Ask anyone on the Navajo Nation: Bashas’ is the hopping place for shopping and socializing in most of its communities. The supermarket chain is well-known throughout the Navajo Nation, which spans 27,000-square-miles across the states of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.
Over the past 35 years, Bashas’ has become the modern-day trading post for the Navajo people. With the decline of 1800-style trading posts in the late 1970s, Navajo consumers were forced to begin traveling for hours to do their shopping in border towns and spending their money off the reservation.
Tribal officials were forced to take action to provide Navajo consumers with options closer to home, and this resulted in a request for proposals (RFP) in the late 1970s 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,” said Johnny Basha, Eddie’s cousin and senior vice president of special projects. “He loved to share the story of how the first Bashas’ Diné grocery store in Chinle opened.
“Unfettered, Eddie picked up the phone, called the tribal representative 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,” Johnny said in explaining how Eddie got the ball rolling.
Within 48 hours, Basha met with Navajo representatives Woody Maggard, Howard Bitsui and Nathaniel Begay. The group began preparing for a formal presentation to Bashas’ 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 bureaucratic challenges, Bashas’ began building their first store in Chinle and recruited the best-of-the-best, then brought them to the Valley for intense training for months. Their goal was to have a 95 percent Navajo workforce and 100 percent within five years.
In 1982, Bashas’ opened their first reservation store in Chinle, followed by Tuba City in 1983, Kayenta in 1985, Window Rock in 1989, Crownpoint, New Mexico in 1990, and Pinon in 2002. They also plan to open a seventh store in Sanders in 2017. The corporation has a total of 130 stores mostly in Arizona.
“I’m proud to say that today our Diné store directors are some of our best!” Basha said. “The incredibly strong women managing 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.”
Johnny foresees continued partnerships in the coming years, and he loves the Navajo Nation and appreciates their business. He always remembers Eddie Basha Jr.’s advice “to always conduct [oneself] as a guest on the Navajo Nation and realize that it is a privilege to serve the Navajo People.”