From basketball-size bags of fried pork skins that hang from the ceiling of the meat counter to fresh tortillas, Supermercado Morelos offers a little taste of Mexico tucked inside a strip mall off Interstate 35 in Moore.
On a recent weekday, the in-store taqueria served up posole and tortas to groups of men in heavy work boots on their lunch break as a handful of shoppers shuffled through the aisles filed with Mexican cookies and spices.
Like many businesses targeting Oklahoma's Hispanic population, Supermercado Morelos is growing. The Moore store, which opened in late 2012, is Morelos' second metro-area location, and there are plans to open a third store at NW 50 and N Meridian later this year.
“There is a big demand in Oklahoma for supermercados because of the number of Hispanic people who have moved here from California and other places,” said Jose Ibarra Jr., manager of the Moore Supermercado Morelos. “We knew there wasn't anything like this in Moore or Norman, so that's why we wanted to open in this area.”
Supermercado Morelos owners Manuel Gomez and Pedro Jimenez have grown the company from one store at NW 23 and N Meridian to six stores across Texas and Oklahoma over the past decade.
From a thriving strip of businesses that include Mexican-style meat markets and ice cream parlors on SW 29 to the transformation of the former Crossroads Mall into a center of Latin culture called Plaza Mayor, more businesses that cater to a Hispanic clientele are opening in Oklahoma City.
Growing in numbers, buying power
Businesses are realizing the untapped potential in catering to the Hispanic community, said David Castillo, president and CEO of the Greater Oklahoma City Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
“The Hispanic market is so strong here — that's $7.2 billion in buying power in Oklahoma, so that's powerful” Castillo said. “Not just Hispanic businesses have recognized this, but we have many non-Hispanic businesses that are becoming members of the chamber to gain access to the community.”
Between 2000 and 2010, Oklahoma's Hispanic population grew by 85 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The Oklahoma City metro area has a Hispanic population of about 140,000, but some believe that the number of Hispanics in the area is actually higher because of underreporting in the Hispanic community, said Jose de Jesus Legaspi, founder of the California-based Legaspi Co.
The Legaspi Co. owns and operates Hispanic malls across the country, including Plaza Mayor at the Crossroads in south Oklahoma City. Plans for the mall include a nightclub and a rodeo arena seating 3,500 spectators.
“One of the things I saw in Oklahoma City is that there was a similar development of retail on SW 29 that was responding to the Hispanic market there,” Legaspi said. “The growth of the Hispanic community there has been explosive — it's one of top 10 Hispanic growth areas in (the) United States probably.”
As part of Legaspi's market research into the buying power of Oklahoma City's Hispanic community, he examined what type of tortillas were being purchased and sold in the metro area.
If a large number of fresh tortillas from a local maker are being sold in a city, as opposed to mass-produced national brands, it's a good bet there is a large Hispanic population in the area, Legaspi said.
“Those fresh tortillas are made specially to be consumed on daily basis and they are bought by Mexican families to be consumed within a day or two — that's how we're able to tell the type of consumers that are in an area and if it is a Mexican trade area,” Legaspi said.
Hispanic-oriented businesses growing
Fallas Paredes, a California-based clothing retailer that caters to Hispanic audiences, will open its first Oklahoma store inside a long-vacant big box store in the South Shields Plaza retail center at Interstate 240 later this year.
Signs on the doors advertising openings for sales staff can be seen in the windows.
The owners of Oklahoma used car super dealer Express Credit Auto have moved to start a new brand in Oklahoma City — Tio Chuy's, which is Spanish for Uncle Chuy's. The automotive dealership, just off Interstate 35 in south Oklahoma City, offers buy-here-pay-here financing and a bilingual sales staff. The dealership is geared toward serving Oklahoma City's Hispanic market, said Tio Chuy's owner, Rich Barnard.
“That population has doubled in the last 12 years and we decided we were going to roll out this brand and concept specifically for the Latino community and make the dealings conducive to that customer base,” Barnard said.
The dealership hosted a grand opening celebration last month by giving a $2,500 college scholarship to a local Hispanic high school student.
Not to be outdone, rival Oklahoma City car seller Integrity Auto Finance has also just opened a Spanish-language car dealership, called Integridad Auto Plaza, at Plaza Mayor.
Oklahoma City-based grocer Buy For Less has also begun catering to the Latino community with four supermercado stores in the Oklahoma City area. The stores carry different cuts of meat, such as beef tongue, and other familiar products such as Mexican cola in glass bottles, which contain real sugar.
Along a three-mile stretch of SW 29 between Western and May avenues, the Greater Oklahoma City Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is helping to organize efforts with business owners to create a business improvement district.
The goal is to help beautify the street and eventually get enough support to finance street and sidewalk improvements in the area, Castillo said.
Of the roughly 400 businesses along SW 29, the majority are Hispanic-owned, he said.
“We are getting new business popping up there every day,” Castillo said.