Thursday, August 21, 2008


Mexican grocery store opens near downtown Belleville

Mexican grocery store opens near downtown Belleville


Leaning across the counter, Felix DeSantiago looks and acts like an earnest young businessman.

"I thought if I worked hard and saved my money for a year or two, I could open a grocery store," he said, casting his eyes around the shelves and aisles stocked with, among a variety of items, tortillas, beans, rice, mole sauce, dried chiles, hot sauce, cornmeal, Mexican pastries and a refrigerator case with imported cheese, meat -- even slices of flan.

About a month ago, the 29-year-old hung out the sign for his store, La Jerezana.

"But the sign blew away in that big storm and I had to chase it so it wouldn't get run over by a car!" he said, explaining the empty metal frame above the front door. "They're supposed to come tomorrow and put it back up."

Shrugging like a veteran owner already, he added that there was no promise that would happen.

So for now, look for the sign in the window that says La Jerezana.

The small tienda de abarotes (grocery store) is located in a brick building at the corner of North Illinois and East D streets -- across from Homebrite Ace Hardware. DeSantiago named it in honor of the town in central Mexico where he was raised (he was born in Washington state) until coming to Belleville when he was 15.

He says he's used to hard work and long hours, taking on two jobs -- construction work in Granite City and waiter at his brother's Belleville restaurant (Zacateca's) -- to help fund his plan.

"I wanted to be secure, to be somebody."

DeSantiago plans to add more groceries as time goes along. For right now, though, he's keeping an eye on the bottom line and seeing what customers are buying. A favorite, he said, are the pastries.

"They come from a Mexican bakery in St. Louis and I get them fresh every morning."

And, spoken like a true businessman, he made sure before I left that he told me: "Anyone who spends $25, I'll give them a free bottle of (Mexican) soda."

La Jerezana Mexican Grocery Store

Location: 401 N. Illinois St., Belleville

Hours: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday

Parking: Street and a parlking lot at rear of building

Information: 355-9213.

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