When exploring Las Cruces, you can’t help but make your way to downtown Main Street. As the heart of Las Cruces, downtown is a gathering place for all to enjoy food, drinks, shopping, and entertainment. But it wasn’t always the vibrant city center that we see today.
Downtown Las Cruces has a rich history dating back to the late 1800s. By the 1960s, the population in Las Cruces had rapidly grown, reaching 29,000, and downtown was thriving. Due to this growth, city leaders decided to adopt an urban renewal program and proposed a pedestrian mall that closed off Main Street to cars.
By the early 1970s, downtown was transformed. Many of the historic homes and buildings had been torn down, Church Street and Water Street were reconfigured into one-way arteries, and the construction of the pedestrian mall was completed.
Unfortunately, these changes did not nurture business, and the number of brick-and-mortar business locations dramatically declined from 160 to 90. “Downtown before the most recent revitalization was a ghost town. The downtown mall that closed the original Main Street was never a success. The simple answer is that the dynamics of a suburban mall are entirely different than the dynamics of a downtown Main Street,” says Bob Pofahl, partner at Las Cruces Community Partners (LCCP) and managing partner of CBI Holdings LLC.
Downtown continued to decline until Las Cruces residents decided they had had enough and pushed for changes in 2002. The New Mexico Heritage Preservation Alliance deter-mined that the downtown pedestrian mall needed reimagining. After 11 years of planning studies and debate, the iconic “yellow brick road” was removed, and Main Street was restored to a vehicle and pedestrian area with wide sidewalks and booming businesses.
In 2013, LCCP facilitated a downtown Las Cruces charrette, a collaborative design process, to further improve the area. LCCP consists of five partners that make up the primary team: architect, downtown leader, and historian Steve Newby; developer and financial manager Doug Wright; owner of Zia Engineering, Eddie Martinez; and project managers Tom Paul and Bob Pofahl. Objectives of this new plan included building a civic plaza, developing ample parking, including electric car charging stations, and creating a 24-hour live/work/play environment that ultimately re-establishes downtown as the dynamic heart of the city. The construction of the Plaza de Las Cruces was completed in 2016, bringing their vision of downtown one step closer to fruition.
Since the LCCP revitalization plan started there has been a massive upswing in new businesses opening and more patrons visit-ing downtown Las Cruces. All sorts of fun shops, restaurants, bars, activities, and cafés are now open for your enjoyment!
Mornings downtown can be spent perusing the endlessly packed shelves at COAS Bookstore while enjoying a coffee or tea from Downtown Blues Coffee. COAS has been a downtown staple since it originally opened its doors as a publishing company in 1973. The owners witnessed firsthand the entire transformation of the downtown pedestrian walkway back to a functioning street.
Downtown Blues Coffee opened in December 2019 and was the only downtown café open for most of the pandemic. They have an extensive collection of vinyl records available for sale as well as other vintage items. You can enjoy live music during the Farmers and Crafts Market of Las Cruces while sipping one of their signature coffee creations. If you are in need of coffee on the go, Beck’s Express has a grab-and-go stand ready to serve you.
A night at Rad Retrocade is a unique experience. Step back in time as soon as you enter the doors to a world of neon murals, black lights, vintage and modern arcade games, music, and so much more. From classic games like Pac-Man and Space Invaders to modern games like Mario Kart and Guitar Hero, Rad has it all. The pinball collection alone is enough reason to visit. The appropriately themed menu features items like the Hot Cheeto Cheeseburger, Garbage Pail Nachos, King Kong Beer Cheese Pretzel, and Lightsaber Churros. The bar offers fun cocktails with candy and even frozen Jack Daniels and Coke. Live DJs are a regular occurrence, and you won’t be able to resist the dance floor!
Next door to Rad are the Boneyard Cantina and Little Toad Creek Brewery & Distillery. Boneyard Cantina is the newest addition to the Icebox family. You can enjoy fresh Southwestern cuisine like tacos and nachos along with Icebox’s famous brews. Little Toad Creek is hoppin’. Whether it be karaoke, an open mic, or live bands, it is always a good time. Their extensive menu includes delicious made-to-order bar food, signature cocktails made from their own liquors, and house-made beers. The Tropical Toad cocktail, Grumpy Old Troll beer, and pulled pork nachos are some crowd favorites.
AmadorLive is a downtown hot spot featuring four nightlife and entertainment venues: Broken Spoke, JAX Rooftop Lounge, Amador Patio Bar & Grill, and 575 Cruces Crafted Cocktails. This quartet offers everything from live music and special events to brunch or a casual dinner.
If you are looking for a quiet dinner after an event at the Rio Grande Theater or a play at Black Box Theatre or Las Cruces Community Theatre, look to Zeffiro’s Pizzeria, located just behind Little Toad. Zeffiro’s menu includes authentic made-to-order Italian cuisine along with New Mexico beer and wine. The intimate setting is perfect for date night or a get-together with friends. You will be greeted with the aroma of fresh-baked pizza as soon as you enter. Everything on the menu is a must-try.
Some other food options are Day’s Burgers, a fam-ily-owned business that has been a part of downtown since 1932, and Matteo’s Mexican Restaurant, which opened in 2021.
The newest eatery that has made downtown home is Grounded. From breakfast to dinner, this unique and quirky café has you covered. Grounded is dedicated to sustainable cuisine with their plant-based coffee bar and delicious wood fired food menu, which also offers plant-based items as well. Pizza prepared in a wood-fired oven is the star of their menu. The unique combinations include the Mexicano, which features soy chorizo, and the Vegano, which features a variety of vegetables. Don’t worry, meat lovers! There is a classic pepperoni pizza too.
They also offer açai bowls, pastries, salads, tortas, and a variety of appetizers featuring plant-based ingredients. If you’re there enjoying lunch or dinner, you can add a glass of wine, cider, or beer to go along with your scrumptious food. Grounded is a fun local space where people can come spend time, do homework or work, catch up with friends, or simply just enjoy downtown.
Great shopping options include Mew + Co, specializing in handmade stationery, jewelry, home décor, and many more unique items. Zia Comics is second heaven for graphic novel enthusiasts and collectors. If you’re a music and instrument lover, White’s Music Box, which has been downtown since 1948, is the place. Organ Mountain Outfitters has all the New Mexico swag you could desire. Find your pharmaceutical needs at Mesilla Valley Pharmacy. You can even stop into Select Realty or Trust Properties and shop for homes or places to rent.
Downtown has some fun ways to beat the heat, like running through the Plaza de Las Cruces splash pad or visiting museums. Enjoy visiting the Branigan Cultural Center, the Museum of Nature and Science, and the Museum of Art (the Railroad Museum isn’t far from downtown at Las Cruces Avenue and Mesilla Street).
It is safe to say business is booming, and Bob encourages other entrepreneurs to consider down-town for their businesses. “There is tremendous opportunity to grow along Main Street, Water Street, Church Street, and beyond,” says Bob. “Shopping and dining downtown is evolving into an entertaining experience. As downtown grows with more venues and activities, it will fulfill the consumer’s quest for a great experience while dining or shop-ping,” says Bob.
“As a testament to the positive impact that the changes have made, hundreds of events have been held on the plaza, and new traditions are being created like the Christmas celebrations, the New Year’s Eve Chile Drop, weddings on the plaza, and new restaurant/brewpubs and entertainment venues have welcomed thousands back to the heart of our city,” says architect and historian Steve.
The Las Cruces Farmers and Crafts Market is one of the city’s premier attractions, and its downtown roots can be traced back to the early 1900s. The market is held every Saturday morning, taking over several blocks of Main Street with locally grown produce, food trucks, plants, art, and all sorts of handcrafted goods. A smaller Wednesday market is held on the plaza. Other popular downtown events include live music, the monthly First Friday Art Ramble, the LGBTQ+ Pride Month celebration, the New Year’s Eve Chile Drop, and many more.
The focus for the near future of downtown is to build apartments and hotels while continuing to re-establish the area as the heart of Las Cruces. However, Bob says that no new projects have been announced. “We are just trying to make the current projects happen after the 24-month COVID moratorium. We have been planning for years for the Veranda Apartments on Water and the proposed Azzurro Hotel and Spa at the Historic Doña Ana Courthouse.”
For now, we can head to the center of town and enjoy downtown Las Cruces in all its glory.
Story and photography by Olivia Belcher
Additional photos courtesy LCCP and Jason Pofahl
Originally published in Neighbors magazine.
Posted by LasCruces.com