These days it’s a lot easier to find one of those dollar stores than an old fashioned mercantile, but there’s a still a few out there and even one that makes stopping by an exciting adventure.
Those who take the time to visit the CWW Feed Store and More in San Ysidro will find menacing mountain lions, snarling black bears and sneaky coyotes among the amazing array of mounted wildlife on display there.
There’s also the big wide head of a water buffalo looking down from a wall, a slinky leopard ready to pounce and the great curved horn of a rhino on exhibit at the busy store.
Store owner Connie Collis says the mounts are her late husband’s trophies from hunts all around the United States, Mexico and even Africa.
“It’s a great attraction,” Collis says of the wildlife display that spans two rooms inside the store. “But it’s also a tribute to him.”
Collis lost her husband Dave, 66, to a stroke last December.
“And this store, this community, has turned out to be my salvation,” she says. “We have made so many friends here over the years.”
Located off US 550 west of Bernalillo at the turn off to Jemez Springs, the store carries a unique line of cowboy boots, biker t-shirts, western wear and cowboy hats.
And of course, good gloves.
There’s an aisle featuring nothing but racks upon racks of nuts, bolts, screws, nails, hard to find mobile home parts, springs, cotter pins and other hardware.
Then there is the assortment of colored lariats, beautifully designed chaps, riding gear and even armored vests and protective helmets for bull riders.
“My heart is with the horses,” Collis says.
That’s where the riding arena, horse stalls and many animals boarded on the property come in.
And when she’s not at the store she can be found running the stables and riding program at Santa Ana Pueblo’s Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort and Spa in Bernalillo.
Born and raised on a small farm in Albuquerque’s South Valley along with her two brothers, Mike and Andy, Collis says she always knew she’d grow up to be a cowgirl.
Her upbringing included 4-H classes, involvement in FFA (Future Farmers of America) and riding with the Rodeo Club at school.
Her father, Charles Andrews, was a lineman at Sandia National Laboratories while her mother, Willene, worked as a store clerk.
But they also found time to tend a garden, can vegetables and raised goats, sheep and cows on their small farm.
And they kept horses too.
“I was very lucky to have had that kind of upbringing,” Collis says. “And you know my parents worked but they never missed a meeting or any event of ours. They were the greatest.”
Both have since passed on but would probably be proud to see how their daughter has carried on the family’s traditions.
Collis graduated from Rio Grande High School and went on to spend a year attending the Agricultural College at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces.
But she discovered college just wasn’t what she wanted right then, she was a hands-on kind of gal who wanted to work.
Her first job as a young teenager was at a chinchilla farm where her mother worked.
Collis cleaned stalls and did other chores around the place and liked it.
She always wanted to marry a cowboy, too, so she did that next, after finding a good one.
The couple traveled, worked on some great ranches and had a lot of fun together, she says.
That first husband would then end up working for the Dunigan family on the sprawling Baca Ranch near La Cueva in the Jemez Mountains.
The ranch is now owned by the public and called the Valles Caldera National Preserve.
“It was his idea to open the feed store,” she said of her start in business over 20 years ago.
So Collis put her love of horses and the related culture into her new operation in the tiny community of San Ysidro, an old Spanish settlement on the Jemez River in the heart of Indian country.
“I was ready to settle down then but he wanted to continue with the cowboy life,” she says. “So he moved on and I kept the store.”
That would later prove to be a blessing.
Collis remained single for several years concentrating on her work, expanding the operation to include a horse arena and holding pens.
Then one day the Baca Ranch hunt manager, a man named Dave Collis, stopped by the store to pick up some salt licks.
The two became friends, then dated and would later marry during a hastily arranged ceremony on Ted Turner’s Armendaris Ranch outside of Truth or Consequences.
Dave Collis was guiding a federal judge on a hunt to cull older bulls from the ranch’s bison herd.
“And we got married over that dead buffalo with the judge doing the honors,” she says.
Collis would later go on to work at the Baca Ranch herself as cook during the hunting season from August through November.
“I absolutely loved working up there,” she says of the ranch’s near pristine beauty.
And what did the wealthy clientele enjoy the most for dinner, you might ask?
“White beans and ham, corn bread and banana pudding for dessert,” she says.
Visitors to Collis’ store will find a big, potbellied stove blazing away while the musky scent of leather from hand-tooled saddles and other gear adds to the store’s stimulating aroma.
And with the holidays coming, visitors will find any number of interesting gift ideas amongst the many items stocked on the stores shelves.
Just don’t be alarmed to find a mean old grizzly bear eyeballing you while you’re browsing the aisles.
If You Go: From Santa Fe take I-25 south to Bernalillo and US 550. Follow to the village of San Ysidro and look for the store at the turnoff to Jemez Springs on NM 4.