Neighborhood Stores Were Hallmarks Of The Community
They were touchstones in their communities, the places where residents went not only to buy food, snacks and a cold beverage, but to visit and catch up on the days since they had last met.
In the days before the Wal-Mart supercenters and the H-E-B Plus stores, there were places like the Salinas Food Store downtown on Texas Avenue and the Ten Ten Grocery & Market on old 83 heading to La Feria. Kids got their raspas on hot summer days at the Ten Ten and browsed with open eyes through the rack of comics at the store. The Salinas Store, meanwhile, was “a Mercedes hallmark,’’ said one local resident.
“The neighborhood grocery stores knew us and trusted us,’’ said Pearl Wycoff in a comment on a Facebook Rio Grande Valley history page, in commenting about the Salinas store.
Rick Reyes, a retired Mercedes schools administrator, felt that bond with the neighborhood stores when he grew up in the city. His memories of Rigoberto Salinas, the patriarch of the store on Texas, remain fixed in his memory, as do what his contributions meant to Mercedes.
“With Mr. Salinas, you paid what you could, and what you owed, you signed up for it on credit,’’ Reyes said, recalling trips to the store with his parents as a child. “You were a person of your word and he (Salinas) accepted that because he knew you and he took care of people.’’
The concept of buying groceries on credit was essential in the post-World War II era when families were setting down roots during one of America’s great population surges as communities regrouped after the great war.
“They (community stores) knew that giving credit was the only way a lot of their neighbors would be able to survive and eat until the next paycheck came,’’ Wycoff said.
The Mercedes of that era was like most in the Rio Grande Valley. It was an agrarian-based community, a city with a small-town economy filled with locally owned businesses. Salinas Food Store was the type of place where residents went on Saturdays to get their groceries and see which family members and friends they would come across.
“You would meet up with people there,’’ Reyes said. “It was a gathering place. Our place (to shop) was Salinas. That was our (weekend) outing.’’
Maria Salinas grew up in the Mercedes area a generation later and one of her go-to places was the Ten Ten store. Heading into town from the rural area where she grew up, Salinas recalled that stopping at the old 83 stores to get raspas was a must. She described the Ten Ten as a store that “had a little bit of everything.’’
The store had something else her family needed – water – and at the Ten Ten it came free as far as Salinas knew.
“Mr. (Charlie) Bertholf let us fill up our water bottles at his store,’’ Salinas said of the store’s owner.
Reyes and Salinas recently recounted their memories of the old stores and the stories spilled out during an hour-long conversation. They both recall the Ten Ten as being a store that had cats everywhere. Rivas recalled the Salinas store having barbacoa that came with barbecue sauce mixed in.
“It was amazing!’’ he said.
The generosity and kindness of that era is something that’s missed in the faster-paced life of today where a kind word at times seems rarer.
“It was a different time and place,’’ Reyes said. “It was wonderful to have experienced it.’’
- Ricardo D. Cavazos