American Renaissance

Latino Plaza Gives Boost to Forest Park

Kay S. Pedrotti, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Apr. 14

Forest Park’s economy took a recent leap forward and did it with a Spanish accent.

With the opening of the million-dollar Latino Plaza on north Jonesboro Road, a growing population from Spanish-speaking countries has a sparkling minimall serving a range of needs.

Developers Jose and William Garcia have joined efforts with other family members, including sisters Rocio and Maria, to open a grocery, meat market, minibank, music store, taqueria (described by Jose as “Mexican fast food”) and beauty salon.

Friends and co-workers in the plaza own and operate a real estate agency, clothing store, an agency for help with government and legal services — such as obtaining driver’s licenses and complying with immigration rules — and a boutique for formal wear for special occasions.

A jewelry store and an herb and health food outlet also are planned.

In about two months, Damian Leal and the Garcias will open an adjacent tortilla factory to provide the freshest versions of that staple product for both wholesale and retail sales. Leal guarantees his product will be “authentic” because he has 15 years experience with MaSeCa, a leading company for corn flour and other Latino grain products.

A visit to La Unica Carneceria y Tienda (“the unique meat market and grocery”) is a feast for the eyes and the appetite. Just past the cash register and taqueria, there’s a whole wall of pastries.

There are drinks from all over the Latino world, including Coca-Cola made in Mexico. “It’s much better,” Jose Garcia says with a twinkle in his eye. “It has the Mexican contaminated water and a little bit more caffeine.” Buyers say it is better, but the water’s fine.

In the produce aisle, there is “nopales,” a cactus sold in leaf or chopped, which is said to be an affordable substitute for Viagra, Garcia said. The bright green “vegetable” can be cooked or used in salads.

The Garcia family also owns a farm in Griffin, where those who wish to follow the home country practice of buying and butchering their own meats may buy goats, steers and lambs, he said.

Raising food animals is very much a part of the culture in many countries, he added, “and there is nothing wasted — even the blood is used in preparation of certain dishes.”

Jackie’s Boutique, run by Alejandrina and Juliana Loredo, also is a culture-specific store, where even the smallest all-white dresses and tuxedos may be found for baptisms and first Communion celebrations.

In addition to wedding items, there are dresses and remembrance gifts to celebrate a young woman’s “coming of age” at 15, called the “Quinceanera.”

The bakery — “panderia” — at La Unica features breads and sweets common to most Spanish-speaking countries, Garcia said. He added that “the food is very similar” from Mexico through Central America, South America and island countries such as Puerto Rico.

Garcia is a native of El Salvador who grew up in Costa Rica and married a woman from Mexico.

In the United States, he said, there is cooperation and collaboration among Spanish-speakers as they seek to make a place for themselves in “American” society, he said.

Maria’s beauty salon also is called “La Unica.” Garcia said the name is appropriate because the plaza brings together many kinds of businesses under one roof. There are competing stores in Forest Park, but none so new or convenient, he said.

The plaza formally opens May 9, with celebrations and a giveaway of a Ford Focus.