Taos businesses go online

Mar. 8—ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Like a lot of small businesses a year ago, the Arroyo Seco jewelry studio Golden Anderson Studios had a website, but no way to sell its products online.

Because of that, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and Taos' normal steady stream of visitors dried up, co-owner Gail Golden said the studio's revenue plummeted.

"We were hurting for a few months there," Golden told the Journal.

Through the Small Business Development Center at University of New Mexico-Taos, Golden came across Taos Business Alive, a new program designed to help Taos County businesses develop e-commerce platforms and get comfortable using those online tools.

A year later, Golden Anderson Studios has a dedicated e-commerce portal that connects to its website with an updated list of inventory. Golden said she's hopeful that the e-commerce portal will eventually comprise between 25 and 50% of the company's sales.

"It turned out to be just such a learning experience," Golden said. "Everyone who was involved in it was very supportive, very knowledgeable, and it just went along really smoothly."

Charles Whitson, executive director of nonprofit Taos MainStreet and a driving force behind the program, said the pandemic laid bare the technological gap between urban and rural communities.

Particularly in communities like Taos, where many businesses rely heavily on foot traffic and tourism, the impact of the pandemic proved challenging to overcome, Whitson said.

"Once you remove those two things from the equation, the problem becomes very obvious, very quickly," Whitson said.

The LOR Foundation, a private family foundation that works with Mountain West communities and provided grant funding for Business Alive, estimates that between 40 and 50% of Taos small businesses lack e-commerce capabilities.

Jake Caldwell, a Taos-based program officer at the LOR Foundation, said challenges like the cost and technical expertise were significant barriers keeping many small businesses from building e-commerce platforms, until the virus forced them to adapt.

"It was more glaring that there was a need to test those other avenues," Caldwell said.

Whitson said the program received $22,000 in grant funding from LOR, the Taos Community Foundation and the Los Alamos National Laboratory Foundation, to make the program free to participating businesses.

Whitson said 10 businesses were selected to participate in the program, of which seven currently have functioning e-commerce portals.

Taos MainStreet partnered with the web development Taos High Tech to build the platforms. Whitson said the program worked with each company individually, tailoring the e-commerce approach to their specific needs.

Going forward, Whitson said Taos MainStreet is planning to host another cohort of 10 local businesses. The goal is to not only give businesses a tool that can help them adapt, but to give businesses the skill to operate the platforms without needing to hire someone to manage it for them, Whitson said.

"There are a lot of businesses that have existed for a long time who haven't adapted ... to the new world of social media and e-commerce," he said.