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Columbus Ledger-Enquirer (GA)

Ethnic Stores Foster Culture; Stores Stock Variety Of Foods To Sell To Diverse Clientele


January 25, 2004
Copyright ©2004 Columbus Ledger-Enquirer (GA). All rights reserved.

Twelve years ago when Gladys Quispe arrived in Columbus, there was little to remind her of her native Peru or even her adopted home of Puerto Rico.

There were fewer Hispanic people in the area and Caribbean foods and goods were not readily available. But she and her husband, Metodio, a retired Army officer, liked the city and decided to stay.

The next year, they decided to carve a place for themselves and their culture among the local grocery businesses. They opened their own store -- Borinquen Foods -- which carries foods, spices, several imported coffees, beverages and merchandise from Puerto Rico, South America and Mexico.

"Large grocery stores don't sell it. To them, it's not a business," Metodio Quispe said.

Borinquen Foods is just one of nearly a dozen local grocery stores that carry ethnic foods and merchandise. Besides offering a convenient place to shop for familiar foods, these businesses help their customers keep a link to their cultures.

Some stores serve up more than food by offering magazines and music in their customers' native languages, imported shoes and clothing and check cashing services. A few of the stores, like Borinquen, also have restaurants that prepare specialty foods.

Borinquen offers Puerto Rican and Caribbean fare such as rice and pidgeon peas and fried plantains. La Mexicana, a store with Mexican foods and products, offers tacos made with meat from a pig's head or intestines and freshly made fried pork skins called chicarrones.

"It's things you don't see around at other restaurants. The foods we make are more authentic than the ones they sell at the Mexican restaurants," said manager Jose Hernandez.

Most of the local stores cater to either Hispanic or Asian palates, but they are also frequented by other ethnic groups. Hernandez sees interest from a wide variety of people in the community.

"We have a lot of American people come from the military base. And, people from Africa come for the goat meat and beef tripe," he said.

As the Hispanic population has grown in recent years, many American food companies such as Kraft have looked to expand their products lines to include Hispanic foods. The problem that they and other companies ran into was catering to the diversity of the Hispanic community.

Hernandez knows first-hand the difficulties of trying to please everyone. His store primarily sells Mexican products and American products. But the local Hispanic community is growing and diversifying.

"It just depends on where they're from," he said. "We try to have a little variety of things for Spanish people, not just for Mexicans but for everybody."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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