Several years ago, I was treated to a visit to a neighborhood grocery store in a small town outside of El Paso, TX. The town’s population was comprised of mostly Hispanics with many families being longtime residents, going back many generations. The neighborhood grocery was operated by a local Hispanic entrepreneur as one of his many holdings. His father had opened the store in the early 1900s. Since then the store has tailored its offerings to the Hispanic community. The store had a tortilla factory—not simply a tortilla machine—but a real factory of three giant machines and approximately 12 workers operating it on the day I was there.
The produce department was having a one-half price sale and it was buried in customers. There were huge displays of mangos, tomatillos, melons, avocados and peppers of every size, color and shape. Amid the huge stacks of fresh produce and swirling crowds of people a Mariachi band was ratcheting up the pace and creating a frenzied excitement. Customers jostled each other as they scooped dried pinto beans, black beans and rice out of huge barrels.
The meat department was full of fresh hog’s heads, cow tongue and cheek as well as intestines and stomach. The fresh muscle meats—regardless of the type—were cut into thin strips and loaded onto trays ready for purchase. Many of the shoppers had large families and bought the thin slices so that everyone in the house got a share.
The aroma of the spice aisle was unbelievable. Baskets of every type of spice imaginable were displayed—all farm fresh and ready to flavor the next exotic dish.
There were huge displays of various types of aqua fresco or flavored water. The flavored water was displayed in 5 gallon glass jars. The flavors included cantaloupe, watermelon, mango or other fruits which were sliced and scooped into their individual jars. The workers then added water along with the stores proprietary spices and then a huge block of ice was placed in the water. As the beverage was dipped out and sold by the quart, more water was added and the fruit was left in the bottom of the jar to continue to ferment, flavoring the beverage.
Cheeses such as queso blanco, queso fresco and panelo were cut and displayed in one pound blocks; ready for sale. Yogurt of every description was stacked in large jars in a long refrigerated case and was selling like hot cakes.
The best thing about the store, however, was the mural that extended around the inside wall of the store. It was begun in the early 1900s and depicted favorite customers in various everyday acts such as picking corn, rolling tamales or attending church. Each generation was chronicled on the wall mural by a local artistic family whose sons and daughters continued the tradition to this day, and there is a lot of blank wall still left. Some shoppers come in to pray with their relatives shown on the wall or simply show them off to visiting family or children.
I have written about this store in the past but there is still a great deal to describe.