Hispanic grocery stores bring people and food together

Photo by Deb Gau Yury Leon stood behind the counter at La Tapatia Grocery Store, which opened on Marshall’s Main Street this fall. Over the past 25 years, the number of grocery stores with cultural foods and products from Latin America has grown in Marshall’s downtown.

MARSHALL — Main Street is not only home to a variety of businesses — it’s a place where shoppers can find foods and products from different cultures.

Over the past 25 years, the number of Hispanic grocery stores downtown has grown to include businesses like La Mexicana, Central America Store and La Tapatía Grocery Store.

Store owners said the connections they’ve built with area community members have been one of the best parts of running their businesses.

“I like talking with people, and meeting a lot of people,” said Antonio Dueñas, owner of La Mexicana.

La Mexicana has been open on Main Street for 25 years. At the time he first opened the store, there weren’t many places where people could find Hispanic foods and products, Dueñas said.

“My sister and brother-in-law had a store in Worthington about seven years before I started here,” Dueñas said. “I started learning there with them.”

La Mexicana was always a family business – Dueñas’s daughter Marly Wagner said she and her siblings all helped out with the store as they were growing up.

Dueñas said business has changed over the years, as chain grocery stores have started to offer more Hispanic foods. He’s also served a mix of customers, who were interested in different cultural foods. For example, when more Guatemalan immigrants came into the Marshall area, Dueñas said he started stocking foods like plantains and yuca, or cassava root. Wagner said that when Karen immigrants first came to Marshall, many would come to La Mexicana to buy rice.

“Food is what ties families and communities together,” Wagner said.

La Mexicana was also a place where people would share important information, like job opportunities in the area, she said. “It was always much more than a grocery store.”

Being able to help people was also what Eva Como enjoyed about running Central America Store.

“God shows me how to help others,” Como said.

Central America Store, which recently expanded to include stock like clothing and household items, opened 10 years ago on Main Street. Como said she had suffered a back injury, and that influenced her to go into business for herself and her family, instead of working at her former job.

“It was a good decision,” she said.

There were a few different reasons why a grocery store seemed like a good business, Como said.

“We eat every day,” so there was definitely a need for it, she said.

Como, who is Honduran, said it was also good to have a variety of businesses in Marshall offering products from different cultures. If a customer is looking for something Central America Store doesn’t have, she knows where they can go to find it. “It’s easier for people,” she said.

In addition to offering Hispanic foods and services like money transfers, the store recently expanded into space next door. Como said the expansion allowed them to offer more items customers were interested in, like clothes and shoes, cookware and even Spanish and bilingual Bibles.

“We’re still working on it, a little at a time,” she said.

Como said she felt it was a blessing to be able to have a business and help other people.

“We trust in God, number one,” she said.

The newest Hispanic grocery store on Main Street opened in October. La Tapatía Grocery Store offers a range of foods from pantry staples to produce, meats and bakery items. Yury Leon said the store’s name reflects her family’s Mexican heritage. “Tapatío” or “Tapatía” is a term for a person from the Mexican state of Jalisco, she said.

It took a while to find the right place in Marshall to open a new grocery store, Leon said. When the former Thrifty White drug store became vacant, “We were like, ‘That’s a good location,’ “ she said.

Leon said it took a lot of work to turn a drug store into a grocery store. Leon said her family and her husband, Jose Hernandez, worked together to help renovate the building.

La Tapatía now has refrigerator cases for dairy and other foods, and a deli counter area for meats and prepared foods.

“I feel like there’s a little bit of everything,” Leon said.

Leon said La Tapatía’s stock has also changed a little since it opened, in response to requests from customers from Central American countries and cultures. Different customers might be looking for different kinds of fruits and vegetables, or varieties of ingredients, Leon said.

Leon also wanted to encourage American customers not to be afraid to shop in Hispanic stores, ask about how to find something, or how to cook an ingredient.

She said she’s also thought about offering resources like recipes for Mexican foods.

“I feel like that’s something maybe we can do in the future,” she said.

Leon said she felt the store has gotten good support since La Tapatía opened.

“We’re thankful for the community, and the support,” she said.


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