Briefing:
  • The chain that isn't: La Michoacana's continent-wide tradition comes to the Downtown core
  • Storefront vacancies on Central in the core have nearly doubled since before the pandemic
  • Can trenching for new water pipes kill trees?
The chain that isn't: La Michoacana's continent-wide tradition comes to the Downtown core
Ruth and Melissa Garcia opened La Michoacana del Centro in mid-October.
With the citywide rise of such businesses as Pop Fizz and The Paleta Bar (the last of which had a brief and unsuccessful foray into the Downtown core at Gold and Fourth over the summer), Albuquerqueans have gotten a taste of the tradition that is the Mexican popsicle - or at least an American riff on the concept.

But the origin story of the paleta traces back to an extremely loose and extremely vast network of stores called "La Michoacana" that have popped up around Mexico and the United States since World War II. A few weeks ago, the Downtown core joined the club.

The mother-daughter team of Ruth and Melissa Garcia opened La Michoacana del Centro in mid-October, and they're offering a menu that will be familiar to anyone who has popped into a Michoacana in Chicago, Los Angeles, Mexico City, or any one-horse town in the state of Michoacan, where the tradition got started. There are fruit drinks (aguas), ice cream by the scoop, a few fried crispy items, and the star of the show: paletas in all sorts of interesting flavors that go way beyond the usual grape, orange, and banana formula.

Some paletas are fruit-and-water based, while others are essentially ice cream bars. Flavors involving tropical fruit (sometimes in chunks), tamarind, chile, and chocolate are common.

"Every paleteria has their own recipe," Ruth Garcia said. And, "every paleta maker has their secret for making it better."

That distinctiveness within a larger frame of uniformity gets at one of the most unusual aspects of the Michoacana empire: It's not an empire at all. More of a phenomenon, really.

La Michoacana is a brand, to be sure, but a largely unregistered one. It traces back to 1940s Michoacan and Mexico City, but has since become something like a shorthand used by thousands of independent shops in much the same way that people use "Kleenex" to refer to all brands of facial tissue.

"Arguing that La Michoacana is a brand, it's like saying ice cream is a brand, it's like saying paleta is a brand," said Fany Gerson, the owner of a shop in Mexico, in the 2011 book "Paletas." 

(One U.S.-based company did attempt to register it as a trademark, but ultimately won only the exclusive right to its particular variation of the logo, which commonly features a little girl.)

Downtown's Michoacana is thus a separate operation from the other eight Michoacanas in Albuquerque, though Ruth Garcia's sister and brother-in-law, who operate La Real Michoacana at Coors and Gun Club, supply the store with its paletas and ice cream.

"He's made paletas forever and they had a shop in Mexico," Ruth said. Back where they hail from in Michoacan, "almost all the kids who start working there, they go into paletas - that's their job."

Ruth, a former cook at the Standard Diner, said she was inspired to open the Downtown shop during the pandemic. It was time for a change, she reckoned, and daughter Melissa was in a similar situation with her job as a security guard. So far the location, near Fourth and directly across Central from the Asian Noodle Bar, has attracted the usual crop of office workers, but also a younger set in the form of students from Amy Biehl and Siembra Leadership, the Downtown core's two charter high schools.

Things are generally slow, and winter is coming, but they seem encouraged by the response so far.

"We didn't know much about this place," Ruth said, referring to the Downtown core and their particular storefront. But Melissa added: "It had everything we needed."

Editor's note: Most of the quotations above have been translated from Spanish.
Storefront vacancies on Central in the core have nearly doubled since before the pandemic
Red markers represent new vacancies since early 2020, while green markers are holdovers.
For most of 2019 and early 2020, vacancies hovered around 10. They are now at 18.
Vacant storefronts are nearly twice as common on Central in the Downtown core as before the pandemic, a recent survey conducted by DAN shows.

The casualties are, unsurprisingly enough, mostly in the hospitality industry, which was hit particularly hard by lockdowns, the rise of social distancing, and in the summer of 2020, civil unrest that led to plywood being installed on windows in the area.

Posh Nightclub, Filling Philly's, and Last Call all closed. So did Brixens and Jimmy Johns, though both of those closures are officially listed as temporary.

Other types of businesses are also gone: Studio Gallery, People's Flowers, a cannabis dispensary called Southwest Organic Producers, and the administrative office of Electric Playhouse all upped stakes.

And though its address is not officially on Central and so not included in our survey, the recent closure of the Century 14 movie theater is certainly notable, as is the continued vacancy of the Hotel Blue. Damacios Bar and Tapas, which succeeded Villa di Capo at Central and Eighth, is open just three nights per week, compared to six days per week for the Italian restaurant.

The news is not all bad, however: Since our last survey in March of 2020, noodle shop ONI has moved in at Sixth and Central, bridal planners Something Ginger set up near Third and Central, and on a larger scale, the 505 Central Food Hall finally opened its doors.

Other vacancies are at least set to end in the foreseeable future. Ed and Carlos Garcia, who are major Downtown property owners, told DAN in July that both the Rosenwald Building and former Skip Maisel's Indian Jewelry were at the top of their renovation agendas. Flamenco Works is slated to move into a building near Fifth and Central in the coming months, and there are plans in place for the Kress Building, which is often used during the monthly Art Walk.

But the challenge is stark: Even assuming all of those projects come online in 2022, and assuming that Brixens and Jimmy John's come roaring back, the overall vacancy count would stand at 12 - still higher than before the pandemic.
Can trenching for new water pipes kill trees?
The water authority is replacing a pipe on Walter, and it has one neighbor wondering.
Crews hired by the Albuquerque Bernalillo Water Utility Authority are busy replacing a water line this month on Walter Street between Central and Coal. The new 6-inch PVC job will succeed a steel pipe that is corroded and subject to leaks, having been first pressed into service some 70 years ago.

That much is routine at least. The water authority has done similar projects in recent months on Walter from Central to Dr. Martin Luther King and on Gold and Silver in the Raynolds and Huning Castle neighborhoods.

But this project attracted the attention of a neighbor with worries bigger than navigating around the crews as they work.

"I have a really big tree in front of my house," said Lindsay Neese. "They spent extra time in front of my tree digging up the roots."

The crew even piled the roots up next to the base of the tree

Neese is not opposed to replacing old pipes, to be sure, but she does worry that her tree will die in the process or become destabilized to the point where it might fall.

"How are they going to deal with that?" she said. "Some sort of proactivity would be nice."

The water authority, for its part, does not seem to be as worried about it: "We do not expect to have any impact on the trees from the current water line installation on Walter," spokesman David Morris said. Still, "typically we will replace any private landscaping that is disturbed or destroyed by our work, so if the resident in question has suffered a loss she should file a claim with our risk management section ... we avoid damaging trees when possible and for some projects will hire an arborist to make recommendations on limiting vegetation loss."

This would seem to be a common enough situation, particularly in older neighborhoods with big trees and root systems to match, but Morris said it's actually not: "Typically we don't encounter very many roots in the small diameter water line replacement trench because they are usually only three to four feet deep and a couple of feet wide," he said. "Small diameter water line trenches are typically not that close to the trees because they are located in the roadway."

Crews are expected to wrap up their work on Walter by Christmas.
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