It was just a brief moment. Surrounded by friends, community members and representatives of the Latino Chamber of Commerce, Mariam Maldonado snipped a purple ribbon with oversized scissors. Hundreds of people cheered. She smiled brightly, hugged Latino Chamber President Jessica Cavazos, then, just for a moment, covered her face with her hands and cried.
It was just a brief moment in a daylong celebration of the opening of Luna’s Groceries, which actually opened in January to become the first source of fresh food in the Allied Drive neighborhood in nearly 10 years. Maldonado owns the store with husband Joe Maldonado.
“Everything that I have been working so hard for finally closed,” she said. “Now I’m done. Now I’m open. So now it’s about getting the store running and making sure we have everything we need for the neighborhood. Just having that closure … I feel like when we opened we didn’t have that, so it’s just emotional.”
Food trucks from Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago, along with craft booths, lined the parking lot on Red Arrow Trail. A DJ played for a good portion of the day, later giving way to El Trio Son de Mexico and local hip-hop artist K. Sankofa. Several hundred people came, ate, celebrated.
“The neighborhood’s showing love,” said Joe Maldonado. “It’s phenomenal. It’s hard to describe. We built it and they came.”
“It’s fantastic. I think it’s a testament to how needed this was and how appreciated it is,” said Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, one of several elected officials in attendance. “Luna’s is really incredibly important because they came in and are providing fresh food, healthy food to an area that used to be a food desert. I’m really proud of the role the City has played in it, but I give all the credit to the Luna’s folks because they made it happen and they are building community and they are providing food that this neighborhood wants and needs.”
The City of Madison has provided seed money to a few efforts to alleviate the Allied Drive food desert over the last few years, including support for Luna’s, which also used federal Small Business Association loans and donations from the community to open.
Joe Maldonado said in the six months since it opened, Luna’s has become the grocery hub for the community it was designed to be.
“Our base is a lot of Latino families who live in the neighborhood, but we have a good number of African American customers, Asian customers, some white customers come and shop with us,” he said. “It’s pretty much a representation of the neighborhood. And most people who come live here, in the surrounding apartments. That was the whole point. At first, it was a bunch of people who were supporting us because they’re our friends, they know us. But then as it went on, all the regulars who literally come every day were the people from the neighborhood.”
He also noted the passing of longtime neighborhood organizer and advocate Sina Davis, who passed just days before the grand opening.
“She was really crucial in organizing in this neighborhood that led to people’s voices calling out the food desert,” he said. “I just want to give props and honor her.”
With the grand opening behind them, Mariam Maldonado said it’s time to “keep enjoying my customers and try to satisfy them.”