Socorro has changed over the years, but the plaza remains familiar for gift store owner Ben Zimmerly.
Zimmerly runs Casa de Regalos out of the same building his parent’s grocery store, Ben’s Fine-Foods, used to occupy on the plaza. A clock on the wall still hangs in the same place it has since the 1950s.
Zimmerly’s parents had a grocery store on the plaza for 40 years. Zimmerly’s dad worked for the original store, Edwards, as a butcher and was able to buy the business out. By the late 1980s, it was no longer profitable to be a small store, said Zimmerly. In 1988, his mom turned the business into a gift shop.
When the store was first transformed, there was one big hiccup when they tried to move the meat case.
“They had one of those big floor jacks. Instead of lifting up the case, the jack went through the floor.”
After a career at White Sands and owning a gas station, running the gift shop is Zimmerly’s hobby.
“It’s fun talking to different people and watching what’s going on out there,” he said.
Zimmerly fills the gift shop according to his own taste: a wall of metal crosses, stained glass hot air balloons, woven blankets, novelty items like packages of “rattlesnake eggs” and soap shaped like colorful rocks.
In the back of the store is a storeroom, where Zimmerly can work on stained glass projects. He uses a glass cutter to cut colorful pieces of glass, then uses a grinder to fine tune the shapes. Then he wraps the glass with copper so it can be soldered.
It took him three weeks to make a pair of stained glass lamps. He used a fiberglass mold with beeswax to hold the glass while it was soldered.
“They say to use a hairdryer to get it off the mold, but I put it in a black plastic bag in my car. It melted right off.”
These days he typically sticks to smaller stained glass pieces, like the hot air balloons and Zia symbols that can be purchased in his shop.
His customers are half locals and half out of town visitors. He’s had some memorable customers through the years.
“Jodie Foster was in here once, when they made the movie Contact. The trouble was I didn’t know who she was until after she left. There were two of them and they looked pretty much alike. I guess one of them was her stand in,” said Zimmerly.
Like many small businesses, the store had to close for several months during the pandemic. Zimmerly used his stimulus check to pay for the utility and insurance bills when customers weren’t coming in.
“They’re starting to be more people traveling, but after the shutdown, there was nobody to buy anything anyways.,” Zimmerly said. “They just couldn’t go no place, but the tourists are starting to come back.”