Rocky Mountain In Mercedes Serves Up Sweet Success
A store that saw customers line up several yards deep when it opened at the beginnings of the Rio Grande Valley Premium Outlets faced a quiet different reality a year ago.
The Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory store of Patricia Barrera was shut down for a few weeks last spring along with the other stores at the Mercedes outlet mall. The COVID-19-related struggles are thankfully becoming a thing of the past as business comes roaring back for Barrera’s retail shop.
The recent Easter season when combined with Mother’s Day gifts and school graduations are leading to busy days at the Rocky Mountain store in Mercedes.
“I just went through 11 days straight, nonstop, being here with all the activity we had,’’ Barrera said.
It all comes as a welcome development for Barrera’s store and all others at the Mercedes mall when they look back to a year ago. Curbside business was about all they could do. Barrera and her sister, Veronica, own and operate three Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory stores in the Valley. The other two are in McAllen, with one at La Plaza Mall and the other at the Palms Crossing shopping center.
The Mercedes location was their first store. It opened in 2006 when the Mercedes-based outlet mall launched. There were no other Rocky Mountains in the Valley at the time, with the closest one being in San Antonio. The Barrera sisters quickly found out how excited Valley residents were to finally have one to call their own.
“It was overwhelming,’’ Patricia Barrera recalled to those early days. “People were lined up before we even first opened our doors. It just goes to show that when you bring in something new that people have heard about or tried elsewhere, that they are eager for it when it opens in their town.’’
In this case, the town is the entire Rio Grande Valley. Mercedes, Barrera said, was the ideal location to open their first store given its central location in the region. They drew from both ends of the Valley in those early years before opening McAllen locations. The Rocky Mountain in Mercedes still has a regional appeal, she said, citing shoppers from the Mid-Valley and the Brownsville area coming to her store.
“Mercedes has really been good for us,’’ Barrera said. “Being centrally located in the Valley is a big plus. We still draw a lot of business from Brownsville, the (South Padre) Island, spring breakers who come here.’’
Colorado & RGV Flavor Mix
The Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory is based in Durango, Colorado, where all its premium chocolate products are made and shipped to retail locations across the country. At the local level, Barrera and her staff make all the cookies, brownies, dipped strawberries, and the 45 varieties of Granny Smith apples that are covered in caramel, chocolates, candies and other mixes that make them irresistible.
The regional specialty is an apple with sal y limon. Its appeal would eventually go nationwide with other Rocky Mountain retailers enquiring about the specialty apple variety.
“We would go to Rocky Mountain conferences and they knew we were the girls from the Valley,’’ Barrera said. “They would ask us, `What is this apple we keep hearing about?’ ’’
The recipe was shared and the sal y limon candy apple that started in Mercedes would go nationwide.
“We’ve had fun,’’ Barrera said of their years in business. “It’s also a lot of work. I’m a people person so I enjoy it. The best businesses are the ones where the owners are present like we are. You have to be there. It’s yours.’’
- Ricardo D. Cavazos