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La Michoacana's move leads to increase in business Willmar, Minn.

WILLMAR -- A new location in downtown Willmar has increased business 50 to 60 percent for Juan Carlos Mejia's La Michoacana grocery and meat market.

Mejia has owned La Michoacana in Willmar for three years. In January he purchased the building at Fifth Street and Benson Avenue and moved his business there. He expects to add a restaurant in three to four months.

The previous location two blocks south on Fifth Street did not have as much room as the new location. The store is open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week.

Since he moved, Mejia said, business has improved. "The other place was a little bit hidden," he said, and he has more parking at the new location. That includes a small city parking lot just outside the building. It's also more visible from Highway 12. He's planning a grand opening celebration for later in the summer.

Mejia also owns La Michoacana restaurant, grocery and meat market in Long Prairie, where he lives. He is usually in Willmar one day a week. The local manager is Victor Vargas, who has more than 20 years of experience as a butcher.

"We pride ourselves on customer service," Mejia said through a translator. He speaks some English but is more comfortable speaking Spanish.

Mejia said he and his staff treat all their customers the same and will do their best to help anyone.

His customer base includes Latinos, Anglos and Somalis, he said.

He joked that sometimes they will use their best English to greet a customer who responds in "better Spanish than we speak."

The meat market offers many cuts of meat and is popular with a variety of customers, he said. A favorite item is baby ribs for summer barbecuing.

Anglos tend to favor T-bone and ribeye steaks as well as meat for fajitas, he said. The market will also ground beef to order at no extra charge.

Latinos order chuck roll and seasoned chicken as well as the T-bones and ribeyes, he said.

Because the meat counter also sells pork, Somali customers tend to shy away from it, he said, but his Somali customers often come in for fresh vegetables.

Mejia said he's glad to have the room to add a restaurant now. He plans to offer food that is different from what is already available in the area, he said. It may include outdoor grilling.

He said he used to live in Nebraska, where he worked for food processing giant IBP. He would visit family in Long Prairie and would take orders for items from the Mexican groceries established in Nebraska. A friend suggested he open a store in Minnesota.

He expanded to Willmar after his Long Prairie business was a success, he said. "The people here really welcomed me."

In Long Prairie, his customer base is mostly people from Texas and Mexico, he said. In Willmar, he has added customers from many other cultures and has expanded his inventory in Willmar.

Robert Valdez, director of the Willmar Area Multicultural Market, said Mejia's business and his investment in downtown Willmar can benefit the community.

Mejia said he got financing for the building from a Fargo bank, but he self-finances his own business.

"His customer base is not Willmar," he said. His customers come from Marshall, Granite Falls and all over the area, Valdez added.

"For somebody to take the risk and purchase a building downtown, it also shows you the value the demographics mean to Willmar," he said. "These stores are really a community center."

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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