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Hispanic stores cross boundaries

By Staff
Stock exotic goods likecactus lobes and plantain chips
By TED STRONG
Staff Writer
Plantain chips are not easy to find in eastern North Carolina.
But Harry Wilkinson’s wife really likes the snack she ate growing up in New York City.
So, he was in Dos Mundos Tienda Mexicana — Two Worlds Mexican Store — late Wednesday morning, buying some of the crunchy, salty chips, which are made by slicing and frying a less-sweet relative of the banana.
Dos Mundos is one of the few places where Hispanic immigrants and locals mingle.
Tienda is the Spanish word for store, but it is used widely in some parts of America to refer to small grocery and dry-goods stores catering to Latin American immigrant communities.
Many of the customers at Dos Mundos are Mexican, and others, like Wilkinson, are American-born, said Juana Rosales, who was behind the counter Wednesday morning.
But others hail from farther-flung countries including Colombia, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, Rosales said.
Dos Mundos and others like it carry a wide variety of goods.
Some have Mexican action flicks on the shelves, and many sell children’s clothing. Most have Western-style boots and hats for sale, and some sell perfume.
Most have some canned goods, like Mexican-style beans. Most carry tortillas and dried spices from Mexico. Some carry exotic produce including cactus lobes, plantains, coconuts in their husks and aloe leaves.
But Wilkinson sticks to plantain chips and leaves the fancy produce to his wife, he said.
And just like there are stores selling food for the body to immigrants, there’s a store selling them items for the soul.
The church is affiliated with the Assembly of God denomination.
So, Castanada opened a store selling those things, along with other items like Spanish-language bumper stickers condemning abortion, a few doors down from Dos Mundos on John Small Avenue.
Castanada said his store is not really a profit-making enterprise like some of the other stores around town.
He said people come from as far as Greenville for religious materials like South American praise music.
People from other parts of North Carolina also stop at the La Perla bakery on Water Street in Washington.
The shop sees pastry-seekers from places such as Jacksonville, and it delivers goods to tiendas in towns such as Havelock, Morehead City and New Bern, as well as local shops, said Marcela Pullmanova.
Pullmanova, who was born in Czechoslovakia, has been running the bakery since 2000 with her husband, a Mexican-born baker, she said.
Pullmanova speaks English well, but she converses rapidly with customers in Spanish, ringing up sales and taking complicated orders for cakes.
The bakery has many Mexicans for customers and some American-born shoppers, she said.
Most of the non-Hispanic customers are tourists who have been to the city’s downtown shops and are walking along the waterfront, she said.
She said American-born customers tend to buy just one treat at a time, but Hispanic shoppers often buy several pastries for their neighbors and friends.
While running a Mexican bakery might bring in different types of customers, it doesn’t really bring special challenges, she said.