Of the many things a person could learn from watching Sandra Stewart, two of the bigger lessons are the importance of keeping family close and of pursuing one’s dreams.
Stewart owns Down To Earth Nutrition Center at the corner of West First Street and North Missouri Avenue. The store was started by her mother.
“I’m a New Mexico native,” Stewart said. “Born in Carrizozo, raised in Ruidoso and moved to Roswell the first time in 1979.
“My family had owned a Gambles store in Ruidoso when I was growing up. My mother followed me to Roswell in 1982. On August 10th of 1982 she bought a little health food store on the corner of Kentucky and Second, called Mi Casa. A good friend of hers had owned it for many years and was ready to retire. My mom was starting a new life at 56.”
Having grown up in retail, Stewart was able to help her mom before going after her dreams.
“I went to work for her for a year,” she said. “Then I went on to pursue different interests. I became a paralegal and worked for the city of Albuquerque legal department. I went to Albuquerque to become a paralegal.
“Then I came back to Roswell to work for a couple of private attorneys. Then I went to work with the county and the state.”
Her work was directed by her passions and helped by those who saw her potential.
“Rather than law enforcement I had experience with the courts and then with corrections,” Stewart said. “That was because I was working with the commissioners when they hired Al Soliz as the detention administrator. I had finished my bachelor’s degree and was getting ready to pursue a master’s degree in criminal justice because I was passionate about it.
“I helped Al and his wife relocate here and he said, ‘You need to come work for me.’ I knew nothing about corrections, but the first day I walked in I felt at home and I knew it was important work. It was important to Al and also to me that we were to rehabilitate rather than to warehouse.”
Later she was tapped by the governor to serve the state with her expertise.
“In 2013, Gov. Martinez appointed me to be the juvenile justice director for the state of New Mexico,” Stewart said. “It’s a CYFD position. I did that a couple of years. My main office was in Roswell but I was traveling extensively. My grandchildren were growing up quickly and my husband was getting sick of me being on the road all the time.”
Meanwhile the store was thriving, and change was afoot.
“When my mom retired, my oldest brother Ralph Petty Jr. took over the store,” Stewart said. “He died in 2002. My sister, who had been a Realtor in Ruidoso, Karen Petty took over the store.”
As often happens when people follow their passions, timing worked out perfectly for Stewart, her family and the store.
“In 2016 she said, ‘I’m ready to retire and you either need to make a commitment to come home and buy me out or it looks like we’ll have strangers running Down to Earth.’” Stewart said. “I said, ‘Let me come home and see, I think I’m ready to come back to retail.’ I came to work for her in April of last year and October first I bought her out so she could retire.
“I am the last of the siblings and my children want to see it stay in the family, so it was timely and I was ready for a career change. A lot of the things that were important to me in my correctional jobs were making sure that people paid attention to what they ate, that they had proper nutrition.”
Stewart grew up knowing the value of proper nourishment.
“We were blessed in my family to be raised by a mom who was ahead of her time,” she said. “She was always interested in supplements and she was a wonderful cook. We ate all kinds of real food. It’s always been a part of me.”
Being one who has always taken her destiny in hand, Stewart easily found the win in the new circumstances.
“I figured this would put me in a position where I could continue to help people and do it in a way that would maybe be a little easier on me and my family,” she said. “August 10th we will celebrate our 35th anniversary. I hope it will continue to be a multi-generational business. We have always prided ourself as a family in being concerned with what we carry. I deal in high quality product that I know is safe and comes from reputable companies.”
Stewart has dreams and plans to serve at a higher level yet.
“There are some things I’d like to do down the road to help some of the people who come out of incarceration and aren’t sure what to do,” Stewart said. “I would like to see the store go to the next level. I’m not sure what that is yet.”
Her work and travels have given Stewart an appreciation for the needs Roswell has yet to fill. She expects to address those needs for a long time to come.
“I try to bring the things to Roswell that I could get on the road, but not at home,” she said. “We’ve been in this location for a long time. We try to be active on Facebook. We’re part of the Business Review and I’m a Redcoat.”
She’s not alone in her ambitions.
“I have three grown children,” she said. “My oldest daughter is 39, my middle daughter will be 37 in December and I have a son who will be 35 in September. I have seven grandchildren and one on the way. My grandson works here now in the summer.”
With her family looking to build a future around the store, that next level seems likely to come about.
Features reporter Curtis M. Michaels can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.