San Luis Peoples Market prepares for a summer reopening

Courier photo by John Waters The San Luis Peoples Market (formally the R&R Market in San Luis) is being renovated and having hazardous materials removed. A sculpture by San Luis sculptor Huberto Maestas is in the foreground.

Colorado Department of Agriculture grants $200K for cleanup

SAN LUIS — The historic market in San Luis formally known as the R&R Market is undergoing a renovation as part of larger plans by the owner, the Acequia Institute. For starters and emblematic of the direction the store will be taking, the market is now called the San Luis Peoples Market

The market opened in 1857, almost two decades before Colorado became a state, and was operated by generations of the Romero family until they sold it to the institute in 2022. In 2023 after discovering asbestos and lead-based paint the market closed pending cleanup.

The Acequia Institute was founded in 2006 by Dr. Devon Pena who taught at Colorado College for many years and is now on the faculty at the University of Washington. The organization is a non-profit foundation that supports environmental food and justice. The Move Mountains Youth Project is part of the institute and is a leadership program that incorporates art, entrepreneurship, community action, and respect for the Earth.

Under the leadership of Dr. Devon Pena, the store is being renovated and recently had a specialized contractor, Adept Solutions of Colorado Springs, work on removing lead-based paint and asbestos. With the help of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's Brownfields Revolving Loan Fund, the Acequia Institute, which is working on behalf of the market, received a grant on May 14 for $200,416. The grant will cover the cost of asbestos abatement and lead-based paint and mold removal, making it possible for the market to reopen this summer.

"As the only full-service grocery store in San Luis, Colorado, the reopening of San Luis Market will help ensure Coloradans in the valley have access to healthy food in a safe store, and I am glad the state could provide a grant to help reopen this community landmark," said Governor Jared Polis.

"We're committed to supporting disproportionately impacted and underserved communities in Colorado," said CDPHE's Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division Director, Tracie White. "The Colorado Brownfields Revolving Loan Fund transforms properties, and helps small businesses, like the San Luis Peoples Market, keep their community healthy by providing essential services."

In a recent tour of the market, Pena laid out his vision for the store which will offer as many local products as possible, some will come from the nearby 181-acre farm owned by the institute. As part of that local branding, the market is now called the San Luis Peoples Market. The vision is to turn the market into a community food co-op. Due to the hazardous material renovations underway, this reporter was allowed a brief glimpse of the market-to-be.

Pena is focused on nutrition, "When we bought the market it had hundreds of cans of Campbell's soup, and we still have them and we won't be selling them." We will be stone-grinding tortillas, we have heirloom bolita beans and we just received new drought lentils to grow."

Pena is also starting a local chapter of the mutual aid society, "Sociedad Protección Mutua de Trabajadores Unidos. The society was founded in 1900 to protect Hispano workers from discrimination and provide loans, unemployment aid, and funeral assistance. The Concilio Superior building that serves as the group's headquarters is undergoing restoration.

The grant from the Colorado Department of Agriculture is the second influx of funding to the town recently.

The Town of San Luis has also recently received a federal $500,000 — Environmental Protection Agency (EPA funded through the bipartisan infrastructure law. The funds are all revitalization-focused, with projects ranging from the removal of asbestos, mercury, and other hazardous materials.

EPA officials were in San Luis last month and in an interview with the Valley Courier, EPA Regional administrator KC Becker said the grant was made possible by working with grant facilitator JSI International, "This is a great thing, they have to handle the burden of all the federal compliance. For these small grants, it is hard to apply, you need a full-time person to do the paperwork. With this, you can reach smaller communities. I love it, we can get dollars all over the place."

The San Luis Peoples Market said it plans to host a grand reopening ceremony during Santa Ana Fiesta days, which falls on the last weekend of July.