On December 11, 2012 the first major supermarket in San Diego’s Historic Barrio District (Barrio Logan, Logan Heights and Sherman Heights) in almost 40 years opened it’s doors to the public for the first time. For Barrio Logan residents the opening of Mercado Gonzalez Northgate is more than just the opening of a supermarket, it is a deferred dream come to true.
It took 21 years for the city and developers to build this market. Twenty one years of promises. Twenty one years to gain an amenity that most communities have.
Not since the closure in the early 1970’s of Safeway, on the corner of 25th and Imperial, has there been a major supermarket that services these predominantly Mexican-American communities. For over 30 years these communities demanded a supermarket. None of the major supermarkets like Vons, Albertson’s and Ralph’s heeded this demand. Fortunately, after all those years, a Mexican-American grocer family stepped up.
Gonzalez Northgate was founded by Miguel Gonzalez, Sr. and his wife Teresa Reynoso de Gonzalez with help from their entire family. They lived in a pueblo in Mexico called Jalostotitlan in Jalisco state. After Miguel’s small shoemaking shop burned down he decided to move north to the US to help support his large family. Like many Mexicans seeking a better life he, along with his older sons, moved to the US and left the rest of his family behind. Once established, his wife and the rest of the Gonzalez family joined him in La Mirada, California in 1975.
In early 1980 they opened their first Northgate in Anaheim. All of the family worked in the market. Putting in long hours and doing everything necessary to keep the place running. Through hard work and understanding the needs of the community, Northgate became extremely popular among Mexicans in the area and their business began to thrive. In 1986, they opened their second store in La Habra. Then came a third store three years after in Pico Rivera. Miguel Sr’s dream of having a store for each of his 13 children became a reality. Northgate started with one small store in Anaheim and the company now encompasses Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties.
Northgate now owns 35 stores total with eight of them in San Diego County and more planned. The newer stores average around 50,000 square feet and include a full service meat department, a bakery, a tortilleria, and prepared foods as well as a large section of imported Latin American items and the typical American products found in other grocery stores.
In April of 2000, the Gonzalez family created the González Reynoso Family Foundation. The foundation supports local schools and neighborhood sports teams as well as maintains sports facilities in neighboring communities and donates to families in need during the holiday season. The González Reynoso Family Foundation also helps numerous charitable organizations every year like Kids With Hope, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, Teleton Mexamerica and organizes an annual charity golf tournament.
With this charitable mindset the Gonzalez family decided to open up a supermarket here in San Diego where it is needed most, in Barrio Logan. Luis Langle, the Barrio Logan store’s director said to me, “It’s a good opportunity for us. With these kind of stores we can give better prices to our people because the little stores are charging a lot. It’s a business but we can help our people too. We are happy to be here. [It’s] something that makes me happy. [E]specially [because] we are offering some employment to the people around here. We think we are helping the community.” It’s easy for businesses to say they are helping the community. But in this instance Mr. Langle speaks the truth. Northgate is providing my community something that has been needed for decades.
On the morning of December 11 my wife and I received an invite to Northgate’s pre-grand opening. Like most businesses that open up there is usually a soft opening before the grand opening. This allows them to work out any kinks before the mad rush that is normally the grand opening. With our invitation we received coupons for some free stuff: a pound of chorizo, a dozen eggs, a loaf of bread and a 50 pack of corn tortillas. All staples of any Mexican home. We were excited to see the inside of the new store since we had been watching the construction of the outside of the building and surrounding area from our balcony since we moved into the Estrella del Mercado apartments in early October. The inside did not disappoint. It was beautiful, for a grocery store.
The next day, Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe, was Northgate’s grand opening celebration. The store opened at 8am. It was advertised that the first 300 people to enter the store would receive a free bag of groceries. Not wanting to miss out on free food, I got up early and took my son Dino to the opening. Along with over 300 of my fellow barrio denizens I stood, and Dino sat in his stroller, in line to get our goods. We got there just in time as we were about number 280. The store opened with a ribbon cutting ceremony. As the line proceeded to slowly move along I felt a sense of pride.
My father, Ruben Octavio Beltran, has been in the grocery business for decades. In his youth he worked for the Tuey family-owned Morena Blvd Market a block from his parent’s home in Bay Park (he bought a house two doors down in 1972 where he and my mom still reside). After his stint in the army he worked at a Bradshaws supermarket. Eventually he moved on to drive a truck for Laura Scudder’s potato chips and then got a managerial position with numerous tortilla companies. At one point he was the head of the Mexican American Grocers Association.
He currently works for McGee Food Corporation the makers of Little Debbie snack cakes. Before Northgate made their move into the San Diego market he told me they were coming. He has worked four days a week in the Los Angeles area for many years and he saw firsthand how positive Northgate’s contributions to the community are.
So, as my son and I slowly made our way to the front doors of Barrio Logan’s first supermarket in over 30 years I couldn’t help but think of my dad. A man who has worked since he was twelve years old. A man who understands the importance of something as simple as a grocery store in a community that didn’t have one. I felt pride not only for my father but for my community. I know it’s only a supermarket, but sometimes something as basic as that gives a little hope. Makes lives a little easier.
As Dino and I crossed the threshold of the store we saw the smiling faces of Northgate workers welcome us. And it felt really good finally seeing this place open to the public, open to my community. I also saw District 8 San Diego City Councilman, and longtime Barrio Logan resident, David Alvarez being interviewed by a news channel. Wanting to get his opinion on the opening of Northgate and the development of the Estrella del Mercado apartments next door I patiently waited for him to finish and politely asked if I could ask him a few questions.
He was familiar with San Diego Free Press and recognized my name from a tweet I had sent him a couple weeks prior regarding the annoying early morning honking of train horns at the train station a few blocks away from my apartment. He agreed, and here is what he had to say about the opening of Northgate:
“I’m obviously very happy. I grew up a block from here and I now live four or five blocks from here.The convenience of having a place to shop, where you could walk to literally. It’s a game changer for the community. And even more so because it’s a market that caters to the majority of the population that is in this area with the products that people need for their every day cooking and for their lifestyle. I am thrilled that it’s open. We’ve been waiting a very long time. These lots when I was a child walking from right down the street to Perkins Elementary, they were empty lots. Both Estrella del Mercado and Northgate were empty lots for a long, long time. I had friends who actually lived onsite and their houses were demolished. That was about 20 years ago. We have been waiting a long time. Super excited. I’m just thrilled. I know this is going to be a big deal for Barrio Logan.”
I also asked him about the the Estrella del Mercado apartments and the surrounding development:
“I think it’s a great addition. We need more housing for families. And that’s exactly what the project was about. We also need the other amenities that come with a community. And this community has been deprived for many, many years of obviously a supermarket but some of the other commercial uses we’ll see here including probably a whole mixture of things. And other little shops that every other community has. Why would we not be entitled to have the same things?”
Mr. Alvarez definitely understands the needs of his community. He grew up in Barrio Logan and continues to live here. And I know that he will do his best to continue to champion his community and defend it from Downtown and outside interests who don’t really care about the unique character of Barrio Logan.
After the interview with my City Councilman, Dino and I got our bag of free loot and decided to loiter outside the building for a while to see if we could get a few patrons to answer a couple questions regarding their thoughts on the opening of Northgate.
I saw Milo Lorenzano, the talented owner of The Spot exiting Northgate with a plate of food. The Spot is a space on Main St. in Barrio Logan that is part design and print shop and part cultural arts space. He told me, “I think it’s good. It’s time. The community needs it. Everybody needs change and growth.”
I also asked Downtown resident David Travis Russell, who biked his way to Northgate, his thoughts. He told me, “I’m really excited about it. I believe it’s going to be a definite asset to the community. It’s definitely a store I’m looking forward to coming to consistently.” He said he used to shop at Northgate on 43rd St. but will be shopping here from now on.
And I also caught Margarita Guerrero as she was leaving Northgate with a basket of groceries. She lives in Chula Vista but is in Logan five days a week to drop off her grandchildren at Our Lady’s Catholic School on Kearney Ave. She commented, “I feel it’s good. The barrio needs to have more markets like this. And I think it’s great for the community.”
There seems to be overwhelming sentiment from people about the positivity that Northgate will bring to the Barrio Logan community and the surrounding communities at large. It’s been a long time coming. Almost four decades lacking a major supermarket and 21 years of promises. Though Barrio Logan’s dream may have been deferred for so many years it finally came true and the neighborhood is better off for it.