Leo continued to chat, even when we were more or less out of earshot. Mainly he talked about the objects, telling us to be sure to look in this corner or that. But he also mentioned that someone he referred to as ‘the girl’ had gone to buy his lunch; he proposed that when she returned she would show us the house if we would like. We had no idea what that might involve but it sounded interesting, so we agreed.

Meanwhile we picked out a few (old) postcards, and I also chose one of the samplers of Native American weavings as a memento of our visit. Leo careful hand-wrote our receipt in lovely old copperplate, and threw in an extra postcard as a gift. Just then ‘the girl’ (a woman probably well into her fifties!) returned with his lunch and agreed that she could indeed show us the house.

She led us to the back of the shop and through a half-open door into the house behind. This was Leo’s home, and had been so for many years. Our ‘tour guide’ explained as we went from room to room that Leo had worked as cabin crew for Pan Am for many years, meeting his wife there, and settling down here in retirement. But before retiring their jobs had taken them all over the world; and wherever they went, they collected the things that most appealed to them. The result is that the house is as much a treasure trove of antiques as the trading post itself. So it was perhaps not surprising to see some things that would look more at home in an English country house or Chinese pagoda! The kitchen too was fascinating, and more or less unchanged since the 1930s I suspect.

We also enjoyed meeting Leo’s cat, named by his owner as Obama (because he’s ‘black and white, like the President’).

Sadly I have learned from an interesting article I found online a couple of years ago (now behind a firewall) that Leo died in 2017; his nephew Patrick now runs the store. So it seems that the house may well be very different these days. Patrick was planning to open it as an art centre where visitors can meet and buy directly from the artists. Thankfully, however, the store seems little changed.

Sign above the Chimayó Trading Post
The Chimayó Trading Post
Animal skulls on the wooden porch of a house

Eventually we said our goodbyes to both ‘girl’ and Leo and left. Back outside we walked round to the side of the building to see the house’s exterior. This we found to be almost as fascinating a hotch-potch of items as the rooms inside; our eyes were particularly caught by an old street sign from Shoulder of Mutton Alley, a tiny side street in London’s docklands!

Chimayó Trading Post: inside and out

If you are interested there are lots more pictures of the house (including some interiors) and store on the Historical Marker Database website [http://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=34205], as well as one of Leo taken in 2010, not long before we met him.

February 2021 update: I’m editing this post to include a link to Just One Person Around the World, as I can’t think of anyone more memorable whom we’ve met on our travels than Leo.

I travelled to New Mexico in 2011