Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

Businesses cited

 

April 22, 2020

Ron Warnick

David White, operator of La Casa Verde Floral and Nursery in Tucumcari, carries a flat of flowers in the store's greenhouse Thursday. The business was issued a cease-and-desist order as nonessential during the coronavirus pandemic but is appealing while it operates as a curbside business.

One business in Tucumcari has about 10,000 vegetable seedlings ready to sell to gardeners wanting to grow their own food. Another sold medicinal herbs and offered massage therapy for ailing clients.

New Mexico State Police officers in recent days served both of them cease-and-desist orders to halt operations during the coronavirus pandemic because they were deemed as non-essential. Both have vowed to appeal the order or fight it in a courtroom.

According to a state police public information officer, these businesses in Tucumcari were issued cease-and-desist orders as non-essential through Saturday:

• Mariposa Herbs and Gifts

• La Casa Verde Floral and Nursery

• Liberty Loans and Finance

• Smoker's Discount

• Route 66 Pawn and Sales

A second violation of the order could result in a fine of up to $100 and up to six months in jail, according to a document left at one of the cited businesses. A third violation could result in a penalty of up to $5,000, it stated.

Mariposa and La Casa Verde have vowed to contest the orders in their own ways.

Dale Harapat, owner of the Mariposa store at 2101 S. First St. in Tucumcari for the past four years, said a state police officer knocked on the door of his business, which was closed, the afternoon of Easter Sunday. The officer was there to serve him a citation for operating a nonessential business during the pandemic.

Harapat said he insisted his business was essential, refused to let in the officer and demanded an arrest warrant, a cease-and-desist order and that he be able to contact a lawyer.

"They were stunned," Harapat said during a telephone interview last week. "They just stood there, looking at the door, like they didn't hear anyone ever do that before. They stood there for five minutes, expecting like I would be frightened."

The officers eventually left. Harapat opened his business as usual that week until state police returned with a cease-and-desist order Wednesday afternoon and taped it to Mariposa Herbs' front door. According an email from a state-police spokesman, the order was prompted by a complaint from the public.

The business remains closed, and Harapat has hired Ruidoso lawyer Travis Marston to fight the order. Harapat also appealed the order Thursday.

Harapat, who has lived in New Mexico for 30 years and operated another herb store in Las Vegas for 17 years, insists Mariposa Herbs and Gifts is a health store and medical provider, "albeit in alternative medicine." Harapat said it should qualify for the New Mexico Department of Health's essential-business list in the healthcare and public health sector.

Noting Mariposa also serves some food, including honey, coffee and cheese, and also would qualify as a food vendor, also an essential business.

He said the closing of his store is "financially devastating."

"My little business is not just mine," Harapat said. "I take care of my two daughters with it. They're both single mothers. I'm not eligible for any unemployment, and I haven't been contacted for a loan."

He said he has a sizable customer base of older Hispanic women who count on him to supply herbs for home remedies.

"This (closure) would be very devastating to them," he said. "My clientele is from Las Vegas, Mora, Mosquero, Roy, Logan, San Jon. It's the older Spanish people who've grown up using traditional and cultural herbs. There is a large group of people in this town and this part of the state that will use nothing else but herbs."

Harapat said other herb stores in Santa Fe, Taos and Albuquerque have remained open. He said he isn't sure why his store is targeted, but he has suspicions.

"I'm probably the only conservative, Republican-leaning herb store in New Mexico," Harapat explained. "The rest are all very far left. I don't know if someone has a grudge against me or one of the pharmacies in town reported me. I'm just speculating, but there is a difference between me and all the other herb stores."

Harapat said he contacted state Rep. Jack Chatfield and state Sen. Pat Woods about his plight.

"They feel it's a little heavy-handed against the small, mom-and-pop businesses," he said. "Meanwhile, large corporations like Family Dollar and Dollar General get to be in business."

Harapat's lawyer echoed that criticism.

"Like too many others, Mr. Harapat is the victim of an arbitrary and capricious application of the law that irreparably harms local businesses and allows companies like Walmart and Amazon to make record profits," Marston stated in a text Saturday.

Harapat said for his store to reopen, he must file a motion in court to have a judge declare the business as essential.

At La Casa Verde at 724 E. Main St., state police issued a cease-and-desist order April 11, surprising longtime owner Gary Jaynes and operator David White, who leases the property and soon will take over ownership of the florist and nursery.

"We read the order, and we assumed since we sell food products, plants for gardens, stuff like that, we were essential," Jaynes said in a telephone interview. "That was our argument, but it didn't do any good."

La Casa Verde continues to operate as a curbside business. People can call in orders and have employees deliver them to their vehicles. Floral arrangements will continue to be delivered. White also has displayed plants outside the building to entice potential customers. And he hopes to launch a website this week that comes with online ordering.

White has greenhouses containing flowers, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, snow peas, lettuces, dill and eggplant. Cucumbers, squash, kale, chard, tomatoes, peppers and herbs soon will be available. But selling them online or over the phone isn't ideal.

"Of course, people want to see their plants, he said. "They don't want to see a picture (online) and hope it comes out that way.

"I don't want to break any laws, but I've got 10,000 live plants that need to be sold. If I can put them out in front of the store and it'll be OK, that's ^what I want to do."

White is appealing the cease-and-desist order with the help of Susann Mikkelson, family and consumer science agent at the Quay County Cooperative Extension Service in Tucumcari. She also worked for 15 years with the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, an agriculture advocacy organization.

Mikkelson, acknowledging details of the appeal process are meager, said in a phone interview she's contacted the New Mexico Department of Agriculture about White's case and has asked him to submit a plan on how he would operate within safety guidelines if he reopens.

Mikkelson said La Casa Verde should quality as essential.

"It makes sense for nurseries like this to qualify under the agricultural exemption, particularly when the hardware store and stores like Tractor Supply are open," she said. "We hope we can help David, because he doesn't have a corporation and corporate attorneys behind him."

Mikkelson said a second area where La Casa Verde might qualify as essential is hardware. It sells gardening tools and soil-improvement products.

She said she sent emails on White's behalf early last week but doesn't have a timeline of when a response will occur.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, asked about the closure of nurseries during a briefing Wednesday, said she was sympathetic to their plight but adding exemptions to public health orders "flies in the face of dealing with this public health emergency." She added there may be strategies to deal with local nurseries and was "open" to doing that. For now, she suggested Internet sales and curbside pickup or delivery.

 
 

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