The Gathering Place

Santafe.com - July 22, 2011

"Patti and Fred leave an indelible mark on the downtown scene..."

Fred and Patti Libby have owned and operated Plaza Bakery/Café & Haagen Dazs for 30 years. Friday, July 15th, was their last day there. Times are certainly a’chang’in in downtown Santa Fe!

Patti and Fred leave an indelible mark on the downtown scene. People refer to Haagen Dazs as “The Gathering Place.” I wrote on their monster-sized card at their farewell party given by their daughter Drew, that my daughters and all of their friends partly grew up in Haagen Dazs: it was their meeting place downtown, which was made inviting by Patti and Fred’s relentless humor, welcoming attitude, and sometimes mentoring. My own friends and acquaintances hardly ever made a trip downtown that they didn’t stop in to say hello to the Libbys, hear a joke, get the latest news, or grab a cup of coffee. What are we going to do now?

In 1972, the young spunky CU graduate from Philly and the New Hampshire hippie, skier, roustabout turned entrepreneur, met in Telluride, Colorado, where Fred had already established himself as a tour guide and businessman in that gorgeous mining town which was just on the brink of reinventing itself into a popular ski resort town. They married in ’73 and for 10 years worked hard: Patti as a school teacher and Fred as a businessman in a town where, when people visited, they said “This is it!”

Patti had always loved the new Boulder, Colorado Haagen Dazs when she’d gone to school there, so when they moved to Santa Fe and wanted to start a business, Haagen Dazs was on her mind. They had to go to New York City to be interviewed and approved in order to start their own franchise. Haagen Dazs insisted that they open on the central Plaza if they were to be approved.

They leased the property from the Spitz Brothers, which was formerly Zooks Pharmacy (best limeades ever!) and started remodeling. They were selling one of the world’s leading products and were determined to make a go of it. They also began the business at a time when the old downtown (Zooks, Bell’s, Sears, Woolworths) was just starting to change. When they first opened the business and hired teenagers to work there, they paid $3.35 an hour and an ice cream cone was $1.10.

Patti and Fred worked non-stop, as evidenced by Fred’s first seven and a half years without a day off, while Patti juggled two toddlers and work. After the first seven months of business, they realized that they weren’t going to be able to make it just selling ice cream, so they opened a bakery as well.

The 80’s were prosperous and the Libbys were generous. They contributed money to organizations, gave money and ice cream to schools and causes, and started a scholarship for their employees. They continued welcoming local teenagers, and befriending downtown business people and visitors. Fred shared his cigars with fellow cigar smokers and exchanged downtown gossip and views.

They both developed a wide and varied group of friends, from lawyers and doctors to bikers and troubled teens. They were a wonderful portrait of Santa Fe’s openness and supporters of diversity. Teens and college students always wanted to work there (very much the center of things) and when Aleka, my stepdaughter, worked there, she said that the Libbys were unique and boisterous employers – the whole group functioned like a big family, with normal differences of opinion that were resolved openly.

Patti and Fred have turned 60, and have witnessed a great many changes in downtown Santa Fe, our national and local business climate and politics, and finally they decided that 30 years was enough time to run Haagen Dazs and Plaza Bakery. They listed the property in April 2010, and even though they had a lot of interest in the property, nobody wanted to work as hard as they work. Then an eager Texan named Ralph Koslin, who has been coming to Santa Fe since the ‘70’s, put in his offer and is now the new owner and manager of Plaza Bakery/Café and Haagen Dazs.

The Libbys are adjusting to and enjoying their most recent gigantic change. Patti says she will take a few months off and then decide about ‘what next.’ She is loved, smart, great with people, and has a lot of energy so Santa Fe will welcome her in her new calling. (I personally think she should have a radio show …). Fred, at the time of my interview, was completely content at the moment, reclining in his big soft outdoor chair, enjoying a stogie and beer, and his family. They are taking a roadtrip to Yellowstone soon – without a set itinerary.

Santa Fe will miss the Libbys at Plaza Bakery and Haagen Dazs, and we will mourn the loss of our “gathering place.” Their departure is surely an indication of the changing landscape we see downtown.

Thank you Patti and Fred for 30 wonderful years ….