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South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Souveniles Is Place To Go To Savor A Bit Of Puerto Rico

By Doreen Hemlock

August 19, 2002
Copyright © 2002 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. All rights reserved. 

Growing up in Puerto Rico, Yolanda Torres remembers picking coffee, climbing mango trees, bathing in cool mountain rivers and reveling with pride in her island's rich music, foods and multiracial culture.

Transplanted to South Florida, she wanted her U.S.-born children to share that pride, but found it tough to find books and other Puerto Rican items to nurture their island roots.

So the young mother in 1998 launched Souveniles de Puerto Rico. Her store in Hollywood and Web site serve as a beacon for Puerto Ricans longing to savor a bit of home.

"Ooh, this uvita tastes the same as when I was a child. It's so delicious," said retiree Jorge Rechani of Aventura, sipping an Old Colony-brand grape soda from Puerto Rico at the store. "I feel here like I'm back home on the island: seeing the coqui frog, listening to Puerto Rican music."

Creating sweet nostalgia has taken a labor of love -- with few financial rewards and lots of overtime for Torres.

And the business might not have succeeded without a big, fast-growing Puerto Rican community in South Florida that already tops 130,000.

Torres was recently divorced, with three children under the age of 4, when she started the business with a loan from her father.

She'd been away from Puerto Rico for years, so she enlisted help from a newer arrival to South Florida, Ricardo Rivera, who made buying trips.

The duo had little cash for promotion, so they mainly distributed fliers in stores that cater to Hispanics and depended on clients to tout the shop. Occasionally, they ran ads in local Spanish-language media.

Torres kept her day job as a bookkeeper and put in hours on the business at night. Rivera manned the shop by day and learned Web skills to develop the online store.

They also reached out to the community, offering an annual holiday fete and collecting toys for poor children on the island.

Today, Souveniles -- purposely misspelled to reflect a common Puerto Rican pronunciation -- has doubled in size, to 1,600 square feet, and employs four, all relatives of Torres, 34, and Rivera, 37.

Torres dreams of paying off the loan to her father, buying her shop space and contributing more to the community.

But she rejoices amid the work, now that her children revel in being Puerto Rican.

"If we don't teach our children to love their roots," asked Torres, "who will?"

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