Bodega de José — a blossom on the downtown food desert

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Pastor Lucy De Leon of New Vision Community Church is pictured on the sidewalk outside the soon-to-open Bodega de José at 1012 Matamoros, adjacent to the Hamilton Hotel. She is pictured with staff members of the grocery wholesaler that will stock the shelves of the store with low cost staples. The store will also offer fresh eggs, bread and baked goods, and tortillas made of corn, moringa, and nopales. Bodega de José will offer relief to downtown’s elderly who have not had a nearby grocery store since HEB closed its oldest store in Laredo. The City has leased a storefront in the Southern Hotel to New Vision Community Church.

 

There are many positives to the mid-May opening of La Bodega de José downtown. It will bring a low-cost grocery store to the vast food desert left by HEB’s move out of the old central business district. It will fill two vacant storefronts on the ground floor of the old Southern Hotel. And it will serve many nearby elderly residents who do not have transportation to a food source.

According to Pastor Lucy De Leon of New Vision Community Church, which operates the original Bodega de José on Meadow Street, once the ink is signed on a lease with the City of Laredo in early May, “This will alleviate many problems for the residents of downtown.”

In addition to canned goods, grains, rice, and beans, the store at 1210 Matamoros will sell farm fresh eggs from Ein-Gedi, the New Vision farm on Hwy. 359. Pastor De Leon jested that the happy laying hens live in “Hiltons for chickens.”

She said that the donated produce New Vision regularly receives will be given free to shoppers.” She added that the store will also sell cold cuts and cheese, fresh baked goods from the church’s kitchen, and healthy homemade tortillas made of moringa, nopales, and corn.

A national faith-based wholesaler of gourmet and organic food products will provide much of what will fill the store’s shelves.

“As soon as we sign the lease on May 7, we will begin stocking the shelves. We are aiming for an opening date between May 15th and May 20th,” she said.

New Vision Community Church was established in Laredo 16 years ago. Pastor De Leon said the 70 members of the church “do the work of a thousand.” She and her husband Pastor Luis oversee the church’s ministry to serve the poor. “We prepare 800 bags of food for those who need it. We now service El Cenizo and the residents of the Hamilton Hotel. At the Hamilton, we make sure the bags get up to the apartments,” she said.

“To have a store within walking distance will be of great service to the elderly. Hopefully it’s a start of something bigger for downtown,” commented City Manager Horacio De Leon. “District VIII Council member Roberto Balli initiated the process, Council supported it, and staff came up with incentives to make it happen. We are all excited to be part of this positive effort,” he said.

He continued, “There is definitely a market there of those who were left without a provider of groceries. It is also a big plus to put properties that the City owns to good use. It affirms our role to fill in the gaps where the private sector does not see the potential.”

“This second store is a big task, but we are ready for it. It’s another step of faith that will be a great blessing to many. We will offer quality products for a fraction of the price. It’s the work of many volunteers,” Pastor De Leon said. “If we can save the elderly money on a bottle of olive oil they were buying at a high price at a convenience store, we are helping them stretch a dollar,” she emphasized.

Pharmacist Tommy Izaguirre Sr., whose property is across Matamoros Street from Bodega de José, welcomes the store.

“The downtown residents were dealt a big blow when HEB left. It was a tragedy. Many of them are my customers. I see them every day, and I ask myself, ‘What have they been eating all this time?’ They can buy junk food nearby, but that offers no nutrition, which is so important to maintaining our health,” he said.

Izaguirre established Laredo Downtown Pharmacy in 1986 in the Sames Moore Building at the corner of Salinas and Matamoros, and a decade later he bought the building and created the Rialto Hotel by remodeling and reconfiguring spaces that had in the past been the offices of attorneys, physicians, and dentists.

He said that much of his capital is invested downtown. “I want the City to help make it attractive to those who want to live here, invest here, and establish a business here. I’m excited about this store that will feed many, this store that is filling an empty space. This is God’s work,” Izaguirre said.

Pastor De Leon concurred. “To see a city come alongside a ministry to make this store work, that is the stuff of miracles,” she said.

(For more information on the opening of Bodega de José, call Pastor Lucy De Leon at 956-645-4371.)

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