D  e  s  e  r  t     E  x  p  o  s  u  r  e     June 2005

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Starting Over

Newcomers to Southwest New Mexico find success through flexibility and planning. A taste for adventure doesn't hurt, either.

By Cathy Goodwin

Ah, the romance of the West: a symbol of opportunity, frontier and adventure. And then there's New Mexico—land of enchantment and mystery. But what's the reality for people drawn here by the promise of a fresh start, a new beginning?

Newcomers say you can indeed find a new life here—if you're willing to be flexible, plan ahead and never forget why you wanted to move in the first place. You may experience a major life shift or feel that you've finally found a place to belong. 

Greg and MaryAnn Bond now own Vicki's restaurant in downtown Silver City.

Take Greg and MaryAnn Bond, for example, who now own Vicki's restaurant in downtown Silver City. In their former lives, Greg managed contracts for a small nonprofit agency and MaryAnn was a self-employed professional. But, Greg says, "We were ready for something new."

"Something new" originally meant opening a coffee shop in Silver City's downtown historic area. Then Georgia Bearup of Mimbres Realty told them Vicki's Eatery was for sale. "We came for lunch and really liked the food," Greg remembers. "Vicki was pleased that we had lots of energy but had no plans to make a lot of changes. It was her baby!"

They closed on a home in Silver Acres south of town and on a downtown restaurant in October 2004, just three months after moving to Silver City.

"I've never been in the restaurant business," Greg says. Ex-owner Vicki Sontheim trained the couple for a month, but "it's been hard," he concedes, laughing. "I've been in management for many years and the restaurant business is a different ball game."

The restaurant has thrived nonetheless, he says. He adds, "Please tell everyone we are never serving breakfast! And we'll continue to operate the restaurant as long as it's fun."

Another southwest New Mexico newcomer, Donna George, combined her past experience with perfect timing. George moved here from Logan, Utah, when her husband accepted a position in Deming. She had already morphed from a Pennsylvania tax attorney with KPMG/Peat Marwick and Laventhol & Horwath to a graduate student pursuing a folklore degree at Utah State University. Providentially, she also worked at the university library, rising from student assistant to circulation supervisor.

Once in Deming, George planned to retire, but then applied for a part-time job at Deming's Marshall Memorial Library. Right after she started, the library director said, "I'm going to retire at the end of the year. Are you interested in succeeding me?"

George accepted the position just as the library moved to its new building. She says she's very enthused about the library's "dedicated professional staff" and supportive trustees.

Like George, Donna Lawder built on her previous experience to land her dream job here. But unlike George, her path was a zigzag rather than a straight line.

Preparing to leave Princeton, NJ, Lawder knew exactly what she wanted: a small town that was far from airports, with a diverse population, a college and an arts scene. Her husband, musician Wally Lawder, needed venues to play. Lawder studied Silver City on the Internet and then visited several cities in New Mexico and Arizona. But at Silver City's downtown intersection of Broadway and Bullard, "I broke down in tears, realizing this was home! I had to find a way to make it work."

The Lawders purchased a home in January 2003, then returned two months later with their cats and furniture. Within days, Lawder drew on her background as a professional cook and baker, "slinging joe" and baking treats in the A.I.R. coffee shop. But as A.I.R. became more of a family business, Lawder found herself out of a job and feeling a little scared, she says.

Lawder met the challenge by remaining flexible. She used her business journalism experience to write articles for Desert Exposure (see her article in this issue on the La Capilla project). She used her training as a life coach and her experience as a business manager with Wild Oats Market to develop a "small roster" of local entrepreneurial clients.

After several months of freelancing, Lawder learned about an opportunity to manage Toy Town, the downtown toy store now being operated to benefit Penny Park, after the death of its owner (see the August 2004 Desert Exposure). "I'd met Janet Hammel, the former manager, a few times," Lawder recalls. "When people ask me if I knew Janet, I like to say, 'Not long enough or well enough, but enough to have been touched by her spirit. I was thrilled: Here was a retail job with a mission!"

Lawder built on still another element of her background: traveling around the country opening stores for the Wild Oats chain. "My experience doing marketing and PR, writing, and supervising volunteers—it all came together. I sold the board on my abilities and got the ticket to the dance!"

She was in her element, creating public events and coordinating with other nonprofit groups. And Toy Town "out-performed our business plan for the year," she says.

Those results did not go unnoticed. This spring, Lawder left Toy Town to fulfill a dream that began when she first moved to Silver City: serving as administrator with the Mimbres Region Arts Council (MRAC), the area's award-winning arts organization.

Like Lawder, Alice Pauser researched Silver City and made several visits before committing to a move in fall 2004. And like Lawder, she transferred her experiences: living in a small town in Wisconsin and her impressive credentials as a chef, award-winning culinary artist and tourism marketer. She also relied on her outgoing personality and lifelong talent for making friends.

Pauser moved to Silver City with a commitment to volunteer her skills for a local nonprofit agency. This commitment, she says, gave her contacts all over town. "You have to network," she insists. "I joined the chamber of commerce and the downtown business association. And I can't say enough about those contacts."

Pauser soon realized she could find success in her dream business: teaching culinary classes and selling herbs as the "Kitchen Gardener." Classes on "cooking with greens" and "scented geraniums" filled quickly.

But Pauser's network of new contacts recognized her administrative talent and interpersonal skills. Six months after moving to Silver City, Pauser accepted a program coordinator position with Southwest Planning and Marketing. She continues to work part-time on her culinary arts business, and writes the new Kitchen Gardener column for Desert Exposure.

"I wouldn't do anything differently," Pauser says.

David Stocum agrees.
When Stocum and his partner, Richard Scramstad, decided to escape the Los Angeles rat race, they began researching the southwestern states. Scramstad held an engineering degree from the University of Arizona, but they found themselves attracted to the landscape of New Mexico.

The couple chose Las Cruces because they anticipated employment opportunities—and "we had an 'aha!' moment when we realized the Hatch Chili Festival was only 45 miles away," says Scramstad.

"And we wanted to help the Las Cruces gay community," adds Stocum. "Silver City has organized events like the $1.98 Talent Show. They didn't need us as much."

Scramstad easily landed a structural engineering job. But, an entrepreneur at heart, he now runs his own busy consulting practice. Stocum, a life coach who works by phone and email, thought he would just change the contact information on his Web site.

But Stocum's career took a surprising turn when he answered an advertisement from the New Mexico Commission on the Status of Women. "It sounded like the life coaching I am trained to do," Stocum says. Now he teaches workshops four days a week while developing a national coaching practice. And, with Scramstad, he publishes The Normal Heart, a tabloid targeted to the gay/lesbian communities of southern New Mexico and West Texas.

Each newcomer success story is unique, but all shared a readiness for adventure, flexibility and determination to succeed. And all had researched the region carefully before making a move.

When asked, "What do you like?" every person interviewed bubbled over with enthusiasm:

"Every day we are thrilled to be here," says Bond. "Even if we didn't have jobs we enjoyed, the rest would be exciting."

It's "the honesty and openness of the people, especially compared to Los Angeles," says Stocum.

George responds to the "warm friendly people and the colorful culture." 

But Donna Lawder perhaps says it best: "I felt that moving to Silver City was like coming home."


Cathy Goodwin, PhD, is a freelance writer and consultant living in Silver City. She has been recognized as an expert on the psychological aspects of relocation. Her chapter on relocation appears in 100 Things Everyone Should Know How to Do. Her book, Making the Big Move: How to transform relocation into a creative life transition (New Harbinger, 1999) can be purchased from her Web site, www.cathygoodwin.com/bigmove.html. She offers writing services through www.makewritingpay.com.


7 Steps to Starting Over

Tips and lessons learned from those who've made the leap to a new life in Southwest New Mexico:

1. You can't do too much research.
Greg Bond and his wife spent a full year conducting research on the Internet. Donna Lawder emphasizes, "I had no illusions about what Silver is, or what it could provide. I came for what I could see, taste and feel about the place." Donna George spent months planning every aspect of her move to Deming, from researching moving companies to investigating possible jobs.

All our interviewees visited their destination city at least once. And they visited more than one town to gain perspective.

2. Don't expect to find a job.
"Bring enough funds to support yourself for six months," says Alice Pauser. "Funds for a year would be even better."

"You need to have a means of supporting yourself or a clear plan," adds Richard Scramstad. "Then you can relax and begin to enjoy the environment."

Donna Lawder says she was prepared to remain a self-employed consultant before the Toy Town position opened up.

3. Be flexible.
The Bonds initially planned a small coffee shop, "just coffee and pastry," says Greg Bond. When they realized the downtown area already offered several espresso options, however, they took the risk of buying a restaurant. "But we bought an existing business," he says, "with menus, recipes and a following."

Life coach David Stocum had never prepared an RFP (Request for Proposal) or taught workshops. But he responded to an advertisement and won the contract, leading to an exciting new career direction.

Donna Lawder adds, "I was determined to do whatever was necessary to stay here—short of working for a major retail chain."

4. Meet your new community.
Alice Pauser summarizes her success in three words: "Network, network and network."

Everyone interviewed mentioned learning about opportunities through informal meetings.

5. Rent before you buy.
Nearly everyone interviewed rented housing for at least six months before purchasing a home. "You need to learn the neighborhoods," says Donna George.

6. Prepare to learn new skills.
Asked what they would do differently, Greg Bond says, "I might have benefited from some cooking classes." And Donna George adds, "I wish I'd studied conversational Spanish. It's important here."

7. Enjoy your new life.
"I didn't come here to be a northeasterner in the Southwest," says Donna Lawder. "I came here to be a part of what's here. I would encourage others to be open to change, and be prepared to let yourself change."

Greg Bond adds, "We don't want to change the funky quaint atmosphere of Silver City. If everything changes, you don't have the town you moved into."

And, he adds, "We never looked back. even when I would wake up in the middle of the night thinking, 'What have we done?'"

Ultimately, says David Stocum, "It comes down to taking ownership of your life and responsibility for your choices."—Cathy Goodwin 




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