End Of An Era: CB FOX Closing Doors After 40 Years

CB FOX Department Store in downtown Los Alamos. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost. com

From left, Dave, Anne and Andy Fox at their store Friday in downtown Los Alamos. Photo by KayLinda Crawford/ladailypost. com

By CAROL A. CLARK
Los Alamos Daily Post
caclark@ladailypost.com

Beloved family-owned CB FOX Department Store is closing its doors for good at the end of April.

Owners Dave and Anne Fox and their son Andy made the difficult decision after receiving an offer on the building that was too good to refuse. The terms of that offer are confidential, but Dave explained how their decision came to be.

“Receiving an excellent bid that was made on our building at the right time of our lives is the over-riding reason CB Fox is now in the act of going out of business,” he said. “Time-in-grade had a hand in it for sure, but ‘The Bid-from-the-Blue’ did it. Yarn mills closed down in the South back in the 50’s. Yarn mills in small towns, though, understandably don’t stop. So, it’s important to put to rest yarns spun up of CB FOX being driven out by online shopping and/or mistreatment by the County. ‘Sech jest ain’t so’ … so to speak.”

He also spoke of the overwhelming outpouring of friendship, appreciation and mixed feelings between CB FOX and so many community members since the store closure was announced last week.

“Good Lord, it is appreciated,” Dave said. “An utter privilege is actually what it has been to grind it out in a town so willing to treat so many others as co-equals. Thanks co-equals! You ARE appreciated. And to the many, many just terrific women, young women, men and young men who have worked here, you have been just that—terrific!”

Andy expressed Wednesday how much he is going to miss interacting with his customers.

“I am going to miss seeing so many customers who are really friends, on a daily basis,” he said. “They have been so supportive over the years. It’s just difficult that our family decisions effect so many in Los Alamos.”

As part of the closing down process, store-wide sales are underway and will continue while supplies last or the store closes for good April 30. Dave confirmed that he, Anne, Andy and his family will all continue to live in Los Alamos. Last August the Fox family invited the entire community to celebrate the store’s 40 years of doing business in the heart of downtown Los Alamos.

In reminiscing about the last four decades, the Fox family recalled many generous gestures they received from community members.

“One time we ran a ‘We’re not going out of business … we just need cash!’ advertisement. Betty Souder saw it and wanted to be sure we were okay, so she came in and purchased $1,500 worth of gift certificates to give us some cash,” Dave recalled fondly, during an interview with the Los Alamos Daily Post. “While we are remembering the great people we’ve met over the years, we want to salute Bill Enloe and LANB for all their years of support.”

Anne told the story of how she and Dave finally took the plunge 40 years ago to own their own business.
“Dave was always saying he wanted to own his own business and one time my sister got tired of hearing him say it and told him to just do it … and he finally did,” she said laughing.

Following is a chronological history Dave has compiled of the family’s journey over the last four decades:

CB FOX HISTORY

Written by Dave Fox, Jan. 1, 2011.
Modified with addition of mission statement, July 16, 2015
Updated July 2019.

We came to Los Alamos from St. Louis, MO, 40 years ago as of this writing – my wife, Anne, our three children and me. That we got here was a “collision” of more coincidences than we could ignore, all of which lead to our purchasing our predecessor, the Clement & Benner Department Store … despite the fact that we’d really been trying to buy a hardware store in the then-obscure town of Eagle, Colo.

But the coincidences we encountered commanded our attention, such as: our young daughter being best friend to the daughter of Mr. Clement’s son, Buck Clement, who lived within a block of us in St. Louis while his father lived within a mile of us – and had for 40 years, although we hadn’t the remotest idea he owned a Los Alamos store. And coincidences such as the Clement girl’s other grandparents being our next door neighbors!

At any rate, before we even knew of Clement & Benner, we’d gotten our sights set on a hardware store in Eagle, Colo. – a rough-at-the edges place with what looked like a good future, thanks to the expensive Beaver Creek development being built just to the east. But making a decision to move to Eagle, a grease spot in the road at that time, was not easy, and by the time we convinced ourselves that Eagle would work out for a young family, a call to the Eagle bank that was to finance the deal, resulted in the devastating news they – the bank – had just snatched the rug out from under us and bought the place for their own purposes. A bank robbery in reverse! Definitely not nice.

That dastardly deed got me pretty warm. So, to cool down, I simply began some yard work, when down my driveway came this Buck Clement (He’d come to pick up my daughter for a slumber party with his daughter). Buck knew about “Eagle”, asked how the deal was going, quickly sympathized that it had collapsed, picked up my daughter, and drove away … but no sooner got home than he phoned me, asking, “Would you be interested in my dad’s department store in Los Alamos, NM?”

Well, coincidentally (again!), I’d been to Los Alamos exactly 30 days before, because a hardware chain executive for New Mexico had been showing me potential sites for stores in Santa Fe, and in the process, on my visit to New Mexico, he and I made a swing up to Los Alamos so the folks at a hardware store there could give me general encouragement about business in northern New Mexico. That store was/is Metzger’s – so we could have hit our future with a snowball then and there, had we known where the future would lead.

There was just so much coincidence involved, that despite not being superstitious (at the time, anyway!), we visited the store within a week of Buck Clement’s question. But still being employed in St. Louis meant we had only a Saturday to scope out Clement & Benner and only half a Sunday to find a house we thought maybe we could afford after we made a down payment on the store! By Saturday evening, we agreed with Dick Clement to purchase the store, and by noon Sunday, we identified the one and only house that seemed maybe affordable with whatever money might be left over after the store was bought for an as yet unknown price! The house was only partly built – just sticks with a roof frame and standing in two feet of snow. Seemed breathless then. And it was. Seems breathless now. And it still is.

What we didn’t have, oddly, was any retail experience whatsoever. None.

What we did have was crucial: a robust customer-orientation, thanks to 17 prior years in marketing positions that inculcated the One Really Big Idea That Counts: customers’ needs and wants actually do come first. That’s if you actually want to succeed.

Some Los Alamosans still call us Clement & Benner, which is okay by us, since the “CB” in CB FOX pays tribute to our Clement & Benner-past and especially to George Benner, individually. Speaking of George Benner, we wish he still lived in Los Alamos. He was the soul of good business sense and had a streak of generosity as wide as the Ohio River at full flood … next to which he moved (and now lies) in Evansville, Indiana.

Milestones:

July 1979: CB FOX buys Clement & Benner Department Store’s merchandise, fixtures and equipment (but not the building).

November 1982: Dave Fox dons Santa suit, pretends to be him for next 38 years (so far), creating a permanent Holiday Season draw of traffic to the store and appreciation from several hundred parents annually, judging from the “patient” wait in the “Santa Claus line”.

July 1987: create a special-order mattress section in just 100 square feet of space. Leads to full-scale mattress operations later on.

December 1988: CB FOX buys building from Clement & Benner Dept. Store. (Note: Built to be a movie theater by AEC in ’52-’53, AEC later converts it to a department store by ’56 and sells it. It operates about a year as Hubbard’s Dept. Store, then becomes Spears Dept. Store for a couple years. In 1959 it’s bought by Richard Clement of St. Louis, Mo. Clement hires George Benner of Evansville, IN to run Clement & Benner Dept. Store.

August 1989: expanded Shoe and Furniture Depts. (Shoe storage structure is built right on top of a sidewalk that had skirted east side of building.) Furniture Dept expanded into area that had been the projection room for the movie theater, a space that overlooks the atrium that rises from the Women’s Dept.)

October 1992: expanded and upgraded entire store in response to adoption of the then-new Downtown Plan. In fact, CB FOX was determined to set an example during that very cautious time. And so, space was increased by 20%, selection was increased 40%, the Furniture Dept grew to include half of what had been rented offices on the third floor. It didn’t stop there: new departments were created for infants & children’s wear and toys, chocolates and candies of all kinds, New Mexico food specialties and giftware, soaps, lotions and gels. Total cost of construction, new fixtures, and new merchandise: $700,000.

December 1992: Began the CB FOX Holiday Open House which featured our purchasing gift certificates from all the home-owned retail stores in Los Alamos, supplementing them with some $2000 in CB FOX gift certificates, and then holding a drawing for the winners immediately before the holding of the Mainstreet “Electric Light Parade” on Central Avenue, directly in front of the store.

Aug. 1994: Andy Fox joins CB FOX after several years as sales rep for footwear companies. His experience immediately felt in much increased Shoe Dept. selections, sales, inventory management. Andy’s presence gives Dave time to address expansion plans, and the County Council’s impact on the town’s business environment.

April 1995: Opened Pajarito Greenhouse as a “division” of CB FOX which had been started by the person from whom Dave and Anne Fox had purchased their Pajarito Acres home, i.e. the greenhouse stood just 50 feet from our house, ‘twas small at just 336 sq. ft. and spring of ’95 was its original season of operation.

April 1998: Greenhouse is very successful, so “exploded” the greenhouse area from 336 sq. ft to 3,600 sq. ft.

Aug. 1999: Expanded to Albuquerque, opening our own mattress stores (branded MattreSmart,) because that market appeared to be ripe two ways: (1) there were too few mattress stores; (2) existing stores predominately sold by misinformation and/or outright lies about competitive products and businesses. Our strategy: Actually, help customers by identifying sleep problem(s), and then providing straight-forward information so customer could genuinely compare mattresses on basis of their advantages and benefits across a range of choices. In other words, use the same approach that had worked so well for customers in Los Alamos. But we’d misjudged acceptance of the idea; but quickly we learned that not enough of that market’s population valued truthful selling of products.

January 2000: began routine use of Comcast cable television to extend our advertising reach. The message: MattresSmart’s advantage for the customer plus Beautyrest sleep systems. Los Alamos understood, responded well. Albuquerque continued to not understand. The end of MattreSmart had begun. Fast!

March 2000: Stock market’s “tech bubble” pops, recession ensues. Los Alamos sales not harmed. In Albuquerque, though, we hang on for a year then exit with financial tails between our legs, sub-leasing one location on Menaul Blvd at a loss from 2000 through 2007. Still, all the advertising we’d done enhanced our reputation among Los Alamosans, and so sales here continued to grow, whereas they had not done so prior to our failed Albuquerque venture. Serendipity: alive and well.

May 2000: Cerro Grande Fire destroys or severely damages 354 Los Alamos homes and burns to the ground 47,650 acres across the eastern face of the Pajarito Plateau, burns 28 percent of LANL’s lands, destroys 112 of LANL’s small buildings, causes evacuation of 18,000 Los Alamos residents, shuts down commerce in town and in White Rock. CB FOX makes deep price cuts for all who lost homes, possessions, especially on the expensive things, notably mattresses and bed linens. Price cuts result in major red ink. But we’d calculated we could survive that. And anyway at the time, with fire and smoke everywhere from May through June and smoke far into the fall, it very simply felt like the right thing to do. The Beautyrest factory in Denver charitably lessened the blow, making Beautyrest mattresses available to us at its own “Cerro Grande discount”. Years later we realized that very good goodwill was the very long-term result.

July 2003: expand Furniture Department to entire third floor, eliminating spaces previously rented as office space.

January 2004: begin sponsorship on PBS TV of BBC World News. Customers volunteered their surprisingly appreciative approval of this action.

March 2004: Andy Fox establishes CB FOX KidZ store next door in the 1731 Central Ave. portion of CB FOX building, an instantly successful move. Reasons why: mom’s/kids now have “their own place” and because we now make space for a whole new category that had not existed since the voluntary closure after years of operation of The Hobby Bench: toys! Footnote: The Hobby Bench was the creation of Natalie Ownings, daughter of the Ownings of Skidmore Ownings & Merrill, NYC, architects of skyscrapers that changed the face of much of New York City in the “60’s and onward. Also, that cleared space for the next change below:

June-September 2004: Andy expands Furniture Department again, displays new furniture lines (Simply Amish hardwood furniture, Omnia contemporary sofas, both made-in-America lines) in main floor space previously occupied by “KidZ” department. Now furniture gets full exposure through 60’ wide display window that’s virtually on Central Avenue sidewalk. Again, sales respond at rapid rate.

August 2006: begin furniture advertising in “Pasatiempo” weekly magazine in New Mexican newspaper. Original purpose: use Pasatiempo’s high-quality graphics appeal to persuade simply those Los Alamosans who read the publication to think of us as a valid source for well-designed and made furniture. Success flows fast from sales traceable to Pasatiempo ads; includes unexpected significant sales to Taos, Santa Fe, on top of the Los Alamos surge.

Recession of 2007-2010: sales grow every year of the recession at 8% average annual rate. We’re surprised, believe growth in recession means secular shift in customer perception of store’s value to the community.

Spring-Fall 2010: New lines added: Carhartt workwear/safety footwear, North Face outerwear/sportswear, UnderArmour athletic wear, and trail-running footwear.

September 2010: Repurchase all CB FOX shares from Jim McMillan. Jim was the first “outside” CB FOX stockholder: Jim/Dave together since grade school in Webster Groves, MO, same school Dave’s father/Jim’s mother went to. Jim owns Rolling Ridge Nursery in “Webster”, has been in that business 51 years by this time. Jim/Dave continue weekly phone contact as Jim remains on CB FOX Board of Directors. Conversations benefit both as by tacit agreement they’re designed to destroy “bigshot” notions of selves before they can get started. Mode of destruction: ego-pricking, generous-hearted, raucous good humor. Jim is radio voice of gardening in St. Louis, MO (KSTR-AM). Jim mentored Dave’s creation of Pajarito Greenhouse for hours by phone (at 1995-96 AT&T long distance land line rates!) The greenhouse became known as the place to buy many of the xeric varieties of perennial flowering plants, trees and shrubs that previously could be found only in Santa Fe.

2017: is the final year for operation of the greenhouse when 79-year-old Dave decided that was a good run, which genuinely pleased a great number of very good Los Alamos gardeners. But CB FOX visibly offers its support to Petree’s Nursery when in the following year they open at the top of the Main Hill Road.

Aug. 3, 2019: CB FOX celebrates its 40th Anniversary with a “full town’s” worth of great customers.

February 2020: CB FOX announces it will close its doors for good on April 30, 2020.

CB FOX Mission Statement:

  • Fine-tune our selection continually to the ways that Los Alamos actually works, plays, travels and lives.
  • Emphasize comfort and casualness, good taste, durability, high functionality.
  • Provide better quality at scrupulously competitive prices at all times, and do it on a brand-to-brand, item-for-item, strictly first-quality to first-quality basis.
  • Support as many local organizations as possible, with consideration first and foremost for teams and other organizations created for children and youth.
  • Conduct ourselves with the highest levels of good humor, openness, courtesy and helpfulness that we can muster every day.