By Mary Alice Murphy

Silver City-Grant County Chamber of Commerce Director Romeo Cruz introduced the featured speaker.

"Our featured speaker today is someone I admire," Cruz said. "I admire her because she is an entrepreneur and also for all the other things she has supported. Welcome, Lee Gruber."

Gruber said: "I am delighted to be here. I was born an entrepreneur. When I was five years old, I created a summer camp. It made sense to me to be an entrepreneur. My parents were teachers, so, of course, I did report cards for the camp."

She came to Silver City from Florida, where she was involved in the boating industry. "It's a male-dominated industry, but I became a sail maker." She was offered a job, when a fellow asked her if she could sew. She replied yes. "I lied, but I learned how to sew. As a result, I traveled all over the world. I worked with Ted Turner on his America's Cup."

Gruber said when she and her husband moved to Silver City, he was concerned about what she would do. They decided to start a tile business. Again, they didn't know what they were doing, but they started the business at their home for the first three years. "Our first tiles were really awful, but we kept at it. When we figured out how to do the tiles, we created Syzygy Tileworks. We grew to 140 showrooms and 30 employees."

"My message to you is 'You can do anything you want to do,'" she said. "Small business is the rock bottom basis. I was asked to visit places to help people learn how to work. While doing that, I saw historic buildings, and I came up with the Five Points initiative."

The Five Points proposal features the Waterworks building in Silver City, the Hurley Schoolhouse located in Arenas Valley, the Bradley Hotel in Santa Clara, the Bayard Union Hall and the Hurley Train Station.

She said she supports Melanie Zipin and Jeff, who have started the Zocalo near the Whiskey Creek Airport and just off highway 180. "Arenas Valley is key to bringing the Mining District together with Silver City."

Gruber said the railroad company gave the old depot in Hurley to the town. "But it's on railroad property, so it needs to be moved. Mayor Ed Stevens has ideas of where to put it, but if you know someone who could help move it, it needs to be done soon." The plan is to use it as a museum, visitor's center and gift store.

The community in Bayard wants the Union Hall, which has a mural on the side about "Salt of the Earth," to become a mining museum or cultural center.

The schoolhouse in Arenas Valley is on privately-owned property, but it is being created as a venue for music, food and a gathering place for the Mining District and Silver City. "Melanie and Jeff have also opened a native plant nursery, but they have plans to expand."

The village of Santa Clara recently purchased the Bradley Hotel. "They hope to restore it, as it is the only standing two-story adobe building left in Grant County."

The Waterworks building in Silver City has received a lot of care. "I invite you to come see the miraculous changes on the grounds. From a field of weeds, it is now a beautiful garden. I thank the visionary Town Manager Alex Brown for getting lots of stuff done. It was for sale, and we asked Brown if the town could buy it, and he said yes. We expect hikers to use it and we want the community to use it."

Gruber noted the Five Points Initiative "takes all my time."

Another project that Gruber was instrumental in getting started was the Co-Starters. "Three years back, Grant County got a grant. Enoch Elwell created the program to attempt to go into rural communities and teach people how to build a business out of just an idea. That's all they needed was an idea. Eighty-six residents have gone through the Co-Starters program, and at least 40 businesses have opened and survived the pandemic. It's a 10-week course and you don't need anything but an idea. I'm proud of it. It has been an economic development addition to the county."

She said if anyone was driving past the Waterworks building, "and you see the gate open, come on in."

Chamber Board Member Bruce Ashburn of PNM commended Gruber for taking buildings that have been sitting empty, with no electricity and no gas, and bringing them back up to code. "What financing have you used for the Waterworks building?"

Gruber kind of chuckled and said: "It helps to invite the governor and lt. governor to visit. Sen. Ben Ray Lujan came, too, and gave us $500,000 which we matched with the $500,000 we got from the governor. Some of it was spent on some property. A tiny building behind the Waterworks was full of junk, but we bought it, and it's a beautiful kitchen now. The large metal building you can see was one of the first pre-fab buildings built in the U.S., back in the 1940s I think."

A woman attendee noted that grants for historic preservation by non-profits are available from the USDA.

Gruber said she works with Brigitte, "who has become my mind. It's an honor for me to be as involved as I am. We had Syzygy for 25 years. We weren't thinking about selling the business, but when our production manager offered to buy it, we accepted it, but I'm still an entrepreneur."

The same woman who mentioned the USDA grant suggested the area needed a hostel. "How are you managing competition with local businesses?"

Gruber said the Waterworks is focused on serving the Continental Divide Trail hikers. "We have lots of ideas. One is to use the building like a stopping place, where local restaurants also have a substation for the hikers."

Raul Turrieta, Grant County deputy assessor and radio host, said: "I really enjoy when you, (Lee) come on the show. Anytime anyone gets involved in economic development, it adds to the tax base."

Cruz recognized new chamber members, Ziryab's body brews, Rocky Mountain Cannabis and Universal Waste.

He also noted the chamber is already working on the Fourth of July festivities. "We had a great event last year, with 100 parade entries and 64 vendors. We would like to see double that this year. In the '80s and '90s, we had rockets on display and the National Guard participating. We have no excuse. We need for all of us to come out and enjoy our events. The Tour of the Gila is coming up, as are the Blues Festival and Fiesta Latina. I also ask you to support our local businesses. We're looking to help economic development in Grant County."

Matt Runnels was also recognized as a chamber member for the Grant County Democratic Party.

Cruz thanked Mi Casita for providing the lunch.

Karen Beckenbach announced the next Community Concert on Thursday, March 23, at 7 p.m. for Sultans of String. She said the group would also provide an educational program for students in the afternoon.

The manager of Rocky Mountain Cannabis said: "Now that we're not criminal anymore, we're always ready to partner with other businesses."

Sandy Feutz of the Silver City Art Association announced the next day's Friday art events at the Grant County Art Guild and Light Art Space, among other places.

Cruz announced a Street Food Institute to be held April 3-6 at The Commons.

"Let me know what the chamber can do to help your event or business," Cruz said.

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