Upbeat Amid The Uproar

Revenue may be falling from his Hispanic grocery in Woodbridge amid the uproar over attempts to crack down on illegal immigrants, but Carlos Castro walked through the empty shell of his next grocery store in Dumfries still optimistic about his future.

"This is a good time to open. There is no other grocery store in Dumfries and there is a big need from all around this area," Castro, 53, said today as a worker labored nearby, pulling out crumbled ceiling tiles and rotting insulation in an effort to renovate the structure.

Castro is broadening his focus beyond Hispanics and trying to position his third Todos Market to appeal to a wider clientele. That will mean doing things like stocking more ground beef and vegetables such as collared greens, which aren't popular with Hispanics. He plans to meet with community members in the town of about 5,000, and listen to what they want from their neighborhood grocery.

The 15,000-square foot store, in a peeling strip mall on Route 1, is scheduled to open in January. The grocery store, previously occupied by Word of Faith Christian Fellowship church and daycare, will be slightly bigger than the Todos Market in Woodbridge. Castro said he hopes to sell his Alexandria grocery and gift store to concentrate on the Woodbridge and Dumfries locations.

Revenues from his store in Woodbridge has been down about 10 percent for the last two months and he said two of his suppliers of Hispanic foods and goods say sales are down all over Northern Virginia while sales in Maryland have risen.

What's driving the decline, Castro thinks, is an exodus of Hispanics from Prince William County after the passage of a resolution that would cut public services to illegal immigrants and broaden the powers of local police to check on immigrant status. He's firmly opposed to such efforts.

Also affecting sales has been competition from large groceries like Shoppers Food Warehouse and other large ethnic-owned markets. Castro said the big box stores have caught on to the purchasing power of the nation's fastest growing demographic group - Hispanics - and are trying to mimic the way he runs his groceries.

To counter this, he's turning the other way, investing $2 million in the Dumfries store he envisions as a neighborhood-centric version of a general grocery, a throwback of sorts to the days before the big box stores.

"This is my graduation project. If we can pull this off, then we can open anywhere," he said.

--Cecilia Kang

By Dan Beyers  |  October 11, 2007; 3:32 PM ET
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