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Publish Date: 10/18/2005

Barbara Mitchem shops for candles Monday at Casa Medina, 350 Main St. in Longmont. Times-Call/Kristin Goode

Taking the reins
Casa Medina, a Main Street staple for 28 years, changes hands

LONGMONT — Gabriel Martinez kept it to himself that he was about to buy one of Main Street’s longest-running retail businesses. Maybe he didn’t want to jinx the deal; maybe he just wanted to surprise his wife.

Whatever the reason, it worked on both counts.

“I never mentioned anything to her until the day I did the closing,” said Martinez, the new owner of 28-year-old Casa Medina.

“He brought her into the store, and he hadn’t told her yet,” Miguel Medina said. “And I walked up to her and said, ‘Congratulations!’ And she said, ‘For what?’”

Medina then handed over the keys to the building and said to her in Spanish, “This is yours.” His wife was quite excited, Martinez said.

Medina, 67, said he’ll miss coming every day into his store, which he started in a much smaller space in 1977 as the first business in Longmont focusing on the Hispanic customer.

“I had the decision (to sell) for a year or more, but I didn’t advertise the decision. It was mouth to mouth,” said Medina, who had just 75 albums for sale when he originally opened his doors.

Martinez, 32, who had been a Casa Medina customer, heard the store was up for sale and first approached Medina about buying it in April. The two closed on the sale Oct. 3.

Others were interested in the store, Medina said, but “I kind of held it out for him — I believed he was the right guy.”

Martinez has owned D&S Foundations for the past three years, so for at least the time being, he’s busy shuffling back and forth between his two businesses.

“More than nervous, I’m really excited,” Martinez said. “I always had a dream of having my own store someday — I always had that on my mind.”

Like Medina, Martinez knows the store is going to take a lot of his time. One of his first decisions as new owner has been to keep the store open seven days a week again, something Medina had done for the first 15 years of its existence.

“For 15 years, I didn’t go anyplace,” Medina said. “And most of the time I had two jobs — I was working at Kmart, too.”

But Martinez said he’s not afraid of the long hours. He also said he already has some plans about where he’ll go with the business. Customers will continue to see the the Spanish-language tapes and CDs and the other items geared toward the large Latino population in the area, but Martinez said he plans to add things like clothes, hats and boots, and expand offerings of things like baby clothes. “We’ve got enough room here to do what we want to do,” he said of the 2,200-square-foot space.

But one thing he’s not changing is the name. His new business won’t be called Casa Martinez.

“I’m going to keep the same name because I love Mike,” Martinez said. “The only thing I’m going to change is it’s going to be ‘Neuvo Casa Medina’ from now on.”

Medina said he’s been helping Martinez get up to speed on operations and intends to help out for a couple of weeks more before transitioning into retirement. “I want to give him everything I can — I really want him to do well,” he said of Martinez.

Medina said he’s grateful to the customers who have supported him and is especially thankful for his wife, Elena, whom he called his “right hand.” He’s planning on going back to his native Puerto Rico in January, he said, and also plans to visit his many children, who are scattered in locations from Chicago to Arizona to Oregon.

“When I sold the store, I sent them an e-mail and I said, ‘I’ve got some good news and some bad news,’” Medina said. “‘The good news is I sold the store. The bad news is I’m probably going to be spending a month with each of you.’”

During his time as a businessman, Medina has been very active in the community, including being one of the founders — and the past chairman — of the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Boulder County, an organization of which Martinez has already become a member.

“My goal was always to be involved in the community, and I want him to do that too,” Medina said.

Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-684-5291, or by e-mail at tkindelspire@times-call.com.

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