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How The Abundant Life blends Cortez’s past and future

Monique Alvarez, 45, is the new owner of The Abundant Life. Joe Williams/The Journal
Diana Toms’ store gets a new look

The Abundant Life, which celebrated its 42nd anniversary this year, has a new look.

“My entire childhood was inside the store,” Monique Alvarez, the daughter of store founder and owner Diana Toms told The Journal. “I absorbed it all over the course of 18 years.”

The store today, however, looks much different from the one Alvarez, 45, grew up in.

Now, alongside a wide selection of wellness products, customers can enjoy an Acai bowl, avocado toast or a Papa Lecco sandwich, and wash it down with a tea or fresh-blended juice. Alongside those staples, there’s a menu inspired by Alvarez’s travels around the globe that changes weekly. A 12-person table will be the site of future community dinners. There’s a new co-working bar complete with high-speed internet. And soon, customers will be able to sip espresso or indulge in afternoon tea.

“Ten years ago would this work in Cortez? Probably not,” she said. Now, “we have Californians, we have East Coasters. They've moved from the city because they want a different lifestyle, but they miss things from the city.”

But ultimately, it’s not just about changing the layout of the store or adding new menu items. With the revamp, Alvarez is hoping to create a new spot where customers can unplug, unwind and connect with the community.

“I know you've got your farm to take care of, I know you've got your business. We can also gather here,” she said.

Monique Alvarez remodeled The Abundant Life in August, including a new community dining area. Joe Williams/The Journal
A pandemic transition

Growing up in Cortez as a fifth-generation Montezuma County resident, Alvarez knew she wanted to escape. But in 2020, after about 25 years of living and working in places like Kenya, Burma (now Myanmar) and Albania, she found herself back where it all began.

At the time, Alvarez and her family were living in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. But as the COVID-19 pandemic raged, she faced daily pleas from her father to return to Cortez. They eventually worked. And despite once pledging to never go back, Alvarez, her husband and two kids drove from the border of Belize back to Southwest Colorado.

The timing was perfect. In 2019, Alvarez started her own publishing company, AMA Publishing, with a goal to empower female entrepreneurs and print “stories that the big guys reject and censor.” That mission earned her international media attention, but it also caused some controversy.

“I got delisted from the Wall Street Journal because of my stance on vaccinations,” Alvarez said.

Alvarez, 45, is hoping a remodeled store and new food options will help bring customers in. Joe Williams/The Journal

However, after growing the company so quickly in just a few years, Alvarez realized she was ready for the next challenge. But unlike AMA Publishing, which had clients in 41 countries, she knew her next “mountain to climb” had to be something that would make an impact locally.

“I was living here, but I was on my property. My business is online. I wasn’t a part of the community,” Alvarez said. “If I was going to be here, I had to be here. I needed to contribute something to where I live.”

Bringing the world to Montezuma County

This spring, Alvarez spent several weeks observing. She watched what products her mother ordered, what customers bought and what they were asking for. Quickly, her vision for The Abundant Life’s future began to form.

While Alvarez knew it was important to carry on what her mother had built over the past four decades, she also wanted to modernize the store to reflect the region’s changing demographic.

“I've pulled recipes and ideas from all over the world. My favorite things from Italy, the Mediterranean, Greece, Mexico; everywhere I've lived,” she said. “There's an appreciation for it because Cortez has expanded and grown.”

New workstations and high-speed internet will allow customers to stick around and enjoy their drink or meal. Joe Williams/The Journal

And in a town with more than a dozen fast food restaurants, including a Wendy’s that sits right in The Abundant Life’s backyard, Alvarez is trying to offer residents a healthier option.

“Convenience has really got Americans by the throat. We go for convenience every single time,” she said. “With food it's easy just to get caught in that loop. I’m wanting to present another option where I make them remember how good good food tastes, and how much better they feel.”

But Alvarez also acknowledges the uphill battle in persuading customers to ditch the ease and low cost of a drive-through for a homemade meal cooked with high-quality ingredients, served in a setting that encourages patrons to slow down and enjoy it.

In Cortez, “not a lot of things change,” she said. “On the one hand, that’s hard for a lot of people, because we need to evolve and move forward. But sometimes in a world that’s rapidly changing, you need some things that are rock solid.”

The Abundant Life’s official reopening will be Nov. 9, which coincides with the store’s 42nd anniversary.

This article was re-edited and reposted Nov. 30 to reflect that Diana Toms is the owner of The Abundant Life.