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By Mike Hazlip—
As a first-generation immigrant from an entrepreneurial family, Merlyn Pinzon saw an opportunity to serve the local Latin American community by opening a market for specialty foods.
Inspired by her parents’ pursuit of the American Dream, the single mother of two recently leased the space next to Batteries Plus at 8025 Greenback Ln. Pinzon said she remodeled the interior herself while working full time as a manager at a janitorial company.
“I put the floor in, I bought it from the neighbors,” she said. “Of course my Dad helped me with some parts, but I did it by myself. I bought the shelves, I put up the shelves… I did a little bit of everything by myself.”
Pinzon originally came to the United States with her parents when she was four and has lived in the Sacramento area ever since.
Together with some help from her parents who own Fidelina’s Furniture Plus across the street, Pinzon opened El Mercadito Latino in April. Her 17-year-old daughter, Brisa, helps at the store while three-year-old Sofia tells everyone: “I have a store!”
Pinzon chose bright lighting to showcase the produce and canned goods she has throughout the small store. A single refrigerated display case holds cold drinks and fresh produce, while shelves along the perimeter display canned and dried goods.
Pinzon said cold energy drinks are especially popular with some of her regulars who often buy several at a time. She said the product kept her up all night after trying it.
“That’s why they use it, they work two jobs so they need something to get energized for their second shift,” she said.
Her first idea was to open a clothing store, but Pinzon said the pandemic shutdown changed her plans. She decided that a market would be something the community needed. The shopping center where Fidelina’s Furniture Plus is located already has a specialty market, Valencia’s, and the landlord didn’t want a competing business in the same center, according to Pinzon.
“That’s what I wanted to do, bring out more fresh items for people that are from my country,” Pinzon said. “And I know there is a lot of people around here. Even though we just opened, we constantly have people coming in from Central America — and when they see those things, they get excited because they don’t normally see them.”
Some of the items Pinzon says are unique are fresh mamey and mamones. Mamey are tropical fruit about the size of a cantelope, while mamones are about the size of an apricot.
While Pinzon offers several specialty items from her native Guatemala, she tries to provide a wide range of Central American items.
“We try to bring as much as possible from other countries,” she said.
Pinzon said the produce comes from Guatemala, through Los Angeles or San Francisco. She said her customers appreciate the fresh produce, as imported produce is often canned or frozen.
In addition to fresh produce from the Central American region, El Mercadito Latino also sells household items, offers money transfers, and even offers shipping services. Pinzon said her customers use the shipping service to send items to family members living outside of the country.
“I have customers, they come in and they usually send a box of clothes, shoes, toys for the families, especially for December,” she said. “So they start preparing the boxes and they ship them out in December for Christmas.”
Pinzon said she hopes to expand her store into a space next door that is currently being used as extra storage for Batteries Plus.
A statement on her parents’ furniture store website translates to: “Our journey began with a dream, with the famous American Dream. We started like many in this country, with low resources and many goals to achieve.”
It seems Pinzon is carrying on that dream across the street.
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