Turn-of-the-century tea business featured in image

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FARMINGTON — Downtown Farmington's Complete Streets project is still approximately a year from getting started, but a more modest beautification enterprise in the district will begin to take shape in the weeks ahead.

Downtown coordinator Michael Bulloch said state grant money will be used to pay for a giant historic photo reproduction that will be placed on a fence on a property at 201 E. Main St between Downtown Junkers, a family-owned refurbished antique and vintage treasure shop, and the Journey Church.

The black-and-white photo, which dates from the early 1900s, is an image of a woman standing before the Grand Union Tea Co., a business that once occupied the space. The photo will be reproduced at life size on weather- and fade-resistant vinyl material, then mounted on the fence much like a billboard, Bulloch said.

The idea is that it will provide an attractive, eye-catching facade for a narrow space between two buildings that for many years has been used simply for storage.

The grant money will come from the Resilient Communities Fund, which targets locally driven economic development projects in rural or underserved communities in the state and is administered as a partnership between the New Mexico Resiliency Alliance and the state MainStreet program. Bulloch said he received word in May that the grant request of $5,000 for the project had been approved.

This is the second year in a row a project in downtown Farmington has been approved for a Resilient Communities Fund grant, and that influx of money already has begun paying dividends. Last year, downtown art gallery owner Karen Ellsbury received $3,500 to construct a pocket park behind her business Studio 116, and the space was opened to the public during the June 8 Summer Stroll and Art Walk.

Bulloch acknowledged he was surprised but pleased that a Farmington project was selected as a grant winner two years in a row. He said the idea for the project stemmed from a discussion he had with Bart Wilsey, director of the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park, during which Wilsey referenced the photo that will be used.

Bulloch took the idea to Sarah Herrera, owner of Downtown Junkers, and Nona Beckstead, whose family owns the property at 201 E. Main St., and enlisted their support.

Project designs have been submitted, and Bulloch said volunteers for a work crew are being sought so that demolition and cleanup work can begin in the next few weeks. He said all the grant money for the project must be spent by Dec. 31, but the work itself does not have to be finished by then.

"So it's going to be a real short turnaround, but that assures that we get it going," he said.

The vacant space is 20 feet wide, but the photo reproduction is expected to be roughly 15 feet wide and 12 feet tall. Plans call for a wooden fence façade to cover the rest of the space, where a chain-link fence now exists.

A special feature of the project is that a gate will be cut into the space where a door exists in the photo, allowing visitors to "step into" the photo. The vacant space behind the façade could be put to use as another pocket park, Bulloch said, explaining that Herrera has expressed interest in scheduling special events for her business there.

The site also will feature an interpretative panel created by the Farmington Museum staff explaining its historical significance.

Bulloch hopes the project inspires other downtown business owners to come up with creative ideas for their properties as Complete Streets work gets underway. He said downtown boosters are planning to approach state MainStreet officials about having their summer quarterly gathering here next year, which likely would occur in August 2019.

That would place the event squarely in the middle of Complete Streets construction, but Bulloch said the idea is that visitors from around the state would get to see the project as it is unfolding and perhaps learn about best practices for approaching an enterprise of such magnitude. He envisions the new project at 201 E. Main St., which should long be completed at that point, as being something Farmington boosters could point to with pride.

Mike Easterling is the night editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.

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