In 1935 Joe Bain and his son, Victor, opened Bain’s Department Store on Main Street in Alamosa. After Bain’s closed, Victor Bain continued to own the building for decades, renting it out to a variety of automobile dealers and appliance shops. In 1994 the local nonprofit La Puente acquired the building and, after an extensive restoration, converted it into a thrift store with low-income housing on the second floor (509 Hunt Ave, Alamosa, CO 81101).
Depression-era Department Store
Bain’s Department Store is an L-shaped, two-story brick commercial building near the intersection of Main Street and Hunt Avenue in Alamosa, with separate storefronts at 510 Main and 509 Hunt. Sources on the building’s early years are sketchy and somewhat contradictory, but it seems that Joe Bain acquired the land for the building between 1934 and 1936. Newspaper ads indicate that Bain’s Department Store opened in the Main Street portion of the building at the end of November 1935, but the Hunt Avenue half was probably not ready until spring 1936. When it opened, Bain’s was the largest retail store in the San Luis Valley, selling dry goods in the Main Street storefront and groceries in the Hunt Avenue storefront; an open passageway connected the two halves.
Bain’s was an unusually large commercial building for a community the size of Alamosa, especially during the Great Depression, when the government funded most construction. It was the first new commercial building in town since the start of the Depression. The construction of the store in 1935 served as a welcome sign that the town’s economy was finally beginning to recover; just two years later, a record $440,000 poured into construction projects in Alamosa.
Before that recovery was fully underway, however, the Bain family had been forced to stretch its resources to build a new commercial building in the midst of the Depression. Unable to afford new materials, the Bains (like many others at the time) used recycled bricks, iron posts, ceiling tiles, windows, and floorboards from other old buildings to build their store. Most of the building, in fact, shows signs of previous use. Despite the hodgepodge of materials, construction was sound. Even eight decades later, the building shows no sign of cracking or leaning.
To help make ends meet, the Bains added a second floor and divided it into nineteen apartments that were rented out. The second-floor hallways included large skylights, and each apartment had a window from its kitchen to the hallway to let in natural light. Aerial photographs indicate that the second floor was added in 1936 or 1937, after the first-floor department store was already open. This may have been part of an evolving strategy to generate income from the building. Having three distinct businesses—department store, grocery store, and apartments—under one roof was a form of insurance against hard times.
Retail and Rentals
Bain’s Department Store did not last long. In the 1940s, Joe Bain was convicted of selling rustled cattle meat and committed suicide on the morning of his sentencing. The charges were later shown to be fabricated. Victor Bain closed the store and moved to Pueblo, but he maintained ownership of the building, renting it to companies such as the deVorss Automobile Dealership, Hub May Implements, Acheson’s Attic, Trautwein Appliance, and a Suzuki motorcycle shop. Sometimes one company occupied the whole building, and sometimes two stores rented the building at once, one operating out of the Main Street entrance and the other out of the Hunt Avenue entrance. When Miles and Alice Acheson of Acheson’s Attic rented the whole building for their furniture, hardware, and appliance shop from 1954 to 1977, they also managed the apartments on the second floor.
In 1983 Victor Bain sold the entire building to Harvey and Christine Heersink. The building already had incomplete partitions between the two halves, and the Heersinks sealed them off to divide the building into separate structures. In 1985 they sold the Hunt Avenue portion to Francis and Catherine Snider.
La Puente Thrift Store and Housing
In 1994 the Heersinks sold the Main Street building to La Puente, a local nonprofit serving the homeless and other at-risk populations in the San Luis Valley. La Puente undertook an extensive renovation of the building. The purchase and restoration effort benefited from local volunteer labor and community contributions, including important early support from Bob Foote at San Luis Valley Federal Savings and Loan. The restoration effort also received funding from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Topeka; the State Historical Fund; the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority; the Johnson Fund; the Colorado Division of Housing; and the Coors, Gates, and Boettcher Foundations. La Puente opened a thrift store called Rainbow’s End on the main floor and rented the restored second-floor apartments to low-income tenants.
When La Puente placed the Main Street building on the State Register of Historic Properties in 1995, research revealed the connection between the Main Street and Hunt Avenue buildings. In 1998 La Puente acquired the Hunt Avenue building from the Sniders and removed the internal partitions. Now the entire Bain’s building looks much as it originally did, with an L-shaped retail space below and apartments above. La Puente uses the income from the building’s thrift store and apartment rentals to fund the organization’s homeless shelter.