For 48 years Harold’s Southwestern Gift Shop has been a unique place to check out in the Socorro community for visitors coming in from the south end of I-25. Described as a ‘mom and pop’ store by its owner Harold Baca, travelers and locals walk in to see both locally made products as well as factory made novelties that represent New Mexico culture. El Defensor Chieftain met with Harold to find out more.
Question: How did you come to Socorro?
Answer: I was born and raised here. I left for three years when I was in the military back in the 1960’s.
Q: What branch of the military did you serve in?
A: I was a proud member of the United States Army. I served in Europe, mainly in Germany during my time. It was my choice to enlist. I had several uncles who were army veterans. Back then we still had the draft and I wasn’t going to wait around to get drafted so I decided to go ahead and just volunteer.
Q: You entered the service while living in Socorro. After seeing other parts of the world, what compelled you to return?
A: What I always tell people that walk through the doors at our shop is if I didn’t live here I’d move here. For me, Socorro has everything I need. There’s big game hunting around which I really enjoy. I get to go fishing almost year round. The climate is great. My family is here. Everything I like is right in front of me. This is home.
Q: As far as your store, what type of items do you sell?
A: We have a lot of souvenir type stuff such as the rubber tomahawks for the kids as well as t-shirts, pottery, rugs, and blankets to name a few. We also sell a lot of reservation jewelry made by local artists in New Mexico.
Q: Is it mainly you running the place?
A: Oh gosh no, it’s me and my wife Martha. We’ve been married 53 years now and we do this together.
Q: That is a long marriage. How did you two meet?
A: When I got back from the service she was going to New Mexico Tech at the time and we hit it off … simple as that.
Q: Has your store always been just the two of you or have you ever had other employees?
A: It’s always been a mom and pop. I have four kids, three daughters and a son, who are in their 40s and 50s. They constantly helped us out here at the shop.
Q: After all of these years what keeps you going? What do you enjoy about coming into the shop every day?
A: For us each day is an adventure. I get people in here from all over the world. Yesterday we had visitors from France and Germany that we got to talk with. Also the first responders that come in where we have a wall designated for their patches if they would like to leave them. We have patches from Military to Secret Service members. There is so much joy from meeting people from all over the world.
Q: You have a sign outside welcoming first responders. Why is that important to you?
A: We need to make those individuals that come to train here at the college feel welcome because they contribute a lot to Socorro’s economy. When you have a group of 150-200 people visiting you always want to open yours doors and hear their stories. If they have good experiences meeting people in a shop like mine that’s going to get the word around about how many nice things there are here and generate a lot of money for Socorro. They rent our hotels and eat at our restaurants. And on top of it they’re good and brave people.
Q: Having lived here in Socorro for so long, how have you seen it evolve over the years?
A: When I was a kid we only had one drive in here in town called Shirley’s Drive-Up which is no longer here. It seems like Socorro has grown but in the right direction. It hasn’t gotten too big like some other places.
Q: A few random questions, what is your favorite movie?
A: ‘Lonesome Dove’ would be my top. I’m an old school cowboy and still enjoy livestock a lot. I like old western type of movies.
Q: What is your favorite type of music or musician?
A: I would go back again to country and western. I like Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson. The beat of that stuff feels good having grown up around the world of rodeo.
Q: What is your favorite sport?
A: I like them all. In the fall I’ll watch football and in the spring it’s basketball and the summer it’s baseball. College and pro are both exciting for me. But I’m a fan of the New England Patriots for example because they win which makes my friends so angry (laughs).
Q: If there was something you could change about Socorro County, what would it be?
A: I’m not qualified to give you the answer to the problem but I would like to see Socorro business owners do better. I’ve noticed a lot of places closing their doors over the past few years and I’m not sure what the solution is. I would just like to see more economic support here in town because there are a lot of hard working people here trying to make a living.
Harold’s Southwestern Gift Shop is open six day a week, Monday-Friday 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. If you are passing through looking for a piece to remember New Mexico or a local shopper in the market for a new piece of handmade jewelry or pottery, Harold’s Southwestern Gift Shop is a great place to go.