I was considerably befuddled by the Letter to the Editor entitled “New Idea for Old Smith’s” by Chet Manley of Los Alamos that appeared in the Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016 print edition of the Post (link).
I had two main impressions: 1) Yes, we need to do something with the valuable ‘Old Smith’s’ supermarket building, and 2) Is this guy really serious? The letter sounded like some sort of comic act (and April Fool’s Day is a long way off)! Why in the wide-wide world and, especially in Los Alamos County, would we need a Ninja training center and Ninja-suited people roaming around the County? We live in a place where serious crime is almost non-existent (at least compared to other places where I have lived), have a large County police brigade for law enforcement and a Sheriff’s office to represent the people of the County.
I and my former wife moved to Los Alamos in October 1981 (where I took a job in the LANL Physics Division), and resided in the old Hilltop House for a couple of weeks before renting a house in White Rock for several months, and then moved into a lease-to-purchase house in White Rock in August 1982.
During our first few-to-several months, we regularly left ‘The Hill’ to go to Santa Fe or Albuquerque to take advantage of the variety of restaurants, shopping, recreation and entertainment there. I found that this was not unusual for newcomers to the Hill who had lived in larger or more socially active towns or cities. People still regularly leave the Hill as witnessed by the vastly diminished traffic in LA and WR during the weekends or federal holidays.
Don’t get me wrong: I fell in love with NM and Los Alamos during my first job interview in July 1981. I hope to leave when the gurney comes to my house to take me to the crematorium! However, the social and entertainment scene left a lot to be desired. Recently, things have improved in terms of shopping and the opening of more businesses, but there was actually more going on in the early 1980’s than there is now, in terms of entertainment, dining, and social life. Just witness all the empty buildings in both LA and WR.
I love to play pool/billiards. One evening in the early 1980’s I drove home from the VFW (where I was a guest playing pool with a friend) and was almost in tears because the place was closing at 8 p.m. on a Saturday night. Coming from Madison, WI, we were used to night life just getting started at 8 or 9 p.m.!
In my 34+ years living here, I have witnessed and participated in about one-half dozen consultant/committee reviews of how to improve the business and entertainment features of Los Alamos County. The answers were always the same: for a town of our size and per capita income, we have none of the features that a ‘normal’ town of our size/income would have – like no car dealership, no real nightclubs, no funeral home, no taxi service (thank goodness we now have Atomic City Transit, but only until 7 p.m.), at times no theatre, most of the time no bowling alley, no big-box store, and no billiard hall. Why was that? One answer was usually that the business rental prices were at Santa Fe levels and the landlords would rather sit on a property hoping that it could be rented to the Lab as across-the-bridge office space, or take some kind of convoluted tax loss. Almost all the consultant recommendations were just filed away, after the consulting fee checks were written, with very little action on things suggested by experts.
Now, back to the Old Smith’s supermarket building. Please let’s nix the Ninja idea and look at a recreational opportunity. The building is quite large enough for a bowling alley (with several lanes), a snack bar, a bar (maybe even a dance floor), and a billiard hall with ‘real’ full-sized tables (not the toy coin-ops), perhaps 10 pool tables, a snooker table and one or two carom tables – please note that the Asian population of LA has increased considerably and those folks normally play carom billiards (no pockets), rather than pool. Some of those overworked LANL scientists could certainly use a night out of recreation in a classy setting (maybe with an antique theme).
As Mr. Manley mentioned, non-County use of the Old Smith’s would take private investment – what’s new? This is capitalism. We are a looking at real business opportunities and a very definite increase in recreational opportunities for our residents with this idea.