Charlie’s Market: Groceries and Gossip since 1937

When Charles Masinton opened  in the small town of La Veta, Colorado, in 1937, he probably didn’t know just how important his store would become to the community. Charlie’s Market, as it is now known, is the only local grocer in town, but it is also the social heart of this small Southern Colorado community.

“In the afternoons you can stand here and everybody knows everybody,” says Deborah Messier, who took over the market with her husband Dave a few years ago. “People come in the store to get their stuff and you can hear them talking in line; it’s like a big social event every day. If anything ever happens in town, the first thing, they either call or run down here.”

When Charlie’s Market  opened, it was one of three grocery stores in the town of La Veta. The other two stores eventually closed, and Charlie’s remained as the sole provider of groceries and gossip. “As a matter of fact, one of the slogans they used in the past for the soda counter was ‘Come and Get the Scoop,’ ” Deborah reveals.

The Messiers have only owned Charlie’s Market for the past two years, having bought it from the original owner’s daughter and son-in-law. Deborah sites the friendly people and beautiful natural surroundings as two factors that drew them to the town of La Veta.

“We had only been here once before buying the store, several years before when we were camping at Monument Lake. Even then we thought, ‘This is a really beautiful place’, but we didn’t know how to live here and make an income.”

While searching for a business to buy in 2012, the Messiers came across an ad online for an unnamed business for sale, in an unknown town. The ad was purposely vague and the sellers wouldn’t tell the Messiers where, or what, the business was until they provided documentation to prove that they could buy it.

“When we discovered it was in La Veta we said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding!’ ” Deborah remembers, “It was so cute, we knew we were going to buy the store after seeing it once.”

Deborah admits that there is a delicate balance between keeping the character of the old store while also updating the business to meet modern needs. “What we’re trying to do is not really change things, but just add to what was already here”, she says. These additions include returning the meat counter to the way it was when Charlie owned the store, with a full-service butcher and deli.

The Messiers have also added a bakery to provide freshly baked bread for the store, expanded the produce section, and added organic and gluten-free foods. “We want to accommodate the community and keep people here, because most people don’t want to have to leave town to shop, the only reason they do is if they have to. People know that if they come and ask for something, if we don’t have it, we’ll try to get it for them.”

Despite these modern additions, the store still retains much of its vintage character and charm. The original soda fountain, made from the old bar from the town’s saloon, still sits on one side of the store, serving plenty of hand-scooped ice cream throughout the summer. “A lot of people come here who know about it, even people who were here as babies and now come back with their kids or grandkids.  It’s really fun to work here because you hear so many stories”, Deborah says.

Sometimes this vintage charm comes at a price, such as the narrow doorways that are too small to accommodate a regular sized pallet. “We had our watermelon bin built specially so it would fit because all these doorways are so small. There are definitely some obstacles, but we found a way around it!” Deborah exclaims. She also claims that her husband Dave has had to become something of a refrigeration expert, as the old equipment has a habit of breaking down at the most inconvenient times.

“We’ll have days where we have plans and then a freezer breaks and everything stops and your whole focus is getting it emptied, getting it fixed, and reloading”, Deborah tells me, “The hardest adjustment has been the amount of time we have to be here in the store. There are many days that we’re here for 16 hours. We’re here before we open until long after we close.”

These hours are especially long in the summer when the area expands with the 4,000 extra seasonal residents who own summer homes in nearby Cuchara. “Starting at Memorial Day weekend and going through the middle of September, our town really blossoms; it gets crazy! It’s just now staring to slow down and taper off [in late August],” Deborah explains.

“There’s a lot of events that go on during the summer. There’s a Celtic festival that will happen next month, a great Oktoberfest that draws a lot of people, and almost every week in summer there are musicians that come here. And Lucy’s RV Park around the corner–people love to come there because of the fun things they do. People will come and stay all summer.”

Even during the slower winter months, Deborah plans to be working hard, expanding the business in new directions. On the day we visit the market, Deborah is conducting a cake decorating demonstration, as the market has just added freshly baked cakes to their bakery lineup. She has also recently started catering events for as many as 200 people.

This winter, she has plans to start a small chocolate factory in the soda fountain space, since ice cream is not a big seller in the wintertime, and the Messiers have introduced house-made beef jerky that has proven to be a big seller. (I can attest to how delicious it is, as I bought a bag to take home and it was gone within hours.) “My mind is always going 100 miles an hour with new ideas”, Deborah laughs, “but then we have to figure out how to get there.”

As we sit outside after the interview, enjoying a freshly made salad from the store’s deli, a police cruiser goes speeding down the main street of town, sirens blaring. Several people come out of the market and congregate on the sidewalk outside, looking down the road and wondering where the car is headed. Clearly, Charlie’s Market is still the social center of La Veta, providing both groceries and a sense of community.

 

Charlie’s Market

214 South Main Street, La Veta, CO 81055

P:  (719) 742-3651