Bodega owners oppose Latino grocery

(Gazette Photo by Rebeca Oliveira) Hyde Square bodega owners (from left) Luis Gonzalez, Juan Medina, Rafael Mejia Jr., Freddy Cabral and Juan Anderson hold potted plants they received at Mayor Menino’s May 13 coffee hour in Mozart Park, where they shared concerns about a new Latino grocer.

Menino aide agrees

HYDE SQ.—Local bodega owners, upset about a proposal by the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) to open a new Latino grocery store, took their complaints to Mayor Thomas Menino last week. And the store owners are receiving strong backing from a key Menino aide.

“I understand micro-business owner’s concerns. I know what it is to be going through a tough economy. One of those concerns should not be competition brought in by a community development corporation,” Enerio “Tony” Barros, a former Hyde Square business owner who is now a special assistant to Menino, told the Gazette.

A group of five Hyde Square bodega owners met with Menino during his annual “Neighborhood Coffee Hour” at Mozart Park in Hyde Square May 13.

“We are concerned about another supermarket in a one-mile radius. It will affect our business…that will affect everyone, not just bodegas. We’re just little community businesses,” Rafael Mejia, president of the Hyde Square Business Association, told the Gazette at the coffee hour.

The JPNDC first floated its plan to open a new Latino grocer into the new 7,500-square-foot retail space it owns at 363 Centre St shortly after it was announced in January that Hi-Lo, a grocer that focused on Latino foods, was closing its doors at its 415 Centre St location, and being replaced by a Whole Foods Market store.

As the Gazette reported last month, the JPNDC is currently in negotiations with a potential grocer tenant.

“The reason we are pursuing this is because of tremendous need that Hi-Lo shoppers have expressed” for a full-service Latino grocery, JPNDC spokesperson Sally Swenson told the Gazette. “We have been hearing from them that since Hi-Lo closed, they have been going out of the neighborhood to shop,” she said.

Swenson denied that bodegas would be adversely effected by a new grocery store. “They have been great as convenience stores,” she said, saying a full-service Latino grocery store would fill a different need. She also noted that a number of local bodegas have benefited from technical assistance provided by the JPNDC, and that those services remain available to all local small business owners.

Following the announcement of Whole Foods’ move to the neighborhood, some local grocers, including the owners of City Feed & Supply in JP Center and Meatland in Hyde Square, expressed concerns that Whole Foods would cut into their business. Local City Councilor Matt O’Malley went so far as to suggest to Whole Foods officials that they could start acting as wholesale distributors for local grocers—an idea he has said Whole Foods is open to.

But Bodega owners have been fairly quiet about Whole Foods, especially compared with their opposition to the JPNDC’s proposed Latino market.

Menino did not respond to a Gazette request for comment about that plan by press time, but Barros spoke extensively with the Gazette last week about the bodega owners’ concerns.

Chief among them, he said, is that, flanked by Stop & Shop on one end and the soon-to-open Whole Foods Market on the other, and boasting 10 bodegas and specialty grocers, Hyde Square is already bursting with groceries.

“You will still be able to find every single product” that Hi-Lo offered in Hyde Square, even now that Hi-Lo has ended its 47-year run, Barros said. “Bodega owners are now excited about opening up their inventories to offer products from Central and South American areas.”

Stop & Shop in Jackson Square already carries an array of Latino groceries, and there is a good chance the new Whole Foods will, too, he said.

He said the Mayor’s Office has been particularly focused on providing assistance for small business owners in the wake of Hi-Lo’s closing. When the Hi-Lo closing was first announced, “The mayor immediately said…I want to pay attention to micro-businesses,’” Barros said.

The former owner of the now closed Centre Boutique children’s clothing store in the square, Barros said that supporting micro-businesses has always been a priority for him, and that he would personally like to see the JPNDC find some local businesses to take over the 363 Centre St. space.

“I hope they will explore the needs of the community,” Barros said. “I hope they find four small-sized businesses to find services we are lacking….The JPNDC has not done a market study,” he said.

Swenson told the Gazette a market study is being undertaken “as a condition of the supermarket’s lender.”

Rebeca Oliveira contributed to this article.