Texture Presidio – Hiram Carrera and the Presidio Trading Post

Rafa Carrera, right, and his son Hiram. Photo by Hannah Gentiles.

Texture Presidio uses the art of photography and storytelling to explore and highlight the textures and tales that make Presidio County and surrounding desert landscape both beautifully ordinary and unique. Each column will feature a new person, place or event. 

Originally built as a convenience store in the year 2000, with a plan to sell everything from snacks to alcohol for those working the onion fields lining the Rio Grande just outside of town, the Presidio Trading Post that now exists has gone through a few different transformations over the years — but both Rafa Carrera and his son Hiram agree that they are finally hitting their stride. Rafa built the structure with his own hands, adding bit by bit as the business grew and changed over the years. 

Hiram first got a taste of working in the family business as a kid when he, along with his older brother Oscar, would fill in for their parents from time to time running the convenience store. His childhood memories range from “chill to exciting” — often encountering local characters. Ask Hiram about the Burro Lady — it’s a story you won’t forget. 

While Hiram speaks fondly of his time at the store as a kid, he never envisioned that he’d be back in Presidio running another variation — the bar and restaurant that exists today — but it’s clear it’s where he wants to be. While messaging with me, he fondly recounted the spot’s history within his family and spoke with enthusiasm about its future:

“In September 2016 my dad and I opened up Presidio Trading Post & Cantina. At that time I only made the commitment to help set up shop and after a few months make my way back up to the Dallas-Ft Worth area, where I had been living since graduating from PHS in 2009. Almost every time I visited Presidio again from 2017-2019 I would work a shift or two at the bar, and it didn’t matter who came by — life-long locals, newbies, tourists — they would all show my parents love for providing them with a place to hang out and have a beer; they especially gave them praise when they started serving chicken wings! After seeing the consistent growth the business had in the years I was away, I decided to make the full commitment and take the workload off my parents’ backs in October 2019. Although 2020 was a difficult year, we’ve been able to grow Presidio Trading Post in a way I couldn’t have imagined in 2016. I don’t have an exact plan on where things go next, but I do want to expand the community we’ve built, where both locals and visitors can let their hair down a bit in an atmosphere that is welcoming to all.”

In sitting down with the growing number of young business owners, entrepreneurs and artists in Presidio, I feel witness to a movement happening here. Historically, young people in Presidio often move away in search of furthering their education and work opportunities, and few find their way back. Is that changing?

While the very understandable reluctance to newness is felt, overall you can sense a vibration. As Hiram and I talk about this shift, it’s clear he wants to be a part of it. Hiram is still trying to determine what that looks like for the Trading Post — whether that involves bringing in more music and events, a variety of food choices, utilizing more of their space, or all of the above. He is not merely willing, but actually excited to continue building relationships and providing a place for the community to congregate, to feel welcome and to be fed. 

Photo by Hannah Gentiles.

In light of this, there is great hope that those who get to be a part of the movement, and even help lead the way, will be community members past and present. I asked Hiram what he might say to one of his peers who have, like him, spent time away, but are considering a move back or are interested in contributing to the growth. He said he feels his business is proof that such an undertaking could be successful. 

“Since our business has been operating and evolving for over six years now, I feel we’ve proven that new businesses can thrive in Presidio, so I hope there is growth in our economy by way of new businesses, especially if there are new businesses that can supplement the already existing businesses in Presidio.” 

While making it clear that all are welcome to Presidio (with a reminder that his father was not originally from here and certainly dealt with his share of challenges), he shared a desire for those in the community to be a part of that growth, adding:  “Presidio is an international port of entry for both people and many commercial goods, along with growing tourism from both the Big Bend State Park and Big Bend National Park, there is so much money to be made here, and I hope locals like myself that have left Presidio and find their way back can be some of the ones that take advantage of that.”

Standing with Rafa and Hiram Carrera on the wooden deck at the Trading Post, hearing details about both the history of and the dreams for the future of the business, a couple of tourists coming from Big Bend Ranch State Park pulled into the parking lot. The Trading Post sits just at the edge of town, at the entrance to “River Road,” a gorgeous roadway that runs parallel to the Rio Grande, with stunning views of the surrounding mountain ranges, the river and over to Mexico. There is nothing quite like it. 

The guests were thirsty and looking for a place to take a break from their drive on an increasingly hot afternoon in early November. While the evenings had begun to be chilly, the power of the sun on the small town by the river continued to make for warm days. Despite being closed at an early afternoon hour on a Sunday, Hiram graciously opened up shop just for them. As he served them cold beers on the porch, he engaged with them about their travels, encouraging them to make a return trip when the Trading Post would be open for food later in the evening and adding information about the progressively popular karaoke on Friday Nights. The couple, audibly grateful for the respite and Hiram’s willingness to open, said, “Oh, I assure you we’ll be back.” 

Here in this remote town that rarely experiences much attention from the media, that’s how you earn new business: word of mouth and personal experiences. Hiram said he often encounters new customers arriving with a tale of a friend who’d once come to The Post and endearingly spoke about their experiences. He explained that he tries to keep that in mind at all times when running the bar/restaurant, wanting to honor previous favorable experiences and encourage more positive growth. With a wealth of knowledge about the area, but also just being a generally pleasant and insightful person to talk to, Hiram and his crew are doing an excellent job of ensuring the Post is a place you want to return to. 

“The best part about living in Presidio is the people; it might not be immediate, but once the people from here get to know you, they’ll have your back no matter what,” he said.

Hannah Gentiles is a photographer and trained social worker who has lived in Presidio County since 2015. She currently runs “Texture Presidio,” a photo essay-based storytelling project, and splits her time between Marfa and Presidio. To find out more about Texture Presidio and her photography visit https://www.hannahgentiles.com/texturepresidio or ig:texturepresidio