SAGINAW, Mich. (AP) — Among the houses and empty lots on Saginaw’s East Side, a market with a history spanning more than 100 years remains.
Although a storefront, Cruz Kitchen blends in with the other brick buildings on the block. The structure looks like the surrounding homes and could easily be mistaken for such, especially since the space above the shop serves as a home for the two owners, Gloria and Santos Cruz, according to The Saginaw News ( http://bit.ly/1ntLKgn ).
“I didn’t even know they were open,” said Tom Mudd, who lives about three blocks from the store. “I was not aware that they were still acting as a neighbor grocery store, so when I went by one day I was very much surprised that they were still in business. I bought some tacos.”
Inside, drinks, snacks and groceries fill display cases. A menu featuring brightly colored Mexican food lights up one wall, and the smell of such specialties wafts through the small shop.
The Cruzes have owned the property since 1969, when they bought the Martha Street Market from Roy and Elvira McPhilmy. Santos Cruz said he would come to the market when he worked at an area manufacturing plant.
“Mr. McPhilmy would tell me, ‘Come on, you’ve gotta buy this place,‘” Santos Cruz, 70, said.
“We always wanted a little business,” added Gloria Cruz, 68. “He wanted something bigger, but I said, ‘You’ve gotta crawl before you can walk.‘ And that’s what we did.”
The family took the business over, selling sliced meats, poultry and groceries. The name has changed several times, from Martha Street Market to M&T Market to Cruz Kitchen.
The store stocks a few groceries, including canned goods, milk and bread, but also sells traditional Mexican food. The Cruzes cook tacos, tamales and nachos from a cramped kitchen in the back of the store.
The Cruzes have also owned a couple other markets. They had a location at Washington and Atwater in Saginaw, where customers could get everything from beer to prepared Mexican food to lottery tickets from a drive-through window.
Their largest location was called the Super Star Superette. The family stopped operating it when they decided to downsize and stick to one location. The Cruzes said they still have customers who used to frequent their multiple locations.
“We’ve had people coming since the ‘60s,” Santos Cruz said.
Cruz Kitchen’s history extends beyond the Cruzes’ ownership.
The store can be traced back to at least 1910. The property was a grocery store called J.W. Kelly and Son. Prior to this, in 1908, J.W. Kelly had a grocery store, just around the block from Martha.
The store on Martha passed through several owners.
Running the market hasn’t been without some difficulty. Michael Cruz, Gloria and Santos’ son, helps with his parents’ business when he can. He said it’s difficult to stock groceries because of the big box competition.
“You can go get a can of something at the grocery store for 50 cents,” Cruz said. “We have to charge $1.”
Additionally, the evolution of Saginaw neighborhoods made business harder for many owners.
Mudd, president of the Saginaw Valley Historic Preservation Society, said he admires the family’s determination to keep the market open.
“That neighborhood got very tough. We lost a lot of our homes,” Mudd said. “Yet the Cruzes hung on. That’s a very courageous thing that they hung on even though our neighborhood became blighted, even though crime affected our neighborhood.”
According to Gloria Cruz, they continue running the business well past retirement because they’re passionate about the community. She enjoys helping neighborhood kids by offering them jobs when she can and buys the food she prepares from local businesses. She’s also involved with community groups like the GI Forum and the Democratic Party.
“Our customers are the best customers, I think,” Santos Cruz said. “And you can’t ask for anything better.”
Moments after making this statement on a recent afternoon, Angela Harry, a regular customer, walked through the door.
The Cruzes explained that a couple weeks prior, when they were supposed to pick their grandson up from school, their car had a flat tire. Harry heard what was happening and offered to pick the boy up from school.
“I love coming in here and talking to them,” Harry said. “They are sweet, lovable people.”
The Saginaw resident said she comes in at least once a week for the food the Cruzes prepare. Harry said she likes coming to a market like this is nice because she knows the people are trustworthy and friendly.
“It’s pretty hard now for little groceries to compete pricewise with Kroger, Meijer and the others,” Mudd said.
“But it think what’s in their favor is it’s kind of like you have a better relationship with that small grocery store. There’s that kind of personal touch, which I hope will come back some day.”
Information from: The Saginaw News, http://www.mlive.com/saginaw