TRINIDAD, COLORADO — Marijuana has sustained Trinidad, Colorado, for the past decade. Located just over the border from New Mexico on the Sante Fe Trail, the old mining town made it through the era of rural flight by catering to out-of-state tourists taking advantage of Colorado’s legal weed.
Juan DelaRoca gestures toward five marijuana dispensaries on Commercial Street. “And this street,” says DelaRoca, who has been here since 2016, “is where Trinidad generates more tax revenue than anywhere else.”
Trinidad has always been a border town, colorful as the desert landscape. Miners’ strikes, the mysterious Ancestral Puebloans – all these stories have a home in Trinidad. In the middle of the 20th century, because of the presence of a devoted doctor who made his home in the town, Trinidad was known as the sex-change capital of the world.
“It’s a place where people come to die, or figure out how to live,” said Naemon Thurmon, who was just elected to the city council. He came here from New Orleans to be part of the marijuana economy, but was distracted by the opportunity in food: With his wife, Mahasan, he now owns two restaurants and just opened a third in a food court on Commercial Street.
Now, however, Trinidad is at a turning point. Texas and New Mexico are both softening their marijuana laws, which means Trinidad’s biggest industry is about to take a hit.
The downtown’s small business community (not that there is a big business community) is in a race to create a slightly more conventional identity. Plans are afoot to build a cultural community and an outdoor tourism industry, with new restaurants, shops and two new boutique hotels planned. The state acquired the land for nearby Fisher Peak State Park in 2019 and opened it in October of 2020.
Where other people see a town at risk, DelaRoca and others see one about to boom. They could be right. For one thing, Trinidad has a rail connection, including an Amtrak station. There is still coal being mined nearby by an Australian company, Allegiance, which is shipping the production to China.
Trinidad has a water supply to support population growth (currently numbering between 9,000 and 10,000). And for a final point in its favor – it lies along the Colorado Front Range, meaning the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains, a straight shot down from Denver. As the trend toward remote work reverses rural flight, Trinidad looks well-positioned.
A Streetscape that Still Stands Up
The town’s Main Street is the scene of some shops that have opened lately to cater to the market of people with the sweet munchies: the Mutiny Information Café also sells Twinkies, fruit loops, and laffy taffies. An analysis by High Times, which called Trinidad “Weed Town” found 23 licensed dispensaries. Colorado legalized the drug in 2012.
But there are older small businesses, too, that can serve as an anchor for a new future. The Purgatoire Trading Company sells a steller, nationally recognized array Native American art.
And the intact architecture of the streetscape was enough to draw the attention of a boutique hotelier from New Orleans, Keely Williams, who is working on turning a former store into a small hotel, DelaRoca says. Dana Crawford, a famous preservationist from Denver who helped develop The Crawford Hotel, is involved in a redevelopment project in Trinidad, as well. Local media has been buzzing with the way that Trinidad drew big-city migrants during the pandemic.
Hannah Riccio was one of them. She and her partner Alex Turner moved to Trinidad from Rhode Island during the pandemic. The big city felt cloying as COVID-19 cases rose, Turnersaid. Now, they’re making gourmet breakfasts around the corner from art galleries and down the street from a new Sexy Pizza location.
Lower Costs, and Easier Customers
The decision was easy, the duo said: Though Turner had had experience in restaurants in New York City, the expenses of East Coast urban areas made opening their own place prohibitively expensive. Here in Trinidad, you can rent an Artspace Loft to live in for less than $1,000, with a view of the Purgatoire River. And there’s not much competition in town for meals like an gourmet avocado toast on order at AlMack’s — Smashed with queso fresco, micro greens, radish, red pepper flakes, honey and lemon.
“People are nice here,” Turner said reflectively, noting that he’d contracted to cater a Thanksgiving meal for a nearby family – an event he thought would be easy.
As in most rural places, there’s a mix of red and blue when it comes to politics, and the blight of drug addiction shows up on a bulletin board in AlMack, where there’s a notice for a support service for people addicted to opiods.
Still, DelaRoca is quite pleased with the bet that landed him here more than five years ago. “I think it was futurescaping,” he said. “I was in Austin for a little bit. That diaspora that happened there in early 2000s, it was the inspiration for what’s happening along the Colorado Front Range. I just started to realize Trinidad would have that opportunity,” he said.
He’s turned his love for the outdoors into a business. When a gravel biking and running event that drew more than 900 people came to town this fall, sponsored by Lifetime Fitness, he produced a pocket guide to the event and is now working on others across the country.
“I can walk out my door and get on the trail,” he said. “I thought quality of life and opportunity would come together here, and they are.”
CORRECTION: This article originally misstated the producer of the gravel-biking event.