A year ago, Miguel Urrutia was making a living doing yard maintenance around Ashland, but the day he was outbid by half for a job was the day he was spurred to open his own store.
"There are a lot of others doing yard maintenance now," Urrutia said. "I'd been thinking about opening a store for seven years and I was waiting for something like that to happen. I told my wife, 'That's it — let's do it.'"
Mexican Candies & Groceries opened in mid-May on the corner of Siskiyou Boulevard and Walker Avenue. It's a small shop — just over 200 square feet — but Urrutia has big plans.
"People are surprised when they come in. They say it's too small. Maybe in two years, I will open another store in Jacksonville," Urrutia said. "I'm thinking of growing to two or three stores."
Though small, the store is packed to the rafters with groceries, cooking supplies, spices, frozen snacks, beans, lard, vegetable oil, fruit and birthday supplies, including a variety of festive pinatas.
A large burlap bag of 3-foot cinnamon sticks sits in a corner, and a brand new refrigerator dominates one wall.
"We want to have fruit they don't have around here," Urrutia said. "Things from Mexico and Guatemala, maybe Argentina."
He's done no advertising yet, but word of mouth is getting around, particularly in the Ashland Hispanic community.
People are dropping by with requests for products they aren't able to track down at other stores. Many of his Guatemalan patrons, for examples, are looking for special fruit: jocotes, nances, pacayas. Other people have special candies they want. The non-Hispanics seem to be drawn to the frozen snack section.
"It looks like American people buy more ice cream than Hispanics," Urrutia said with a smile. "Some people have special candies they like and we can get that for them."
Urrutia said many people thought there wouldn't be enough of a Hispanic community to support his shop, but he's seen evidence to the contrary. A few weeks back a salesman dropped off a small supply of prepaid phone cards, and didn't come back for a while to resupply the shop. When Urrutia called and said he needed more, the salesman was surprised.
"I only had six left," Urrutia said. "Those are things that Hispanic people buy. That means we have customers."
The shop also offers a service for people to send funds back to their families in other countries, a common practice in many Hispanic communities.
Urrutia has lived in the Rogue Valley for about seven years, the past five years in Ashland. He and his family live in the quiet mobile home park next to the shop, which makes the business a convenient family venture.
"It's this close to us, so we decided to open here," he said.
Urrutia plans to remodel the basement, which will nearly double the space available for the shop, and use the cool space for soft drinks and fresh fruits and vegetables. He also plans to sell flowers.
He's aware of the tough competition for small businesses in Ashland.
"I like the community and I know how I want to treat people," he said. "I know how to be different — that's the secret."
For information on Mexican Candies & Groceries, call 201-0384.
Myles Murphy is an editor and reporter with the Daily Tidings. Reach him at email@example.com.