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In a Lather

Doña Ana County soap startup offers good, clean fun--New Mexico style! Plus outlet shoppe-ing, SIGRED shutdown, Kohl's opening, Toucan plans and more.


Spotlight on...

New Mexico Soap Company

It's time to come clean: Do you prefer red or green? — soap, that is! The New Mexico Soap Company, an entrepreneurial mom-and-pop operation based in the far reaches of Doña Ana County, offers bars of soap in both colors — in the familiar shape of a long, hot chile pepper. Instantly recognizable as an image of the Southwest, the soaps are hot sellers to folks who want them for gifts or as mementoes of the Land of Enchantment.

Diane Black, who owns New Mexico Soap Company with her husband David, with chile soaps setting up in molds and samples of a few of their products.

But don't let the chile soap just sit on a shelf, says Diane Black, who co-founded and owns the company with her husband David.

"It's soap! That's the beauty of it. It's meant to be used," she says with a laugh. And though they look like the real deal, the chile pepper soaps are seasoned with cinnamon and lime — not actual chile pepper! — so they are mild to the skin.

The Blacks have been churning out unique New Mexican soaps--in the shape of the state of New Mexico, etched with the Zia symbol or ancient designs taken from Mimbreño pots and many more — for just over five years now. He's an agri-engineer, retired from Chevron in El Paso, and was a beekeeper years ago. She has an accounting/finance degree and held administrative and management jobs in her professional career. These days, though, it's all about producing high-quality soap in whimsical shapes, a business the Blacks find fun and rewarding.

The business began as an at-home hobby in their living room. Black recounts how she wanted to make unique favors for their daughter's wedding, and hit upon the idea of guest soaps. She hit the local crafts store and found "cute little candy molds" in the shape of a Victorian fan, a bride and groom dancing, and champagne glasses. Since the bridesmaids were to be attired in burgundy and pink, she made raspberry soaps in those colors.

"People went nuts over them," she says. "They were such a hit!"

Soon the Blacks were making up special orders for friends, then wholesaling to local retailers. It wasn't long before they were selling out of state and even internationally, over the Internet.

Though business definitely has grown--and moved from the living room to a dedicated workshop — it's still just the two of them running the whole operation, she says.

The company's customer base is nearly equally split between locals and out-of-state buyers who want New Mexico mementoes. But while soap in the shape of chile peppers or the state of New Mexico or with an ancient Mimbreño design might draw customers due to its eye appeal, Diane Black says, the secret to repeat business lies in the lather.

"It's the quality of the ingredients," she says. The soap bases are 100 percent pure soap, made using a natural vegetable oil recipe, with kosher glycerin added. The products are hypoallergenic and non-animal tested, and they contain no animal products (except for the one with powdered goat milk), detergents, sulfates, surfactants or sugar solutions. Other natural ingredients include avocado oil, lavender, orange oil, rosemary, aloe, oatmeal, lemon, honey and cornmeal. All the additives are nutritive for the skin and some of them help with exfoliation, Black says, emphasizing the differences between her handmade soaps and commercial products.

"Commercial soap gets mushy in the soap dish. That's because big commercial producers cut corners and replace the glycerin with alcohol (so it cures faster) and other ingredients you can't pronounce," she says with a chuckle. "This makes it cheaper, but it's also a less-quality product. Our soap doesn't get mushy." She laughs over customers who have told her how long their bars of soap lasted: "You might find yourself asking, 'When does this soap ever end?'"


The company's first "professional" bars--beyond the ones they made for the wedding and some friends--were in the shape of pecans, with actual pecan meal as a main ingredient.

"It was a middle-of-the-night revelation for me," Diane Black says. "I thought about all the pecan growers around here. I thought, they're right here, down the road practically." She decided to research pecans, and discovered the nutritive value of the nut's vitamins and oils, how those elements could benefit the skin.

"Our pecan soap is still a great seller," she says.

Nowadays, the company does a large number of special orders. They've produced soaps for promotional gift packs, favors for weddings and soaps for bachelorette and baby showers. Diane Black recalls that she once hand-carved initials on every bar of soap for a special event--to the delight of the customer and her guests.

How long it takes to make a batch of the handcrafted soaps depends on the size of the order. The curing process can take three weeks, she says. Yet, for handmade soaps of top-quality ingredients, the products are surprisingly reasonable in cost. Individual bars run around $5, and gift packs — like the Ancient Mimbreño pot theme — contain five bars and go for $30.

The company is making a specially designed rectangular soap-on-a-rope product for the Good Samaritan Arts and Crafts Fair Extraordinaire in Las Cruces, coming up Oct. 14. The event is for the Good Samaritan retired residential community, Diane Black notes, so she wanted to make a product that would be especially safe for seniors in the shower and bath.

Always looking to have some, well, good clean fun, she says the pair are always coming up with new products. The Mimbreño-design gift set is a new product that's doing well, she says. They've recently created soaps for children with little toys embedded in the little bars. (Hope the little ones don't get frustrated waiting for the soap to finally wear down!)

"People tell us that the kids remember to wash their hands now, because they're motivated to get to the toys inside," she says.

And going along with the bathroom theme, the Blacks have recently created what they call "El Baño boxes," handcrafted wooden cabinets that are 21 inches tall and 6 x 6 inches square. The whimsical boxes have several compartments--to hold two rolls of toilet paper, a box of Kleenex and, of course, a bar of soap.

"We didn't see a product like this anywhere else, so we just developed it, kind of by accident," Black says. "It's functional art." Depending on the wood used, the El Baño boxes run $25-$40.

They'll be rolling out the new products at the upcoming Renaissance Faire in early November, Diane Black says, and they are hopeful to have a hit on their hands.

"People who see them say, 'Oh, how cute!' So we know we're onto something."

New Mexico Soap Company, 824-1115


Outlet Shoppe-ing

Don't be fooled by the quaint, old-fashioned spelling. The Outlet Shoppes at El Paso are designed to deliver modern-day discounted shopping with "big city" variety, luring consumers from far and wide with 85 stores, a food court and children's play area. The 385,000-square-foot mall is located by the Transmountain Loop off Interstate 10 on the northern edge of El Paso, and experts predict it will suck retail dollars from southern New Mexico and northern Mexico, at least at first. Offering consumers a chance to buy for less and retailers the opportunity to clear out "old" merchandise at better profits than other means afford them, "outlet" shopping malls like the new El Paso center have become a trend in recent years, featuring overstocked and discontinued name-brand goods. The mall will throw open its doors for shopping Oct. 11 at 10 a.m. with much fanfare, with a celebration on Oct. 12 featuring former American Idol contestants. (So this is where they go after that mean Simon Cowell gives them the boot!) Bruce Huhmann, associate professor of marketing at NMSU, said he expects shoppers will initially flock to the new venue--even Las Crucens living in the Land of Retail Plenty. Though a number of local retailers contacted denied fears over what the mall could mean to their sales, one can only imagine that this new shiny jewel--a reasonable drive away, on the Cruces side of El Paso--will put a damper on local retailers' visions of sugarplums regarding their holiday sales goals this year. The likely onslaught of shoppers also coming up from south of the border has New Mexico Border Authority bracing for the increased traffic and ordered to keep 'em moving along I-10, according to NMBA executive director Jaime Campos. See what all the hullabaloo is about and check out a list of the "shoppes" online at



Going, Going, Gone...

SIGRED, the Silver City/Grant County Economic Development Corp., will likely close its doors Nov. 1, after nearly 30 years. The announcement came at the end of last month, with board chairman Jeremiah Garcia saying the group just doesn't have enough money to continue operations. Funded largely by memberships--to the tune of just 45 members at $100-$400 a pop — the group could not afford to keep functioning without outside funds, Garcia said, estimating it takes between $100,000 and $200,000 to run the center. He said SIGRED's chances of getting federal and state monies were slim.


New on the Health Horizon

Victor N. Wachuku, MD, owner at the Cassie Health Center in Silver City, has partnered with Yvette Romero, RN, in starting up Horizon Home Health at 1260 E. 32nd St. in Silver City. In a phoenix-from-the-ashes sort of tale, the nurses involved with the new venture all worked at San Vicente Home Health at one point, left to start up the Mariposa Home Health that crashed and burned after just a couple of months, and now are coming on board at the new Horizon venture. Nurse Romero says the center has gotten all of its policies and procedures requirements nailed down and plans to open by the end of this month, once they get state certification. 388-1801.


New in Town

Bringing "the vision thing" down to earth, Mike Davies has opened Creative Vision Landscaping in Silver City, offering all levels of landscaping design, installation and maintenance. (520) 971-1488, 313-3369.

Doyle Shirey has opened Forever Flowers at 3100 Hwy. 180 E., in Silver City, across from the new Ace Hardware, near the intersection with 32nd St. Focusing on the forever aspect, the store sells craft and silk flowers, as well as specialty wedding items like cake toppers, those fancy wedding cake knives and unity candles. May the marriage last as long as the flowers! 534-4780.

Sharon A. Barr has opened Barr Transcription Services, offering medical and other professional, well, transcription services in Silver City. Barr had a similar business prior to this in Alamogordo. 534-0079.

Hit the road, Jack! American RV World has come to Cruces, opening its doors at 700 Stern Dr., where S&H RV used to be located. The company is owned by a group of businessmen, a goodly portion of whom used to work for American RV, which moved its operations from Las Cruces to Anthony, Texas, not long ago. Brian Liestman, one of the owners, said the business has already exceeded the group's hopes for its first month, and that they plan to open a second location in Albuquerque. 528-2800.

Las Crucens have a new option "when it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight." FedEx Kinko's held a grand opening for its new outlet at 2200 E. Lohmann Ave., next to Old Navy, late last month. The new store has a smaller "design center" feature than some of the company's other outlets, focusing instead on office products and other services. The company already operates an outlet at 1001 E. University in Las Cruces, and the company lists eight other locations in New Mexico, all in Albuquerque. 523-7795.

Transitional Lifestyles Community, a company that assists individuals with disabilities in reaching their maximum in terms of independent living, has opened at 4131 Camino Coyote, Suite C, in Las Cruces. TLC (cute, huh?) offers home-based services and operates staffed residential facilities, as well. 522-3665.

Cricket, the wireless phone service company, has just opened a new store at 1500 S. Valley Dr. in Las Cruces.

Feeling flush? Carter Bain, Wealth Management just held its grand opening, celebrating its new offices at 300 S. Water St. in Las Cruces. The Scottsdale, Ariz.-based firm manages individual, corporate and trust accounts of all sorts. 526-1455.

A really big shoe. . . and getting bigger! Shoe Pavilion, a purveyor of off-price designer and name-brand shoes for men and women, has just opened its doors at the Mesilla Valley Mall. The company's Web site lists 112 stores in six states. The Las Cruces store saves locals a trip to Santa Fe or El Paso, previously the nearest outlets before.


Coming Soon. . .

The signage is up and rue 21 soon will open at the developing center on Hwy. 180 in Silver City, across from Albertson's supermarket. The clothier's Web site says the store gets its name from "rue"--the French word for "street" — and "21" — the age everyone wants to be. The wares at rue 21 are purported to be "young, fresh and affordable."

Las Crucens are ever closer to having the doors thrown open at their new Kohl's. The company ran a job fair at the Best Western Mesilla Valley Inn at the end of last month, hoping to find the 130 or so full- and part-timers it needs to staff the floors, stock the shelves and run the registers. Though the company's corporate office states they open stores only in March, April and October, they've slated the Las Cruces store for a November opening, surely in time for Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving and the single biggest shopping day of the retail year.

NMSU broke ground last month for its sizable office and laboratory development project, the Arrowhead Research Park just off Sam Steel Way, between Interstates 10 and 25. The initial phase of the project will have up to seven buildings on 11 acres of land. The university reports that the entire completed project has the potential to add 2.5 million square feet of office and lab space. Between 5,000 and 6,000 people could be employed at the park.


Bigger and Better

Arthur Young checked in to say that there's yet more expansion over at The Marketplace the multi-vendor retail space operated by the Young clan over at The Hub on Bullard Street in Silver City. An added 5,200 square feet of retail space will be open for business by the week of Oct. 5, just in time for Silver City's Weekend at the Galleries events, with over a dozen new vendors in the space selling interesting eclectica. The Marketplace celebrates its first anniversary Nov. 11, and Young says the business will hold a celebration of some sort, probably with food and music. Watch for details.

Second Chance Antiques Collectibles & More has added a women's boutique to its charitable operations at 102 Hurley Ave. in Bayard. "My goal is to help working women find career clothing at very affordable prices," says proprietor Margie Espinosa, who adds that she is always happy to accept donations of women's clothing and accessories. 537-3116.

Robert Baur, Jr., who co-owns Toucan Market in Las Cruces with business partner Richard Cole, says that contrary to popular rumor, the pair of grocery entrepreneurs is not quite ready to open their second store in the city. Though Baur says they recently looked at some property at someone's request, and that their plans to open five or more stores in the next 10 years or so remains on track, they are not yet ready for that kind of expansion. "We'll get there, but we're still building this business," Baur says, adding that the new Dakota Farms Beef product line the store now carries has been well-received and is adding to the specialty grocery store's success. 1701 #1 E. University in the Pan Am Plaza. 521-3003.


On the Move. . .

Desert Blossom Books in Silver City is moving deeper into the heart of downtown, relocating from College Avenue to 109 N. Bullard St. next to City Hall and across from Syzygy Tile. Kim Polanco, who owns the indy bookstore with husband Larry, expects to be in the new digs by Nov. 1. Catch the big inventory reduction sale this month, while deals and goodies last! 388-3475.

Diana Seward has moved her Edward Jones financial services office to new digs at 1717 E. University Ave. in Las Cruces. 532-2015.


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