Park Street's continuing revitalization took another step last week thanks to one man's single-minded intention to fulfill his dream.
Alfonso Lopez arrived on Park Street more than 20 years ago from his native Colombia to open a bodega on nearby Broad Street. He later expanded into a small supermarket called El Gitano on the southwest corner of Park and Lawrence streets.
In 2002, when the idea of revitalizing Park Street was in its infancy, Mr. Lopez told The Courant's editorial board that he would soon open a discount El Gitano food warehouse on the site of the then-vacant Carlton Supply Co. building at Park and Lafayette streets. The business, he said, would be modeled after BJ's Warehouse and Sam's Club stores, but without the membership fees. Customers would be able to purchase food products in bulk from Latin American and Caribbean countries.
Although it took a little longer than anticipated, Mr. Lopez's dream came true on Feb. 25, courtesy of a $1.5 million loan from Sovereign Bank, $1.5 million of his own money, $100,000 worth of facade work from the city of Hartford and a lot of emotional support from his wife, Reina, and son Alfonso Jr.
The store has sections for Argentine, Colombian, Dominican, Jamaican, Mexican, Peruvian and Puerto Rican products found in few other places. It has created 10 new jobs for local residents. Amenities include a coffee shop and an ice cream counter. Plans call for El Gitano to serve as a wholesaler for smaller grocers throughout the area.
Mr. Lopez, a respected merchant with an engaging personality, turns dead serious when he says that Park Street's growth potential will one day make it the center of Hartford.
You have to believe him. He's living proof that it can happen.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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