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Acoma Curio Shop
An abandoned building in a small, quiet town does not cry out tourist attraction to everyone, but behind the quiet façade of this humble building is a little known and important story of Lebanese immigration and mercantilism along historic Route 66.
Most likely built in 1916, in what was then called Ballejos, the Acoma Curio Shop is constructed of adobe bricks. But unlike so many other adobe buildings in the Southwest, it also features a false front more common to mining boomtowns, making it a very rare blend of two distinct architectural styles. While such blending is common in roadside vernacular architecture, this particular combination is quite unusual, especially in New Mexico, and adds to the appeal of what is one of the few rural curio shops remaining along Route 66 in the state. A metal-roofed porch faces the highway, supported by four simple wooden posts. The north and west sides are neatly coated in white stucco, while the eastern wall is mostly of exposed adobes, showcasing the original construction.
Abdoo Fidel originally opened a small mercantile business in the building, which he likely designed and constructed himself. Fidel had immigrated to New Mexico from Lebanon, part of what was in sheer numbers a small contingent of Lebanese emigrants to the newly-founded state. Given New Mexico’s low total population, however, the Lebanese community, approximately two hundred strong in 1920, was not insignificant, especially in the realm of trade. Fidel initially settled in nearby Seboyeta, where he stayed with Narciso Francis, Sr., probably the first Lebanese to come to the area. Following a common pattern in the American West, and one not restricted to Lebanese, Narciso was a “pioneer” emigrant who, once established, attracted several others, usually blood relatives or residents of the same home village, to join him.
Within the Lebanese community, competition was limited by an unwritten rule that allowed only one Lebanese-owned business per town. With the sparse population around Laguna and Acoma, this would have been doubly important. Thus, once he had acquired the means to do so, Fidel moved to Ballejos (now San Fidel) to open the small mercantile store in the town of about 100 souls. Within a few years he opened a larger adobe structure at the western edge of the town, which also served as his family’s primary residence. It is not known what business, if any, occupied the site of the small mercantile building during these years, but in any case it remained standing.
As a Roman Catholic, Fidel fit well into the cultural milieu of rural New Mexico, and quickly learned Spanish to better communicate with his neighbors and customers. It was only later, as Anglo migration to the area increased, that Fidel learned to speak English.
The highway through San Fidel became part of Route 66 when it was commissioned in 1926, and traffic increased significantly in the coming years. Perhaps sensing an opportunity to capture tourist dollars, Fidel began wholesaling local Native American crafts, and in 1937 moved this operation into the mercantile building, where he opened a retail business named the Acoma Curio Shop.
Unlike most curio shops in the Southwest, which tended to feature a hodgepodge of crafts from different pueblos or cultures that were sometimes of dubious authenticity, Fidel dealt exclusively with local Acoma artists. These included several well-known individuals, such as Lucy Lewis and Mary Z. Chino. The former’s son, Alvin Concho Lewis, himself a well-known Acoma silversmith, was an employee of the shop for a time.
World War II and its accompanying gasoline rationing curtailed travel along the highway, and the Curio Shop closed shortly after America’s entry into the conflict. Fidel refocused his attention on his larger mercantile store, leasing the Curio Shop to the Standard Oil Company, which operated it as a service station for several years. Since then, it has since seen multiple tenants. While the building has undergone minor alterations, it has maintained a high degree of its historic integrity. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.