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New Mexico curio shop listed in National Register

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SAN FIDEL, N.M. – A rare example of a curio shop that sold authentic Native American crafts during the heyday of Route 66 has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The Acoma Curio Shop operated from approximately 1937 until 1941 in San Fidel, N.M., about 18 miles southeast of Grants. While most highway businesses took advantage of Pueblo Revival-style architecture to attract tourists, Lebanese immigrant Abdoo H. Fidel built a simple adobe building with 18-inch thick walls and a prominent false metal mining front that made his store a standout. Today, the building houses an art gallery, one of the few operating businesses in San Fidel, a Route 66 town bypassed by Interstate 40 to the south.

“The Acoma Curio Shop is associated with events – most notably its exclusive trade with Acoma Pueblo and its four-year history as a Route 66 business that catered not only to passing motorists but to dealers who specialized in trading Acoma goods made by artisans,” said Jan Biella, interim State Historic Preservation Officer at HPD.

The curio shop qualified for the National Register because of its association with events that contributed significantly to the broad patterns of history. Listing a property in the national or state register honors a historic property and qualifies it for financial incentives such as rehabilitation tax credits. It also provides a measure of protection from adverse development. The Acoma Curio Shop was listed in the State Register of Cultural Properties in December 2008.

Gas rationing during World War II spelled the demise of Acoma Curio Shop and several other San Fidel highway-related businesses.

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“There was no traffic (along Route 66) to speak of,” said Jim Hanosh, who remembers the period, and is quoted in the National Register nomination.

Fidel immigrated to the U.S. in 1915 to escape persecution experienced by Christian Arabs. He built the store in 1916 and primarily operated it as a general merchandising business. Improvements to Route 66 in the late 1930s led to increased traffic, and he re-opened the store as the Acoma Curio Shop. When it failed four years later, he again concentrated on merchandizing, and retired in Grants where he died in 1958.

Shortly after Fidel closed his store, the Albuquerque Journal announced the Acoma Curio Shop’s “new location” across from Albuquerque’s Hilton Hotel, a registered historic building that re-opened in 2009 as the Hotel Andaluz. The curio shop was operated by veteran traders, the Seligman family.

An authentic curio shop differed from the tourist-oriented trading posts and tourists traps more commonly found along Route 66 and the nation’s highways at the time. Where such businesses tended to sell ersatz crafts made by a number of tribes or manufactured in distant sweatshops, Fidel’s business only sold authentic goods from Acoma Pueblo.

Curio trade originated with train travel and the Fred Harvey Company with its string of fantasy hotels along the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railway, which were the first to successfully mass-market Indian jewelry. The roadside curio was a short-lived trend that adapted the Harvey House tradition from the 1800s to 20th-century roadside tourist trade.