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Mexican business grows from corner store to 7 supermarkets

January 18, 2019

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The unique sound of Victor Flores’ voice and his friendly smile have become a regular part of Spanish-speaking TV in Las Vegas.

He’s employed at La Bonita supermarket, often appearing in commercials for the local grocery chain, which has catered to Hispanic Americans in Nevada’s largest metropolitan area for 27 years.

In 1991, Michoacan natives Jaime and Sylvia Martinez started La Bonita as a simple meat market at the corner of Stewart and Eastern avenues several blocks east of downtown. The Las Vegas area at the time had about 816,000 residents.

Today, with six full-scale Las Vegas supermarkets and 750 employees, the couple remains focused on serving the local community.

A seventh store is planned to open in coming weeks in suburban Henderson, now Nevada’s second-largest city and part of a Las Vegas metropolitan area home to 2.2 million residents. The U.S. Census says more than 31 percent of Clark County residents are Hispanic.

“For us, it has always been about hard-work, discipline and a strong family foundation,” Jaime Martinez told the Las Vegas Sun . “When we see need in underserved areas for our type of supermarket, we look into it, and usually go from there.”

The Martinez couple moved in the 1970s to Los Angeles from a small town of 2,000 in a southern Mexican state. After more than a decade working in hospitality, Jamie and Sylvia came to Las Vegas, where they tapped into their family roots.

Raised on a ranch where his father owned livestock, Jamie opened a meat market to serve the growing Hispanic population. He named it after his father’s favorite milking cow in Michoacan, which had light brown-colored polka dots. The name La Bonita in Spanish translates to “the beautiful one.”

Their transition to Las Vegas allowed the couple to avoid high costs of living and industry competition in California, Jaime Martinez said. The carniceria (meat market) had five employees when it first opened.

By 1996, La Bonita supermarket opened on Las Vegas Boulevard and Stewart Street, featuring an array of Mexican tortillas, cheeses, vegetables, seasonings and spices. It was the only full-scale supermarket at the time to sell such items.

In 1997, the original meat market moved a block down the road and underwent major expansion to become the second full La Bonita grocery store.

Armando Martinez was just 5 years old when his father opened the first store in Las Vegas. Now general manager of La Bonita stores, Martinez says that despite the market’s ongoing success, its ownership has no plans for expansion outside southern Nevada.

“I don’t think the goal was ever to be a major grocery store or a major business operator,” Armando said. “They just wanted to serve their customers. And I think that has been the driving force behind it.”

Company community involvement includes engagements with the American Red Cross, St. Jude Children’s Hospital, Three Square food bank, Communities in Schools, the city of North Las Vegas and the Springs Preserve garden, museum and events center.

“At the end of the day we are part of the community,” Armando Martinez said. “We live here and our kids were raised in Vegas.”

The new 50,000-square-foot (4,645-square-meter) store is due to open this spring in the Green Valley area of Henderson.

“Every time we opened up a new store, people were asking when we were going to open in Henderson,” Martinez said. “We finally took a look at the demographics and we liked what we saw out there.”

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Information from: Las Vegas Sun, http://www.lasvegassun.com

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