Take a charmed shopping excursion in the heart of historic Taos
By Josephine Ashton
“The time has come,” the walrus said, “to talk of many things: of shoes and ships — and sealing wax — of cabbages and kings.” But then, bless his mathematician, logician, imaginative, 1832-1898 author’s heart, Lewis Carroll had never enjoyed a summer stroll through the John Dunn Shops in downtown Taos.
Had the time come, however, and the author of “Alice in Wonderland” had set foot in Taos sometime in 1887 or so, he might have gotten there by way of ship, train and — from the railroad station at Las Piedras — hailed a wagon or burro, or maybe hitched a ride with a local bringing the mail down from the railroad stop at Tres Piedras. And that driver might have been John Dunn himself.
Dunn made his own rascally way down to Taos from Elizabethtown and Eagle Nest — then called Therma until its 1930s re-naming, due to the completion of the Eagle Nest Dam, the name of which likely resulted from the eagles nesting there.
Dunn had not come to New Mexico for turquoise or gold, but he did have an eye for golden opportunities, and soon discovered that gold garnered from transportation, saloons, gambling and bawdy houses could line the pockets of his velvet jackets.
But though the two men may have disliked one another on sight — the Englishman who had already seen the publication in 1871 of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and the mid-westerner from Texas, who would not see his many shifty businesses survive — they both had a destiny in common. They would both leave gifts for the future; Carroll, magical literature; Dunn, a 10-room home on Bent Street that would eventually be transformed into several small shops.
Today, a whole street will charm you; tempt you to have lunch, buy a book, sip coffee, and browse — and buy — in the John Dunn Shops.
If your approach via Taos Plaza toward Bent Street, your first adventure will be op.cit (yes, small ‘o’) bookstore. Oh, those steps! If needed, there’s a ramp on the side of the building and a doorbell. Formerly Moby Dickens Books, the store has a twin sister in Santa Fe.
Just inside the front door, you’ll find a long table filled with books about New Mexico, and books by New Mexicans. Toward the back, by the stairs, a shelf brimming with books by Taos County authors. You’ll find new best-sellers, used and collectible books, journals, maps and gift items. Then, take a deep breath, up the double staircase: two rooms full of new books, with the larger room doubling as an author book talk venue.
Next, you’ll want to visit Coyote Moon gallery and shop. If not traveling, owners Luis and Cristina Garcia may be there to greet you. Luis’ beautifully crafted southwestern themed jewelry and etchings on wood, as well as works by Zuni, Pueblo and Navajo artists will immediately demand a close look and maybe a purchase for yourself or a gift.
The Garcias have also reached out to local artists who show paintings, prints, pottery and Folk Arts from Mexico and other Latin American countries.
Part of the success of their more than 35 years in business is due to the fact that they travel several times a year to meet old and new friends — artists and artisans in other countries, bringing back unique and giftable samples of their jewelry, pottery, fabric and decorative arts.
Just a few steps more, across the narrow walkway, stop in Café Sagrado for a coffee, latte, frappe or hot or iced tea. The coffees and teas: “all organic and fair trade.” There are a few tables inside, or grab a pastry or vegan, gluten-free cookie and sit outside. In warm weather the benches near the fountain area provide a pleasant respite.
Continue down the street. A shop that will surprise you is the flute-maker’s table outside. Cold or warm weather, Kokopelli Flutes of Taos owners Paul and Grace Jones love meeting out-of-town visitors. “We’ve been placing Paul’s flutes in the hands of global visitors for more than twenty years,” Grace explains, processing a client’s charge card, while Paul continues carving his latest flute.
“It’s a gift for my daughter,” the buyer says. “She’ll love to play this flute. But, really, it’s a work of art.”
You’ll encounter many shops in this short, easy-to-traverse passageway, but towards the end and slightly around a corner, do visit Las Comadres, a local women’s co-op gallery showcasing seven members’ paintings, prints, cards, fabric art and designer clothing.
The members volunteer at the shop, and one such watercolor artist, Karin McCurtain-Blair, may be there to show not only her own paintings and cards, but also provide a quick tour of the small, color-filled gallery and shop.
You’ll find scrumptious fooderies at both ends of the John Dunn Shops, and entry-exits that will take you to the parking lot and convenient public restrooms, to Bent Street shops and parking, or to Taos Plaza. Happy strolling, happy browsing and shopping.
op.cit Bookstore 124A Bent Street, Taos johndunnshops.com/project/op-cit-books 575-751-1999 Coyote Moon 120 Bent Street, Suite C, Taos johndunnshops.com/project/coyote-moon 575-613-6716 Café Sagrado 124 Bent Street, Suite F, Taos johndunnshops.com/project/cafe-sagrado 575-758-2840 Kokopelli Flutes of Taos 120 Bent St Taos taos.org/places/kokopelli-flutes-of-taos 575-377-5017 Las Comadres 120 Suite G, Bent Street, Taos johndunnshops.com/project/las-comadres-gallery 575-737-1023