Trading Upscale

Yuppie gentrification strikes the heart of old West Texas

Besides the gourmet foods, the trading post shelves hold ample selections of ordinary groceries: Froot Loops, corn flakes, Ranch Style Beans and Miracle Whip.

"Twenty percent of the inventory is the fancy foo-foo stuff. The rest is for the locals," says trading post manager Charlie Jenkins.

Amid all the change, one of the few constants at the trading post is the presence of Clay Henry III, the scruffy billy goat renowned for his adept handling of icy longnecks.

Trading spaces: Lajitas no longer operates on the barter system.
Allen Kimball
Trading spaces: Lajitas no longer operates on the barter system.

Like his father before him, the beer-loving goat, which is kept in a metal pen near the trading post, is a tourist favorite for his enthusiastic ability to slug down cold beers.

But the question looms. What will happen the first time someone offers him a sip of vintage merlot? Even though the trading post has gone upscale, Jenkins doubts that Clay Henry III will follow.

"I seriously doubt he'll drink it," he says. "He won't sip it. He doesn't sip. He chugs."

The trading post overhaul is just the latest phase of Smith's expensive bid to make Lajitas into a destination resort. Since he bought it at auction for $4.25 million almost four years ago, Smith has pumped at least $60 million into the project.

The dusty old movie-set resort with its rough wood boardwalk has been augmented by a host of upscale amenities.

They include a shimmering desert golf course, a 7,500-foot jet strip and the million-dollar Ocotillo Restaurant.

So far, Hostettler says, the resort project has yet to turn a profit, much less repay Smith's deepening investment, but Smith remains committed to making Lajitas into "the ultimate hideout" for wealthy guests and corporate clients.

Some, however, wish Smith had left the trading post alone.

"It was the last connection with Lajitas' past," says Davidson, the former rafting guide. "Maybe it has a wonderful, bright future, but it seems like if they wanted to have a grocery store, they could have left this from a cultural preservation standpoint."

Ivey, whose father once owned Lajitas, likewise wishes the changes now remaking the once-isolated border stop where he passed his boyhood had spared the trading post.

"The changes in Lajitas don't bother me much because I have such wonderful memories," he says. "I still feel that way, except for the trading post. There are some things you just ought to leave alone."

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