Bashas’ Diné Market, a Modern Day Trading Post
By Joshua Lavar Butler
Tribal Business Journal | June 2016
Bashas’ Diné Market has evolved into its own brand, one that is reflective of Navajo culture, its people and its history. The supermarket chain
is known across the Navajo Nation, which spans 27,000 square miles across the states of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah.
For 35 years, Bashas’ has been the modern-day trading post for the Navajo people. With the decline of the 1800s-style trading posts in the late 1970s, Navajo consumers had to travel for hours to shop in border towns and spend their money off the reservation.
Tribal officials were forced to take action to provide the Navajo people with options closer to home; this resulted in a request for proposals (RFP) to bring a major grocer to the reservation. Bashas’ Inc., founded in 1932, was one of five companies to respond under the leadership of the late Eddie Basha Jr.
“Eddie loved the Navajo Nation and its people, and he had a deep desire and commitment to serve them,” says Johnny Basha, Eddie’s cousin, now Bashas’ senior vice president of special projects. “Unfettered, he picked up the phone, called the tribal representatives who had sent the proposal request, and said, “Hi! My name is Eddie Basha, I’m from Bashas’ Markets, and I want to be your grocer.”
Within 48 hours, Eddie met with Navajo representatives Woody Maggard, Howard Bitsui and Nathaniel Begay. The group began preparing for a formal presentation, but Eddie quickly responded, “Put that away. I’ve been waiting for you. Not only would it be an honor, but I’m ready to build a grocery store for the Navajo people.”
Within a year, despite tribal bureaucracy challenges, Bashas’ began building its first reservation store in Chinle, Arizona. It recruited the best-of-the-best employees and brought them to the valley for intense training for months on end. The goal was to first have a 95 percent Navajo workforce and 100 percent within five years.
The Chinle store officially opened in 1982. This was followed by a store in Tuba City, Arizona, in 1983; Kayenta, Arizona, in 1985; Window Rock, Arizona, in 1989; Crownpoint, New Mexico, in 1990; and Pinon, Arizona, in 2002. Bashas’ plans to open a seventh reservation store in Sanders, Arizona, in 2017. In total, the corporation has 130 stores, mostly in Arizona.
Ask anyone on the Navajo Nation, and they’ll tell you that Bashas’ is the hopping place for shopping and socializing. There is no denying that the Navajo rely on this modern-day trading post, which has catered to their shopping needs and, even better, has become a focal point in their communities. On any given day, you will see dedicated workers stocking shelves and prominently placing everyday staples such as fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh mutton, cooking fuel, tack and livestock items — essentials to Navajo life.
“You will find neighbors talking, families sharing a meal and businessmen meeting over coffee or tea in the seating areas,” Johnny says. “The Navajo people have made the modern supermarket their own.”
Today, Bashas’ Diné Market is run by a Navajo workforce. Johnny appreciates the dedication of his team members and says that a large number of the original hires remain with the company today, even after 30 years. He cites Sara Semallie and Julie Herbert of Tuba City; Corrine Nez of Window Rock; Deborah Baldwin of Crownpoint, New Mexico; Vicki Tsosie of Dilkon, Arizona; and Winifred Tah of Chinle as just a few dedicated members.
“I’m proud to say that our store directors are some of our best!” Johnny exclaims. “The incredibly strong women managing our Navajo locations can hold their own operating any one of the stores chain-wide. Frankly, there are times I’m tempted to have them visit with other store directors to teach them a thing or two.”
Tah, one of the “best store managers,” says the corporation treats its employees like family. “One or more of the Bashas visits us at least once every month,” she says. “We aren’t just left on our own. They come in, greet everyone and shake hands, and tell us what a great job we are doing. Other management people call to ask if we need anything. In a business world, many Navajos feel they are outsiders; in the Bashas’ world, we are family.”
It is relationship building, strengthening partnerships and being dedicated to the Navajo people that keeps Bashas’ on the reservation.
Johnny foresees continued partnerships in the coming years, and says he loves the Navajo Nation and appreciates their business. He always remembers Eddie’s advice, “Always conduct yourself as a guest on the Navajo Nation, and realize that it is a privilege to serve the Navajo people.”
THE AUTHOR | Joshua Lavar Butler (Navajo) is owner of Sandstone Public Relations based in Flagstaff, Arizona. He is a journalist, a public relations executive and a former councilman for the Navajo Nation. He is also owner of Rez Media Group and a contributor to Native News Online. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
LINKS: Tribal Business Journal | June 2016