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D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e    May 2008


Where the Spirit Moves You

Spirit Winds combines coffee, goodies and gifts to keep customers coming back. Plus ToyTown under new ownership, baby businesses booming, SuckerPunch Sallys roars into town and more.



It's early in the morning and Richard Parra, owner of Spirit Winds Coffee Bar in Las Cruces, is blowing through the joint like a gale-force wind. Wiping tables, nudging chairs into place, Parra never loses the smile from his face.

Spirit Winds owner Robert Parra serves a customer in the gift shop. (Photos by Donna Clayton Lawder)

"Hi! Good morning!" he calls to a couple of student-looking types working on their laptops, taking advantage of the free wireless Internet service. "Good morning, good morning. How's it going?" he asks a silver-haired couple at another table. "Can I take those?" he asks, gesturing to some empty plates and coffee mugs.

Like any good proprietor in the food-service business, Parra knows that every job in the place — from busing tables to ringing the register, mopping the floor to greeting the customers — is one he'd better be willing to pitch in and do himself. Parra originally opened Spirit Winds in Mesilla in 1978, then opened in Ruidoso and another location in Las Cruces. He currently operates only the current store on Locust Street, marking 11 years at the location this July.

Having straightened the cafe to his satisfaction, Parra then goes into Spirit Winds' colorful gift area and shows a customer several pairs of earrings. She decides on a pair and Parra rings the sale and bags the purchase, then steps out from behind the counter, eager to talk about the store's imminent renovation.

"We're going to tear out this wall and then move the gift counter forward like this," he says with broad gestures of his arms, marking off the floor with a few paces. "That'll give us more room for space back here to expand the office space." Parra indicates a cramped space in the back. "That'll be an improvement, don't you think?" he asks with a laugh. "And all of this change with the wall and all will give us more room for the cyber cafe, so people feel comfortable and relaxed having their lunch, their coffee, whatever."

Not just a coffee fueling station, Spirit Winds serves up soups, sandwiches, salads and desserts. The chalkboard menu lists sandwiches like the Big Bobo, "piled high with turkey," the Hummus Roll-up with red bell peppers, cucumbers, red onion, black olives, lettuce and tomato, hot paninis, a black bean burger and more. Spirit Winds also serves breakfast sandwiches, croissants and other pastries.

Spirit Winds has become a prime Las Cruces hangout and gift destination — voted the "Best Gift Source and Coffee Bar" in Las Cruces Sun-News reader surveys from 1996-2003. The bathroom is plastered with plaques and citations, thanking Spirit Winds and Parra for participation in the city's For the Love of Art Month, the 4th of July committee and other community endeavors. Another placard indicates that Spirit Winds is designated a "safe zone," welcoming all people of any persuasion, promising an atmosphere of tolerance.



The decor at Spirit Winds could perhaps be described as global-retro-funk — plus a good dose of irreverence, an energetic juxtaposition that is echoed in the gifts the shop carries.

"I started with just the gifts the first year and a half, then we added the coffee," Parra explains. "Now I think people come here for one as much as the other. Some come in looking for a special gift and they'll have a cup of coffee. Others might come in for their coffee and scone and then remember they need a gift for a friend or someone."

A goodly number of items fall in the category of the frankly outlandish, from a welcome mat with the words "Wow! Nice Underwear!" to a "Jesus Saves" coin bank, to cat-butt stickers, a collection of whimsical feline derrieres. Spirit Winds also sells truly sublime items, like wall tapestries with peaceful messages and Chinese calligraphy and Buddha statues suitable for a home altar. The themes playfully blend and weave — Papo brand warrior-action figures guard shelves of hand-crafted earrings. There's practically a shrine to Frida Khalo and Our Lady of Guadalupe and a whole collection of items — mugs, buttons, T-shirts and more — counting down to President Bush's last day in office.

There are shelves of Mexican arts and crafts — muy authentico! — and a line of casual clothing: relaxed skirts, tanks, capris and more in earth-toned and brilliant shades by Kathmandu Imports. CDs are "buy, sell and trade," and the shop sells a vast assortment of greeting cards for any taste and occasion.

Parra credits the shop's unique gift line with creating a "buzz" for the business. "A lot of them (customers) come by word of mouth," he says. "They hear, 'Oh, you've just got to see what they have there.' People tell me all the time that they can find gifts here they could find nowhere else. That's fun."

As for how Spirit Winds thrives in a city with more coffee options, it seems, every day, Parra says the personal touch is key to letting his customers know they are appreciated.

"I think I pretty much know everybody, at least by face, that comes in here," he says. "People like a friendly greeting, and it makes me feel great to see them coming back because that means we're doing it right. It's the customers that have made me successful."

And keeping those customers happy — with more room and a reorganized store — is what this renovation is about, he says.

"A lot of my regulars are saying 'Don't change it too much!'" Parra says with a laugh. "They'll see; it'll be even better with all the room and the improved layout. And I promise — we're not going to lose the funk!"



Spirit Winds Coffee Bar, 2260 S. Locust St., Las Cruces. 7:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., 7:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Fri. and Sat., 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Sun. Later hours coming in the summer, with live music. 521-1222.



Ch-ch-changes

ToyTown manager Kim Godfrey is now the owner of the Silver City indie toy store she's managed for the nonprofit Gila Institute for Tots to Teens (GIFTTT) for the past three years. After closing for a re-organizational "spring break" the end of March, the store reopened under Godfrey's ownership in early April. "I just love the store, I know this business and it's better for the park (board of directors) to not have to worry about a retail store," Godfrey says. "I still accept donations for the park and sell T-shirts for them." Stop in and congratulate Godfrey and check out her stock of summer toys. 113 W. Broadway, 388-1677.



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