By Kelly Koepke
Rita Liebling’s teacup Yorkie Jack greets customers daily at Triangle Grocery, asking them to play ball. He’s the latest of Liebling’s youngsters to grow up in the family owned store, which she and her husband bought in 1988. She started with the only full service grocery store in the area as a part-time bookkeeper in 1981, and has seen terrific changes in the community.
“The old store at Highway 14 and Frost was 9,000 square feet,” she says. “This building, which we had built four years ago, has 25,000 square feet. We now have 45 staff members.”
Triangle’s transition to its current space meant that the store needed to expand its offerings to keep pace. “We try to get what customers want. We added a bakery and deli where people can get gourmet meats and cheeses and ready to cook choices like stuffed pork chops and party items. We added more freezer items and organic and natural choices, especially in produce. The parking lot’s paved, too,” she laughs.
One thing that didn’t change was the mural that had made Triangle a landmark for years. What used to be on the outside of the old store is now proudly displayed in the new one over the produce section. Painted by Ross Ward, the mural shows with old-fashioned charm and style how the foodstuffs that Triangle sells get to market . By looking closely, one can even notice the names of Liebling’s children incorporated into the artwork.
The bakery case displays tempting pastries and hand-decorated cakes made on site each day. The coffee station’s aroma practically insists that browsers become buyers of éclairs and croissants to dunk into a cup of joe.
The space itself is a combination of Southwestern and alpine design. Architect Dennis Roberts created a building that receives much of its light naturally from clerestory windows that ring the elevated ceiling. Exposed wood roof trusses give an open, rustic feel. From the outside, the Triangle’s green, sloping metal roof announces that it is ready for heavy winter snows and the seven-day-per-week, 8am to 8pm schedule.
Triangle tries to support the community by sourcing products locally when they can.
Many of the store’s salsas and spices come from Santa Fe’s Desert Gardens Chile & Spice Company. Local honey and beeswax candles, handcrafted aprons and bandanas, and local wines are showcased.
A true community meeting spot, the bulletin board at the entrance announces lost and found pets, classes, and other area happenings, like Triangle’s Thursday wine and beer tastings (see following page). The store also offers a copy machine and plans to add a fax machine and photo kiosk, in an effort to fill the need for these services that opened up when the local office supply outlet closed.
“Our customers are terrific, and they are our friends and neighbors,” continues Liebling. “Because of that, we try to support them in any way we can.” The store sponsors or donates money and items to several community groups, and often gives tours of the store to kindergarten classes. Their favorite section? The big freezers, probably because they each receive an ice cream as part of the tour. The bear at Wildlife West Nature Park in Edgewood also benefits from Triangle’s generosity by consuming produce that can no longer be sold to humans.
“It’s good being a local business,” concludes Liebling. “We don’t need a big chain to serve the community.”
Triangle Grocery is known for its excellent selection of beer, wine, and spirits. To familiarize customers with its offerings, Paul Salas coordinates Thursday wine and beer tastings. “From 4 to 7pm, our goal is to give people the ability to try the products we sell, so in the future, when they are looking for a bottle of wine or a beer, they’ll have some experience with what’s here,” he says.
Salas works with local wineries, breweries, and liquor distributors to provide a variety of choices. Oftentimes, representatives from those companies are on hand as well, providing customers the opportunity to broaden their knowledge, whether they’re tasting an $8 a six-pack beer or a $65 bottle of wine.
“[The community] is very loyal to local brands.”
Salas says, “They like buying local, keeping money in the area to ensure prosperity for everyone.”
He points to the success of Sierra Blanca Brewery in Moriarty (see page 18) as an example. Triangle is the number one retailer of Sierra’s beers, especially its Pale Ale and very popular Alien Amber. The brewery is in the regular rotation for tastings, about once every six weeks.
While the tastings are a great way to educate people about beer, wine, and spirits, many in the community use it as an excuse to get out of the house. One regular customer comes with a friend every week as part of their girls’ night out. Naturally, Triangle also provides snacks and nibbles like fresh baked bread, gourmet cheeses, and fruit, depending on what’s being offered that evening.
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