More stores cater to booming Hispanic population

Posted: Monday, May 14, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Business was great when Edgar Contreras started selling Latin music three years ago. Lately, however, he said it's been OK.

In the last decade, Anchorage's Hispanic, or Latino, population has grown from 4 percent to nearly 6 percent of the population -- about 15,000 people. As the Hispanic market has grown, so has the number of businesses that cater to it.

Contreras, 27, is a disc jockey. He opened Mundo Latino after club patrons kept asking how to get the music he played, music he had to order from New York.

At first he had a corner on the market, but other stores around town started selling more music from the Spanish-speaking world.

Mammoth Music added a Latin section a few years ago. Even Wal-Mart and Kmart have addded the occasional salsa and merengue disc, Contreras said. They have nothing like the selection that covers the walls of his store, he said, but the price is better, and it may keep people from searching him out.

Now, Contreras is changing the way he does business to keep his share of the Hispanic market. He quit offering credit to customers so he could improve his cash flow and buy new inventory. Besides the obligatory money-sending service, he's expanded his product line by adding calling cards, and Spanish language greeting cards and videos.

Rodolfo Ruiz, 32, opened Mexico Lindo with his wife, Greta, about six months ago, five years after being first inspired by busy Hispanic shops in Seattle. The couple sell a little bit of just about everything Mexican to a variety of customers.

''We get people from El Salvador, Colombia, Puerto Rico,'' said Ruiz, ''and American people, too.''

In the Ruiz' store sweets, cans and jars of food, skin products and jewelry fill shelves and countertop displays. Pinatas, men's pastel shirts and children's baptism gowns hang from the ceiling. Like Contreras, they offer Spanish-language videos, a money-sending service and CDs.

Linda Herrera, 35, opened Straight from the Border with her $50,000 dividend paid last December by Cook Inlet Region Inc., an Anchorage-based Native corporation that made a massive profit in telecom.

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