For Hispanics, a store of their own Annapolis market fills a niche FAR FROM HOME? HISPANICS IN ANNE ARUNDEL

September 12, 1993|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Staff Writer

Until recently, if Hispanics in Anne Arundel County wanted to buy corn masa for making tortillas, or chorizo, a spicy sausage, they had to hit the road.

Although a few local markets sold a limited number of Hispanic foods, many items were unavailable. But then Juan Rivas and Santiago Morataya, cousins from the Maryland suburbs near Washington, passed through Annapolis and recognized an opportunity.

"I noticed that there was no Latino store here," Mr. Rivas said. "All the Latinos who live here have to go shopping in Washington, in Silver Spring, in Baltimore."

The result was the April opening of America Latin Grocery, the county's first market catering to Hispanics. Situated on Forest Drive in the Gardner Center, it is within walking distance of the Allen Apartments, a center for many of Annapolis' Hispanic residents.

"We call it America, because just like Columbus discovered America, we hope people here will discover our store," said Estela Rivas, Mr. Rivas' wife.

The narrow store's shelves are stocked with products most people might think are exotic, but to America's patrons are the indispensable, everyday ingredients for their tables: large cans of hominy; boxes of instant flan, a kind of custard dessert; dried corn husks used to make tamales; a plethora of sauces.

There is even a box for "chao mein," with instructions in Spanish, for families in the mood for a little Chinese food.

In the drink cooler, next to the bottles of Coke and Pepsi, are fruit juices: tamarind, mango, guava and guanabana.

There is also a meat market that sells cuts favored by Hispanic families. And on weekends the store sells chicken tamales and pupusas, Salvadoran delicacies that are basically tortillas stuffed with beans, cheese or pork. You can eat in, at a table in the back, or carry out.

On a recent Sunday, Alberto Quintinella of Annapolis filled a bag with treats from his native El Salvador that until recently had been only pleasant memories.

"This is my favorite drink from my country," he said, holding up a large plastic bottle of Kolashanpan, an orange soft drink that tastes somewhat like cream soda.

He also picked up a bottle of cream to complement a side dish of beans or to put on fried plantains, a popular Salvadoran dish.

Before America opened, Mr. Quintinella said, he went to the local Shoppers Food Warehouse, which sold tortillas (the thin Mexican kind, not the thick Salvadoran variety) and some Goya canned goods. But he had to use American cream for his food.

The American cream "tastes similar, but it's not the same thing," Mr. Quintinella said. "It's more greasy."

Opening the store has been arduous for the cousins, who saved the money by working as waiters at banquets in Washington hotels.

"I first wanted to open three blocks from here," Mr. Rivas said. "When the inspector came, he noticed there was carpet," which is against sanitary regulations.

So they leased the space where the store is now situated. Another inspector came and said they had the wrong kind of sink; it had two drains but, according to code, needed three.

"I lost a lot of money in the things they made me change," Mr. Rivas said.

When Mr. Rivas and Mr. Morataya ran into bureaucratic roadblocks, the Maryland Hispanic Chamber of Commerce came their aid, assisting them in drawing up plans and securing the necessary permits.

"They faced the insurmountable difficulty that they never had any commercial experience," said Robert Morales, a lawyer and chamber member who assisted them.

When the permit process seemed to stall, Jose Ruiz of the Governor's Commission on Hispanic Affairs called the mayor's office to express his concern. An aide looked into the matter, and the permit was granted.

Now county Hispanics have a store they can call their own.

"He's going to give them good products and good service. And there's no reason he shouldn't be successful," Mr. Morales said. "By God, they want a piece of the American dream and they're going to get it."

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